Eggs are more expensive since the outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) - pexels
Durban - The avian flu outbreak - which struck farms nationwide and led to the culling of millions of chickens and other birds - has left KwaZulu-Natal egg producers unable to meet the demand.

A North Coast egg producer and distributor said, as a result of HPAI H5N8 virus (also known as avian influenza or bird flu) that broke out earlier this year, they had suffered a knock-on effect as there was a shortage of new hens available to re-stock layer farms.

The Mercury reported in August that birds had been culled in KwaZulu­Natal ­following the detection of the virus.

At the time, the chief executive of the South African Poultry Association (Sapa) Dr Charlotte Nkuna confirmed a case in Vryheid.

The virus was first detected in chickens in late June in Mpumalanga. It then spread across the country.

The Mercury reported in October that the shortage of eggs could raise prices by as much as 20%, but they would also be uneconomical to import owing to their short shelf life and high transport costs.

According to the association, South Africa’s broiler and egg producers made up the largest segment of the country’s agricultural sector in rand terms, contributing 18% of all agricultural production and 39% of animal products last year.

The egg producer said it usually bought new hens every month to replace the older birds that were laying fewer eggs and eating more food.

“We have only managed to get one new batch of birds placed in the past three months, and are only getting more in April 2018.

“We have been inundated with calls from traders, wholesalers and customers who come to our farm stall wanting to buy eggs.

“We cannot keep up with the demand and people are getting quite irate about it.”

The department of economic development, tourism and environmental affairs told The Mercury this week that more than 600 000 visitors were expected in the province, which could be adding to the demand.

The producer said that it normally sold 14 500 cases of eggs to customers every month and - because of the increased demand for Christmas - normally acquired extra cases from their suppliers.

Each case consists of 360 eggs.

“But this year, we are unable to purchase the extra cases (in excess of 2 000) to meet the demand.”

Another Newcastle-based producer anticipated that it would take more than a year to recover from the outbreak.

He said there were only four major suppliers of hens, three of whom had been affected by the outbreak.

“When you are affected, you lose all your birds and have to start from scratch.

“It will take time for us to recover.”

General manager of the KwaZulu-Natal Poultry Institute Janet Lee agreed and said that replacement pullets - or young hens - were in short supply.

“The shortage is severe. The hens take 18 months from when they first hatch to mature in order to start producing eggs.

“We anticipate the scarcity to persist for months.”

The Mercury