Country Profiles

Beef markets and consumption

Consumption levels. According to one survey (Directorate of National Statistics and World Bank, 2008) per capita meat consumption levels in TL are low at 3.3 kg/year, egg consumption at 2 kg and milk consumption at 0.2 kg. These levels are considerably lower than WHO standards of 10.1 kg, 3.5 kg and 6.4 kg respectively. Given the lack of reliable data on beef consumption, net per capita supply (summarised in Figure 4) can be used a proxy for per capita consumption7. This varies depending on the domestic production estimation method used. Based on the census data, average annual per capita bovine meat consumption in TL may be 0.95kg (0.56 kg beef and 0.39 kg carabeef)8. Based on trade/slaughter data, bovine meat consumption may be 1.19kg (0.96kg beef and 0.23kg carabeef). These bovine meat consumption levels are significantly lower than the average for least developed countries (4.8 kg), lower than Indonesia (2.5 kg) and indeed lower than all Asian countries with the exception of North Korea.

There are several drivers of beef consumption. Beef consumption is clearly constrained by low incomes, with mean per capita incomes per month of $62 (urban $93, rural $50; NDS, 2011). Beef consumption could be expected to increase with sustained income growth (a function of developments in the oil sector, political stability, public servant wages and pensions). Another driver of consumption is population growth of 2.41% per year which, if continued, will double the population by 2039. Because of urban migration, annual population growth in Dili is 4.8%, where net per capita supply of bovine meat is estimated at 3.94 kg, three times higher than the national average.

Within the context of aggregate beef consumption levels, consumption differs significantly by retail and distribution channels including wet markets, supermarket, hotels/restaurants, butcher shops and ceremonies (Figure 4). For an idea of the relative importance of these, in a survey of 271 urban consumers predominantly in Dili, Serrão et al. (2007) found that 43% buy from local markets, 26% from street sellers, 9% purchased in supermarkets and 23% from other (unspecified but may be presents or ceremonies). They also found that 96% of the beef purchased was fresh.

TL has a hierarchy of markets consisting of: two major markets in Dili (Manlewana and Taibesi); two regional hubs (Bacau and Maliana that trade seven days a week); periodic markets in district centres (1-2 days per wk); and small markets in sub-districts. Most agricultural product are moved down the hierarchy, but there is also upward movement. In Dili, there are at least seven markets that sell beef, and numerous street vendors. Hygiene levels are generally low, adulteration is common, and scales are commonly inaccurate. After many years of development, the GoTL enacted a regulation to effectively ban the selling of meat in small markets that cannot comply, and aimed to effectively concentrate meat sales in the two big markets. The GoTL will clearly have difficulties in implementing and enforcing the regulations in Dili let alone nationally. Centralisation of markets entails increased travel from suppliers and customers, there are high levels of employment amongst slaughtermen and stallholders, and will increase costs.

Supermarkets are a significant channel for beef retail in Dili where there are seven major supermarkets. The vast majority of beef stocked is imported, frozen, pre-packaged product. Customers include the growing Timorese middle class, and expatriates, and the higher-end Hotel, Restaurant and Institution (HRI) trade. Prices are 20-30% higher than market prices for fresh domestic generic product. Three major supermarkets (and an importer) have the cold storage facilities to import, wholesale and distribute frozen beef. Only one or two supermarkets stock domestic beef due to concerns about food safety and supermarkets have not yet developed beef butchering, packing and presentation skills. However, there are prospects that these conditions may be able to be met through the centralised abattoir and the “modern” butcher shops (see above). This chain would however require considerable development, most importantly in the capacity to consistently supply large volumes of safety- and quality-assured beef. If import data on frozen beef is a guide, this is not a large channel, but is has potentially higher value.

Modern butcher shops. A significant development in the beef retail sector in recent years is the development of “modern” butcher shops, where the private sector actors are in the “modern” cattle marketing, slaughter and retail beef program of BOSS. There are currently two butcher shops in Dili, but these may expand into the future. The shops transport quarter carcasses from Tibar abattoir for butchering and cold storage in the shops, and butcher and sell about 20 different cuts and products presented in chilled glass cabinets. The beef is bought by more discerning customers but the butchers say that local residents buy small amounts of lower value beef or secondary cuts from the butcher shops because of the better safety standards and accurate scales.

7 Subtracting net trade from domestic production and divided by the TL population in the 2010 census provides an estimate of per capita supply.
8 Note however, that trim, offal, blood and skin can all be consumed and are nutritious,

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