Beginning about a year ago, the South African poultry industry has been hit by outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), or bird flu, causing severe economic losses for the poultry sector due to mass culling and restricted access to national and international trade.
The department of agriculture, land reform and rural development announced the first case of bird flu on 11 April 2021. As a result, some of the major market destinations for South Africa’s poultry products, including Mozambique and Botswana, temporarily banned the importation of poultry products from South Africa.
According to Poultry World, disease outbreaks can often be attributed to biosecurity breaches and human error.
First, a global snapshot
The table below shows the source countries of poultry imports into South Africa, from the first to the fourth quarter of 2021.
It appears that European countries such as France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Ireland have halted their poultry exports to South Africa, which could also be attributed to bird flu outbreaks across Europe that have led South Africa to ban products from these European countries. Spain appears to be the only EU country that has not been affected.
Lower import volumes could allow the local poultry industry the opportunity to expand its local and continental market share. On the other hand, it could expose the country to dumping once the bird flu-related export bans are lifted.
As import volumes from Europe declined, there was a rise in poultry imports from Brazil, the USA, Spain and Argentina. Although Brazil had higher production costs per whole bird than South Africa, Brazil ranked as South Africa’s most important source of poultry imports. Wings were imported at R34/kg, compared to the South African producer price of R38.27/kg.
A need for better biosecurity
South Africa is not a major exporter of poultry meat in the global context and its main markets are neighbouring countries, most of which are members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The table below shows South Africa’s poultry export destinations from the first to the last quarter of 2021, measured in kilograms.
There was a notable decline in exports to Mozambique and Botswana in quarter 2 and quarter 3 of 2021, which could be attributed to HPAI-related export bans imposed after the country announced the first cases of the disease.
South Africa has also been unable to export poultry to other markets, primarily because we have not developed the necessary systems to meet sanitary and phytosanitary requirements such as those of the European Union.
The poultry sector is South Africa’s largest animal and animal product sector in terms of value and volume. Poultry meat provides an affordable source of protein to consumers, and poultry production presents livelihood opportunities.
The severe impact of the bird flu outbreaks highlights the need to better monitor biosecurity practices among the different South African poultry production systems. Stricter biosecurity measures could improve South Africa’s reputation in the international markets and open up more opportunities for expanding production and job creation in the country.
The government must prioritise adequate measures to ensure that South Africa’s biosecurity system is better resourced to provide an appropriate level of protection to the poultry industry.
- Siphelele Smith is a junior economist at South Africa’s National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC).
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