With a PhD in Agricultural Economics from the North-West University and a cumulative 10 years’ experience in the South African agricultural sector, the new general manager of the South African Poultry Association’s (SAPA) Egg Organisation, Dr Abongile Balarane, is well qualified for the role. This week Dr Balarane took a moment to chat to Sinesipho Tom about his new role.
Dr Abongile Balarane’s experience extends from agribusiness development to understanding the agricultural finance sector and policy advocacy. A stint with the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) also did much to prepare him for his new job at SAPA’s Egg Organisation, advocating for the interests of commercial egg producers in South Africa.
When he was employed by the NAMC he was responsible for estimating the availability of major grains and oilseeds in South Africa, which prepared him for the egg industry, he says.
“Part of my work was to build and maintain a strong collaboration between the NAMC and the private sector by continuous involvement in the different industry forums and steering committees. Therefore, because the poultry industry is interlinked to the grains and oilseeds sector, the understanding of the functioning of the RSA grains market, I believe also lead me to this current role.”
His career began in the North West department of agriculture in 2011 where he worked as agricultural economist. A year later he joined the Land Bank as an economic analyst, where he worked for a year before joining the NAMC in 2013.
Today the 33-year-old from Welkom in the Free State is responsible for advocating for the interests of both small- and large-scale egg producers in South Africa.
Balarane sat down with Food For Mzansi to talk about his new role as the GM of the Egg Organisation and to unpack the status of the egg industry in South Africa.
Sinesipho Tom: What does your role as the general manager of the Egg Organisation at SAPA entail?
Dr Abongile Balarane: My role as the GM for the egg organisation includes the following: I am responsible for Government advocacy on key strategic issues that affect the egg producers in the Republic of South Africa. These issues involve regulatory and trade related matters, etc. I am also responsible for the implementation of the broader strategy of the Egg Organisation of South Africa. Part of my role is to ensure agreed Government priorities are endorsed by the Egg Organisation; these include adherence to the prescribed NAMC transformation guidelines on the levies side.
What is the biggest crisis facing the egg industry at the moment and how do you hope to improve it at the Egg Organisation?
The current outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is a knock to some of the egg producers with the entire industry on high alert. We currently estimate anything between 2-3% of the national layer flock has been hit by this outbreak, resulting in about 800 000 birds affected, and reported cases in the Gauteng, North West and the Western Cape provinces.
The positive side of the situation is that fortunately the industry learned from the previous outbreak in 2017 and is well advanced in ensuring that the spread of this outbreak is contained and controlled. There is a very positive and strong working relationship between Government and the industry to ensure regulations and strict bio-security measures are followed.
Why are eggs so expensive today?
One of the biggest costs (approximately 70%) for an egg producer is the cost of feed, and unfortunately the prices of grains and oilseeds are based on international prices. Also of importance is that the egg industry is interlinked to other sectors, like the maize, soybean and sunflower industries, including tourism and hospitality and others. If any of the interlinked industries to the egg sector face challenges those challenges sometimes also affect the producers to a certain degree. The cost of electricity, fuel, and wages also affect the industry, with the supply or demand of eggs largely determining the egg price.
I know we as a country also import eggs from other counties, does the egg industry also have dumping concerns like the broiler industry?
The egg industry is not much affected by the dumping of eggs into the country. From the current supply and demand of eggs in South Africa there seemed to be a balance. However, if we compare our per capita consumption, we estimated that a person consumes roughly anything between 150-159 eggs a year. In some of our BRICS member countries like China and Russia, individuals eat about 293 to 306 eggs a year. The worst-case scenario is if we were to reduce the current per capita consumption, which will mean less market for the domestic producers. In actual fact, the industry is striving to encourage per capita consumption to at least 200 eggs per person a year.
How much did egg exports contribute to our economy in 2020?
In terms of the exports from the 2020/21 marketing year, about 10 754 tonnes of eggs were exported from South Africa at an estimated R306.6 million, with Mozambique being the main destination or market. In the same period, minimal table eggs were imported into South Africa, with fertile breeding eggs and dry egg powders imported mainly from Europe and the USA and this amounted to R66.9 million.
In your new role at the Egg Organisation, how do you aim to support new era farmers in the egg industry who want to reach commercial level and aspiring egg farmers who want to penetrate the egg industry?
The egg industry currently collects statutory levies to ensure the industry remains relevent through the implementation of different programs ranging from generic egg marketing and encouraging the consumption of eggs, to consumer education, research and development, quality assurance, and providing industry role players with relevant and accurate information. Also, from the statutory levies collected by the industry, it is able to assist the developing small-scale farmers with business support as stipulated by the NAMC transformation guidelines.