SA ostrich sector determines its own success

Despite bans on ostrich meat exports to Europe over the past two years and increased competition with other market products, the ostrich industry has positioned itself firmly in the international and local market.
Issue date: 20 April 2007

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Despite bans on ostrich meat exports to Europe over the past two years and increased competition with other market products, the ostrich industry has positioned itself firmly in the international and local market.

Anton Kruger (right), CEO of the South African Ostrich Business Chamber, speaks to Glenneis Erasmus about the way in which self-regulation and market diversification has contributed to the success of this industry.

How did the bird flu outbreak affect the local ostrich industry?
The outbreak of bird flu (H5N2, non-­virulent strain) in the Eastern Cape in 2004 and in the Western Cape in 2006 resulted in a ban on exports of ostrich meat products to the European market, currently the main market for ostrich meat. The industry, however, responded by turning this situation into an opportunity to develop the domestic market, which resulted in the local market growing fivefold since 2004. Remembered, the industry produces meat, leather and feather products. Leather exports for use in clothing, upholstery, shoes and handbags currently accounts for over 65% of the industry’s income. Leather and feather products were not affected by the ban. Reopening market channels and waiving export bans usually takes a long time.

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What process was used to lift the ban?
The Department of Agriculture and the ostrich industry worked closely in a private- public partnership. The negotiations to have such bans lifted are government-to-government processes and thus the Department of Agriculture performed this function – based on South Africa’s compliance with international requirements. In addition to other requirements, no ostrich can now be moved if it has not first been tested for bird flu. The SA Ostrich Business Chamber (SAOBC) will coordinate these tests. This is a huge responsibility as only accredited people are allowed to perform tests, which have to be coordinated with slaughtering dates.

W hat other practices were implemented to prevent a similar from happening in the future?
The industry developed a thorough database and record-keeping system. There are currently 1 040 ostrich farms, of which 873 are in the Western Cape. All the farmers are required to keep records for each bird on their farms, including the number of animals slaughtered, causes of deaths with the post-mortem certificate, and medication. In this way farmers know exactly what is happening on their farms. The SAOBC had record-keeping and movement documents (ostrich passports) printed to assist farmers with these processes, and the organisation distributes these to producers at no cost. The permits help us to monitor the number of ostriches in the industry and to trace the movement of birds. The industry also presented various workshops aimed at addressing ostrich health and production issues.

How did farmers respond to the increased administration resulting from all these new processes?
There were a few who initially thought the increased administration was unnecessary. However, most are now in favour of these practices as they acknowledge that self-policing and regulation is necessary for the industry to remain sustainable. Nobody can afford to lose market share again.

Has the industry managed to reclaim the markets it lost during the meat ban?
The industry reclaimed over 90% of its market over a relatively short time. Demand currently outstrips supply in Europe due to an increased demand for healthier or low-fat meat. Europe has been trying to fill the gap with ostrich from other countries, but these countries struggle to maintain supply because they do not have sufficient volumes of meat. In addition South Africa offers full traceability as part of its product package.

You said leather is the industry’s main market. How does the industry deal with fake leather products?
Fake products affect the ostrich industry in the same way it affects other industries. We try to educate consumers to discern the difference between real and fake products. A good test is to feel the little circular stubbles on the leather, called quills, and if your fingernail can slightly get under the quill and lift it, then you have the real McCoy.

What is the current market outlook for feather products?
The market for feather products is doing very well and it is picking up. Klein Karoo International (KKI), the division responsible for selling feathers, supplies over 80% of the world’s ostrich feather demand. The group’s success can be attributed to the diverse market and the wide range of products it supplies. Moulin Rouge, a French music hall renowned for cancan dancing and cabarets, has been buying feathers from the group for the past five decades. A new show is in the pipeline, and Moulin Rouge management visited Oudtshoorn last year because the variety and availability of feathers will influence the design of the thousands of new costumes that will be created for the show. KKI also supplies a few tons of feathers a year for the Rio de Janeiro Mardi Gras Festival. It is customary for participants not to wear the same costume more than once. In addition to the clothing market, feathers are also sold as dusters or as confetti at weddings. The market for dusters has grown from around 100 000 per annum a few years ago to over a million last year, resulting in a labour increase of four to 13 in the company’s duster division. One international motorcar factory buys feathers to remove dust from cars before they are painted, and small, colourful feather dusters are sold to clean computer screens. Ostrich production has recently started in areas other than the Klein Karoo.

To what do you ascribe this move?
The Klein Karoo still accounts for 75% of SA’s ostrich production and will probably remain the main producing area due to its favourable climate. Production in the southern Cape has the advantage of reduced input costs for feed as this region can produce a wider variety of grain and feed products than is possible in the Klein Karoo.

What is the market outlook for ostrich meat for the rest of the year?
The economic principle of supply and demand will dictate prices. There has been a reduction in the amount of slaughter animals as over 30 000 birds – over 12% of SA’s slaughter animals – were culled in the Eastern Cape in 2004 due to bird flu. These cullings included breeder birds, leading to lower production in the following seasons. The shortage of birds might continue for a while as it takes up to five years to raise breeding stock to an age where they are ready to breed. This will impact on meat prices. Contact Anton Kruger on (044) 272 3336 or e-mail [email protected]. |fw