With 75% of the global market share, Mzansi remains the world’s leader in ostrich production, but the protracted drought, bird flu and, more recently, the Covid-19 pandemic has severely impacted on production.
This is the view of Piet Kleyn, chief executive of the South African Ostrich Chamber.
Speaking to Food For Mzansi following the Western Cape department of agriculture’s recent ostrich auction Kleyn admits that times are tough.
“The main ostrich producing areas struggle with the effects of the drought of the past six years. Producers have to buy in all the feed for their ostriches. Also, the industry is crippled by the impact of disease control measures implemented for avian influenza,” he says.
Big Covid-19 pandemic blow
Furthermore, Covid-19 has had a negative effect on the markets for ostrich leather, meat and feathers. The pandemic’s devastating effect on the tourism industry is also impacting on the sales of ostrich products.
The ostrich market is characterised by three product phases: meat, leather and feathers. At the moment, meat and leather are the main sources of income.
Ostriches are produced throughout South Africa except for KwaZulu–Natal. With 77% of the country’s ostriches found in the Western Cape, Oudtshoorn in the Klein-Karoo is also regarded as the world’s ostrich capital.
Kleyn says the ostrich industry is a major contributor to the economy of the “rural, drier areas” of South Africa. Many communities rely on the industry to survive. However, since Covid-19 struck, export volumes have dwindled resulting in big blow for the industry.
Oudtshoorn ostrich farmer Joey Potgieter tell us that ostrich farming has been difficult in the wake of the pandemic. The trading of ostrich feathers, meat and leather to international markets was interrupted, says Potgieter, who is also the chairperson of the Ostrich Producers Association.
The feather industry is still very slow due to all the carnivals and shows that remain closed. This includes Brazil’s carnival in which Mzansi’s ostrich feathers are a big hit, as well as the Moulin Rouge cabaret in Paris, France.
“China is the main buyer of ostrich feathers and they are only now opening their markets after the Chinese New Year. During lockdown the feather market was not a primary agricultural market and was totally closed,” says Potgieter.
“The meat markets were hugely influenced by the tourist market that totally stopped. The ostrich leather market is still very slow due to the consumers that don’t buy much luxury (products) during this Covid-19 time. It will take some time to recover.”
Industry remains on a rocky road
Potgieter stresses that a tough journey still awaits. “As you can see, it is not post-Covid time. We are still in Covid. Hopefully the markets will open as the vaccination process progresses.”
Potgieter adds that the Covid-19 lockdowns have been a major blow to the tourism industry, which includes the ostrich industry.
“Hotels, lodges and guest houses almost had a zero figure. The USA and China was in a tight lockdown. Transport of any commodity was a big challenge and twice as expensive as aeroplanes didn’t fly.”
Furthermore, Klein-Karoo ostrich farmers still haven’t recovered from the drought.
“Dry conditions and low margins are forcing the farmers out of the industry and will definitely have an effect on the future supply, but we are optimistic that all the markets will recover in the foreseeable future.”
‘A sign of good things to come’
Meanwhile the industry last week celebrated the auction of the Western Cape government’s Oudtshoorn-based ostrich research farm. Seventy-seven ostriches belonging to a prestige breeding established from breeding material donated by farmers across the country were sold.
Western Cape minister of agriculture Dr Ivan Meyer says the ostriches were sold at an average price of R4 500 each, with the highest price being R7 250.
The department annually sells progeny from its research flock to the industry to enable them to directly benefit from genetic improvement. Industry leaders say this sale is a sign of good things to come amid huge challenges.
The Western Cape GOVERNMENT OWNS the only ostrich research facility in the world.
“Dating back to the 1970s, the Western Cape department of agriculture has supported the ostrich industry through research into all aspects of ostrich production,” says Meyer.
Dr Ilse Trautmann, chief director of research and technology development in the province, highlights the partnership between the department and the ostrich industry.
“A prestige breeding flock was established from widely selected breeding material donated by ostrich farmers.
“The agreement with the industry was that the breeding flock was to be maintained and improved to provide the industry with improved breeding material. And the 17th ostrich auction is testimony to the departments’ commitment to the industry.”