Avian flu: SA needs a form of risk insurance to assist poultry sector in event of outbreaks

Millions of birds have been culled in South Africa due to avian flu outbreaks. Picture Henk Kruger/Independent Newspapers

Millions of birds have been culled in South Africa due to avian flu outbreaks. Picture Henk Kruger/Independent Newspapers

Published May 16, 2024


South Africa needs to look at a form of risk insurance that can be put in place that could turn and assist the country and poultry sector during outbreaks of avian influenza (bird flu).

This was according to Dr Ziyanda Majokweni-Qwalela, the deputy director for Epidemiology, Biosecurity and Laboratory Services in Gauteng, speaking at the round-table organised by FairPlay Movement about the lessons learned from the deadliest bird flu outbreak in South Africa’s history last year.

The South African poultry sector is still recovering in the wake of avian flue# outbreaks, which saw millions of poultry birds culled to contain the disease that was financially devastating.

Majokweni-Qwalela said that there was an opportunity to help the poultry industry in evolving a comprehensive playbook for bird flu management by learning from experience.

On the management of the risk for diseases, Majokweni-Qwalela said she felt there was a shared responsibility.

“It is one of the areas I need to see with our recommendations that the State together with industry across all different types of poultry farmers having an open discussion that looks at the reality of South Africa as a country and looks at the options that may be available to us.”

“That would end the endless debate of am I going to get compensated? We just all take the responsibility with whichever model we use to compensate farmers that have experienced or been affected by the disease. We can then compensate from that particular fund,” Majokweni-Qwalela said.

This would give assurance to the poultry industry, which is an important industry and important employer.

Last year the South African Poultry Association (Sapa) said South Africa’s poultry industry was a R56 billion strategic national asset and employed more than 50 thousand people directly.

“The government also realises it is an important industry. But the realities of our country probably need us to think outside the box when it comes to compensating for such diseases,” she said.

Izaak Breitenbach, the general manager at Sapa, said they had learnt a lot of lessons in the recent avian flu outbreak.

“We had an outbreak in 2017 and culled 1.5 million birds. We had a second outbreak in 2021 where we culled about 3.5 million birds. Then we had this disastrous outbreak in 2023. We must not forget that in 2023 we actually had two viruses,” Breitenbach said.

Dr Alan Kalake, a director of Epidemiology at the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said as far as he was aware, for this outbreak, the law allowed for farmers who had been affected by State regulated disease control actions to apply to the National Director for considerations for compensation.

“It is not in policy to say cull and you will be compensated. As far as I understand it is not like that. You then apply so that the National Director can consider the applications whether or not there is merit to what you are requesting from the government. The very same Act we are using places the onus on the animal or manager to take extra-ordinary measures to prevent their animals from being infected.”

However, he said South Africa has no money in the fiscus to compensate farmers amid a moribund economy.

Dr Adri Grobler, the Chief State Veterinarian at Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said the layer industry had been the hardest hit by the outbreak.