JOHANNESBURG - The price of eggs, a cheap protein source for the poor majority, is likely to go up by R3 a dozen due to the persistent scourge of avian influenza (AI) which is threatening food security.
Yesterday, the Gauteng government warned that the sector's gross domestic product contribution could also shrink between 9% and 10% as result. Agriculture MEC Lebogang Maile said the government was worried about the long-term impact of the disease on food security and the general poultry industry in the country.
“We are extremely concerned about the potential job losses in the sector as a result of the bird flu outbreak,” Maile said after he visited a farm in Boksburg which had closed down as a result of the outbreak. He said the farm in Rooikraal produced nearly 400 000 table eggs a day and production disruptions would likely lead to a spike in prices.
“We want to put the poultry industry back into the path of progress so that it can continue to contribute to job creation in our province.” The warnings come after JSE-listed egg producer Quantum Foods last week closed down its operations in the remaining two sites of the Lemoenkloof commercial layer farm as the outbreak of highly pathogenic AI continued to batter its egg farms in the Western Cape.
The outbreaks, which were first reported in June, have spread to Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, forcing the government to cull thousands of birds in a bid to curtail them. The spread of the contagious disease has also raised fears that the industry, which had just rebounded from the devastating drought that plagued the country last year, could be forced to shed jobs and put small producers out of business.
Absa Agribusiness senior agricultural economist Wessel Lemmer criticised the government for not reimbursing people for birds lost, charging that people did not report cases on time because there was no incentive. He said this had made efforts to curb the spread of the disease futile.
He said as feed prices had come down the country had an opportunity to beef up its poultry production capacity. Lemmer said egg prices were likely to increase by up to R3 a dozen, but stressed it was too early to determine the overall impact the AI would have on the economy.
“Our food security is impacted because though we may still provide poultry domestically, the sad reality is that producers have incurred so many costs because they have culled so many birds and there is no (other) stream of income.” Lemmer said there were no government surveillance teams to detect AI in wild bird populations. “You need to check when and where bird flu occurs in the country so that you contain it,” he said, warning that the “next batch of migratory birds” were heading to the country as summer was approaching.
“They are returning from Asia and Europe. We don't know if we might be hit by an additional AI.” Lemmer urged Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba to “say something” about the compensation of producers affected by AI during his medium-term budget policy statement later this month.
He said AI could affect any country at any given time. “The more countries working together to share knowledge and learn from each other, the better prepared we will all be.”
- BUSINESS REPORT