Struggling ostrich industry suffers yet another setback

The plight of ostrich farmers is growing ever more desperate.

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The plight of ostrich farmers is growing ever more desperate as routine testing reveals further cases of the H5N2 avian influenza virus in the Klein Karoo as well as an apparent spread of the virus to Eastern Cape.

The sixth round of routine testing in the Klein Karoo, conducted at the end of October, showed that the virus had spread to three more farms in the area. Traces of the virus were also detected on the farm Teasdale close to Klipplaat in Eastern Cape.

Further tests must still be carried out to determine whether these ostriches were indeed infected with the virus. In order to prevent the spread of the disease and to comply with the industry’s emergency response policy, Kent Krige, owner of Teasdale, had to send his entire 650-bird flock to the abattoir for culling.

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According to Anton Kruger, chief executive officer of the South African Ostrich Business Chamber, the outbreak since early this year has caused a complete standstill of this R1,2 billion-a-year industry, which employs more than 20 000 people.

“Exports of ostrich meat to the EU contribute about 62% of income for the ostrich industry, and for every month of the duration of the ban we are losing R108 million per month in direct income,” he said.

Kruger was cautious about predicting when exports would start again, but since the EU requires a three-month disease-free period before exports can be resumed, the earliest date would be around March next year. He told Farmer’s Weekly that no one could be blamed for the spread of the disease, and at this stage veterinarians were still trying to determine how the virus spread to Eastern Cape.

The two mostly likely culprits are ostrich chicks sold to a farm in the Klein Karoo before the ban on the movement of ostriches came into effect, or wild waterfowl. According to Johan Keller, a prominent ostrich farmer from the Klein Karoo, ostrich farms in the area have not been operating for six months and farmers have had to engage in other farming activities or find alternative sources of income to help them stay afloat.

“Ostrich farmers are hanging on by a thread. Our businesses havecome to a complete standstill. We haven’t been able to export since April and the local price of ostrich meat is too low – and the market too small – to be of any real help to us,” he told Farmer’s Weekly. – Denene Erasmus

An outbreak of the H5N2 avian influenza virus on ostrich farms in the Klein Karoo in April this year has thus far caused the ostrich industry to suffer estimated financial losses of R750 million. No fewer than 37 000 ostriches have been culled on farms in Western and Eastern Cape.