Ostrich industry

SA’s ostrich industry: down but not out

SA’s ostrich farming industry is picking itself off the canvas after being floored by avian flu outbreaks over the past two years. “The situation is better than it was a year ago,” says Ostrich Business Chamber CEO Piet Kleyn.

Improvement comes after severe damage caused by a ban on ostrich meat exports to the European Union.”Income losses total over R1,5bn and at least 50% of farmers have left the industry,” says Kleyn. Prior to the ban, the EU accounted for about 80% of the industry’s income from meat.

Coming to the industry’s aid is the world of fashion. “Demand for ostrich leather from European fashion houses is strong and prices are up,” says Kleyn. Feathers are also enjoying strong demand, primarily for use in carnivals in Brazil and Europe, he adds.

“The industry now earns 45%-50% of its income from leather and 15%-20% from feathers,” says Steyn. This, he says, is up from a combined 40% of income prior to the meat export ban.

Peter Oberem, MD of national veterinary services firm Afrivet, believes the ostrich industry is partly to blame for its woes. “There was too much focus on meat exports and not enough on developing the local market,” says Oberem. “You need a strong home market before venturing into exports.”

Agreeing, Steyn says: “There must be a better balance between meat exports and domestic sales. A lot more promotion of ostrich meat is needed in the local market.”

But all is not lost in the export market thanks to development of a process to heat ostrich meat to a core temperature of 70°C, a level at which any avian flu virus present is destroyed. Meat treated in this way complies with all EU food security regulations, says Kleyn and opens up a new market in the heat-and-eat convenience segment.

Despite positives, Kleyn says it will take many years to fully restore the ostrich industry. A big obstacle is a fall in the breeding stock following culling of over 50000 infected ostriches and a fall in the breeding rate caused by lower spending by farmers on feed.

Kleyn says 130 000 birds will be slaughtered in 2013 and less than 100 000 in 2014. This is down from 250 000 birds in 2011.

Source: Financial Mail