It’s not only poultry producers that government has failed to compensate for culls ordered by state veterinarians. Red meat and pork producers have had the same problem, according to an investigation by Farmers Weekly.
That doesn’t reflect well on the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, because in all cases compensation is an important part of disease control.
Whether it’s foot and mouth (cattle), African swine fever (pigs) or avian influenza (poultry), compensation encourages farmers to report outbreaks. Payments would also help them to stay in business.
The size of the problem is illustrated by the fact that the largest poultry producer in the country, Astral, told Farmers Weekly that forced cullings in 2017 cost them R93 million, and they received not a cent in compensation.
RCL Foods said they had lost R26 million due to culling in 2017, without any compensation, and they did not expect to be paid for this year’s culls.
Large integrated producers like Astral and RCL can survive a loss like that, but what about the thousands of smaller, independent farmers, many of them new entrants to the poultry industry, who may have lost most or all of their flocks because of bird flu culls?
Fortunately, there may be a solution in the offing. Agriculture Minister Thoko Didiza has appointed a task team to look into biosecurity and disease control in the three industries. Prof Johann Kirsten, director of the Bureau of Economic Research and a task team member, says compensation is one of the issues they will be looking at.
Farmers will hope that common sense prevails.
Image: Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Thoko Didiza at a media briefing in 2019. Photo: GCIS.