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Uruguay livestock numbers hit historic low
by Staff Writers
Montevideo, Uruguay (UPI) Oct 28, 2011

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Uruguay, noted for lucrative meat exports and enjoying overall economic growth, is sending alarm signals over its depleting livestock numbers.

The figures are said to be the lowest in decades.

Uruguay's export-oriented agricultural sector contributes to more than 9 percent of its gross domestic product and employs about 13 percent of the work force. Meat and sheep farming take up nearly 60 percent of the land. About 70 percent of all Uruguayan exports are agriculture or livestock-related.

But news of the depleting livestock, mainstay for Uruguay's meat exports, was greeted with dismay.

Beef is Uruguay's main export commodity and earns the country more than $1 billion a year.

Official data indicated the problem wasn't limited to beef-producing farm units as sheep farming was also under pressure from falling numbers of animals.

Uruguay's estimated 39,120 farms produce beef and poultry, wool, dairy products and vegetables, all contributing to the country's earnings and economic growth.

However, cattle numbers are down from 12 million in 2007 to less than 11 million.

There was no immediate comment on how the government planned to reverse the trend but the problem is to be discussed Nov. 15-17 at an international conference of the Pan-American Milk Federation, Frepale.

Uruguay has the highest per capita milk consumption in the Americas but officials are worried depleting livestock numbers may cloud the outlook for the current boom in milk production.

Frepale Secretary-General Eduardo Fresco said, "Dairy farming and the milk industry is booming in the region and most countries are involved in plans to stimulate production and some are even following along the path marked by Uruguay half a century ago."

Government planners are wary of any reversals in the livestock industry that may affect the country's overall growth prospects.

This month the World Bank approved a $260 million loan to support the Uruguayan government's reform program and help it consolidate growth with social equity, providing finance to address the impact of the current global uncertainty.

Uruguayan Finance and Economy Minister Fernando Lorenzo said the World Bank intervention would strengthen a "preventive strategy adopted by the government to reduce the negative effects of any eventual deterioration in the global economy."

Uruguay will receive the loan under the World Bank Deferred Drawdown Option, aimed at countries without an immediate need for financing but wishing to possess an additional insurance in case of an unforeseeable deterioration of the external situation.

"In this way, the Uruguayan government seeks to forestall potentially adverse global circumstances," said Penelope Brook, World Bank director for Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The loan will support a series of reforms, including the development of an e-government platform, competitiveness of the economy and greater social inclusion.

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