It is a key source for both meat and wool. Dr Abdulla Elmansoury, professor of physiology at Libyan International Medical University, in Benghazi, where he is dean of the faculty of basic medical sciences, is a livestock farmer with holdings near Benghazi. He has seen his lamb business destroyed by the Libyan civil war that has continued since 2014.
“I used to have 270 head of sheep now I have none,” Elmansoury told GlobalMeatNews. The farmer and academic said that there were 7.15 million head of sheep (of all breeds) across Libya in 2014, according to UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) figures for 2014. Since then, with conflict endemic between a large number of armed groups, the numbers of sheep farmed in Libya have been falling, but it has been too dangerous for officials to collect detailed figures.
The war has also made it hard for Libyans to secure hard currency to import inputs need to keep a livestock unit in operation. Libyans have to buy dollars on the local black market. A businessman from Tripoli told GlobalMeatNews: “The price is not stable. It varies between five or six Libyan dinars [LYD] to the [US] dollar; last week it went up to seven LYD.”
Elmansoury said: “Black market exchange rates are driving up costs of feed and labour for farming. In turn this is driving up the price of sheep.”
He added that inquiries he had made at Benghazi University indicated that the average price for a good breeding ram in Libya is currently between LYD2,000 and LYD2,500 (US$1,400 - US$1,750). Younger rams bought during Eid Al-Adha (late August/early September) for sacrificial slaughter last year (2016) fetched between LRD700 and LYD1,900 (US$490 to US$1,330).
He also noted that there is no support for feed or for vaccination from the ministry of agriculture of the Tobruk-based government which controls eastern Libya (including Benghazi) and wide areas of the south. A Tripoli-based government and rival militia-based administrations control the rest of the country.
Most internal trading happens at local markets though in recent years some farmers have begun selling sheep via the popular online market place ly.opensooq.com. Others have been advertising sheep on Facebook.
According to a farmer based near Tripoli, the big buying period is Eid Al-Adha where imports play an important part in supplementing the market.
She said: “Spanish and Romanian sheep are cheap, compared to Libyan sheep, so are greatly in demand. One drawback, they have no tail fat, which Libyan housewives need to preserve the obligatory dried meat. Lamb is eaten all year round, but, because of its high price and cholesterol content, most people prefer to eat the leaner camel meat.”
As well as legal trading, smuggling sheep into Egypt, Chad and Sudan has risen during Libya’s civil war. Indeed, Elmansoury sees smuggling as one of the biggest threats to the national herd and claimed people did it “to get better prices”. Moreover, while some sheep were bought for the trade, others were stolen, he said, adding: “It is a very big problem and needs to be taken care of, [but as yet] it’s not at the level where the breed is in danger.”