Chicken Industry

The unseen costs of dumping – social upliftment we can’t afford to lose

Reproduced courtesy of The Saturday Star. First published on 25 April 2019. Article by Charmain Lines. Access the original article here

Barely four months into 2019 the economic squeeze is forcing cash-strapped consumers to be more cost-conscious than ever before. No wonder then that people want to believe the popular misconception that cheap chicken imports from Brazil save consumers money.

Unfortunately this is not the case; even worse, the impact of dumping on rural communities is deeply destructive and extends way beyond the terrible consequences of job losses.

Local producers invest in local communities in ways that importers simply don’t; offering training opportunities, infrastructure improvements and much more.

Dumping, quite simply, destroys that ability to contribute to society in ways other than direct job creation. Jeopardising this invaluable contribution should be avoided at all costs.

Whether it is new kit for an under-15 soccer team or maintenance of a municipal sewage system, these contributions and investments have a major impact on the quality of life of the communities where the major chicken producers operate.

In many cases, education and empowerment is the focus. The major chicken producers all support government-driven skills-development initiatives, notably the AgriSETA’s artisan-development programme which empowers students to improve their status in life. RCL Foods, for instance, hosts 23 apprentices per year for the 12- to 36-month practical component of their training.

Daniam Wehr, who is employed at RCL’s Worcester Agricultural Business Unit, is one of the young apprentices benefitting from this programme. He is currently completing the relevant Phase Training at the False Bay College and gains work-integrated learning at the RCL facility in Worcester. The same programme at Daybreak Farms and Country Bird Holdings (CBH) accommodate 12 and eight other youngsters respectively.

Over at Grain Field Chickens, the company is deeply invested in renovating feeding-scheme kitchens at schools in the eastern Free State. Three renovations – one in Petsana, close to Reitz, and two kitchens at the Leifo Iziko Combined Primary and Secondary School – have been completed.

Four kitchens in KZN are currently being upgraded in partnership with East Coast Radio. Other school projects that Grain Field invests in include donation of school uniforms to Petsana Primary School, and a classroom that was built at a school in Petrus Steyn.

During 2018, Sovereign Foods gave scholarships to four academically deserving but financially needy Grade 12 learners who live close to its Uitenhage plant. The students qualified for university bursaries in 2019 and, upon completion of undergraduate programmes, will be offered one-year in-service training positions.

In support of the government’s national youth employment strategy, the first candidates of CBH’s new youth-employment learnership programme started their training at the company’s Botshabelo processing plant in the Free State on 1 March 2019. The programme runs over 12 months and targets young people between the ages of 18 and 28.

“When you are the biggest employer in an area – as is the case with our processing plants in both Tigane and Botshabelo – then you are a part of the community,” says Marthinus Stander, CEO of CBH. “We need the people as much as they need us, and this creates a sense of community and builds a powerfully symbiotic relationship. It is important to us to give something of lasting value back to the communities that host us. For us empowerment extends beyond the narrow definition of BEE.”

In addition, many contract farmers associated with the big producers host agriculture students on their farms to gain the practical experience they need to complete their studies.

Without exception, the chicken producers assist vulnerable organisations and individuals in their areas. Thousands of kilograms of chicken products are donated to frail-care and day-care centres, orphanages and shelters for the abandoned, and hospices and care centres for terminally ill patients.

Just last year Sovereign Foods alone supported 91 NGOs and NPOs in and around Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Despatch – the towns within the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality.

The large companies also make their expertise available to their neighbours. Grain Field Chickens services local taxis to ensure its staff travel in roadworthy vehicles, and opens its on-site clinic to contractors and farmers whose employees have to undergo medicals. The company also employs a full-time millwright whose time and skills are dedicated to help maintain the municipal water, electricity and sewage systems.

Theo van Strijp, managing director of Grain Field Chickens, explains that the water and electricity requirements of the chicken-processing plant are such that the company had to install dedicated infrastructure to supply it. “We have to maintain our own infrastructure, and over the years we started to include the municipal systems in our maintenance programme,” he says.

“We have a responsibility, firstly to our employees who live in Petsana and Reitz but also to the broader community, to do what we can to ensure that the town functions. We want to work with the municipality and be part of the solution.” This social-mindedness amounted to R1 million in the previous financial year.

In a similar vein, Astral Foods, the biggest chicken producer in the country, contributes to infrastructure. The tertiary water treatment plant at its second largest processing plant, County Fair Hocroft near Cape Town, delivers two million litres of potable water to the municipal grid.

Astral also extends its employee wellness programme to surrounding communities, empowering people to identify and manage chronic conditions and diseases such as hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and HIV/Aids.

Seen in isolation, each of these individual contributions may seem small; combined they make a massive difference to countless individuals, most of whom are living in remote and rural areas, and are often hardly on the radar of the government entities that have a duty of care towards them.

The millions of rands that large and small local companies spend are crucial to the sustainability of vulnerable communities – and their sense of well being.

On the other side of the scale is Imported chicken, which brings none of these community or empowerment benefits that flow from having a successful local chicken producer in the area. Dumped chicken serves one purpose and one purpose only: to make money for importers and middlemen, the crocodiles of trade who could care less what happened to those living in rural South Africa.

Let there be no doubt: dumping erodes, and will eventually destroy, the ability of local producers to contribute to the sustainability of communities in which they operate. They will not be in a position to help out in emergencies, invest in children and students, and give community members a shot at a better life.

Who will step into the breach when the local industry has been brought to its knees? It’s doubtful that Government has the resources to provide on the micro scale that the chicken producers do in their communities, with the close knowledge they have of the very specific needs in their particular areas.

Recent shock reports of two Rainbow Chickens farms in Cato Ridge bought by the eThekweni Municipality for R15 million but which has been left empty to collapse into disrepair, sadly show a much more likely picture of Government involvement.

It’s also highly unlikely that the crocodile importers will start training rural apprentices and providing food to schools and infrastructure support to towns in remote parts of South Africa.

Empowerment is not high on the importers’ agenda. As for the predatory producers in Brazil who simply want to get rid of their offcuts at whatever price; no concern or support should be expected of them.

The cumulative positive impact of the chicken industry on rural South Africa cannot be underestimated and should be valued for the often unseen yet vital contribution it makes to the lives of untold vulnerable South Africans. There simply is no logic in allowing dumping to destroy such a committed, essential contributor to the nation’s welfare.