There are bumps on the road to a better 2024

Problems plaguing the poultry industry include a lack of compensation for the millions of birds culled due to bird flu, the threat of tariff rebates to incentivise imports, and difficulties in getting a bird flu vaccination programme up and running.

Some of these difficulties were highlighted in the Sunday Times, which headlined the compensation issue.

Unlike other countries, South Africa does not compensate poultry farmers for the millions of chickens they are instructed to cull to curb the spread of bird flu, or for the expensive clean-up operations before chicken houses can be restocked. 

This has two very negative outcomes. Firstly, there is a huge financial impact. Large poultry producers suffer losses, and small farmers go out of business and retrench workers.

In 2017, when some 4.6 million chickens were culled or died, the SA Poultry Association (SAPA) estimated the total loss to the industry at just under R1 billion. During the far worse 2023 outbreak, nearly 9 million birds died or were culled. The impact has not yet been quantified, but it helped to drive South Africa’s largest poultry producer, Astral Foods, into its first annual loss.

The second result of the failure to compensate is that it encourages poultry farmers with infected flocks to avoid culling in the hope that some of the chickens will survive. This enables the spread of the bird flu virus. 

Nevertheless, the South African government has refused to compensate farmers, the latest reasoning being that it does not have the money.

The industry’s hopes rose when Deputy President Paul Mashatile told parliament last October that help was on the way. He said Agriculture Minister Thoko Didiza would announce details of a scheme to support poultry farmers affected by bird flu, and especially small-scale farmers, through a R3.5bn fund.

No such announcement has been forthcoming.

The Sunday Times quoted SAPA’s Izaak Breitenbach as saying there had been no progress on bird flu assistance to the poultry industry.

“The industry is awaiting information on the disaster relief fund for poultry that was announced by Deputy President [Paul] Mashatile late last year,” he said.

It could be a long wait.