By Karabo Mabuza
ON DECEMBER 5, Statistics SA released the latest gross domestic product (GDP) figures, which showed a 9.6% decrease in the agriculture sector. This decline was attributed to reduced production in field crops, animal products and horticulture products, as well as various challenges faced by the industry in the third quarter, such as the outbreak of avian flu and floods in the Western Cape.
The agriculture sector was the largest negative contributor to GDP growth in the first quarter, subtracting 0.4%.
Animal diseases such as foot and mouth disease (FMD), highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), and African swine fever (ASF) continue to pose a significant challenge to sustainable livestock farming in South Africa. The country has been battling open outbreak cases of these diseases, with around 30% of South Africa’s chickens culled to deal with a new highly contagious strain of bird flu. The number of cases reported has declined, but bird flu is still present in South Africa.
The poultry industry and government have made progress in terms of discussions around vaccines. About 6 million layer hens have been culled to date, with another 3.5 million birds affected, representing about 30% of local production. It will take about 17 months to recover this lost production. However, the situation has started to improve in terms of the availability of eggs on shelves.
Various interventions are in progress within the poultry sector to deal with bird flu outbreaks. These include the importation of fertilised eggs to rebuild the parental bird stock, importing table eggs (powder and liquid eggs for industrial use to free whole eggs for human consumption), and ongoing considerations regarding possible vaccinations to curb the disease’s spread.
There is hope that these measures will contribute to the likely normalisation of prices in the coming months. Fortunately, the infection rate of bird flu has decreased significantly in recent weeks.
The industry expectation for the 2022/23 season for summer grains was a plentiful supply. However, for the period July to September 2023, farmers were still busy with harvesting activities, which should have led to some of the crops not being accounted for in the growth numbers.
The South African horticulture industry continued to face challenges ranging from cold chain interruptions as a result of rolling blackouts which impact quality and storage costs, the EU’s false codling moth (FCM) regulations, pressures on consumers’ disposable income, and stricter market requirements implemented by the EU. Some areas were hit by frost in early September 2023, affecting exporters of table grapes, which had bloomed earlier due to warmer temperatures in late August 2023.
Floods in the Western Cape
The Western Cape faced another heavy and destructive flood at the end of September 2023 at mainly the Bredasdorp, in the Southern Overberg, regions. Significant damage to farm infrastructure, electricity supply and road networks was reported in various small farming towns of the province. These floods follow heavy rain in the second week of June, which caused flood damage in the Western Cape area.
The industry has been concerned about the deterioration of the quality of the winter grains, of which the harvesting process is still under way, and the impact on other important crops like wine grapes and table grapes which the agricultural commodity calendar indicates are in season from October onwards.
Karabo Mabuza is an agricultural economist currently serving in the Agriculture Advisory Division at the Land Bank. She writes in her personal capacity and the views expressed in this article are her own and do not necessarily represent policy positions of the Land Bank.