MASERU – The months-long spell of chicken scarcity is abetting. The scarcity of poultry products due to the ban on importation from South Africa has had a devastating impact not only households, but also businesses, including popular restaurants like Galito’s and KFC, that were forced to temporarily close.
Chain supermarkets such as Shoprite and Pick n Pay operated without selling chicken such that freezers which were normally stocked with poultry meat were stuffed with pork and fish. However, as the festive season started both supermarkets have had chicken. Pick n Pay announced that their store now offers 5k chicken sourced from Eswatini, priced at M245, which reflects a 30% increase.
Galito’s has now reopened its branch at the Station area in a new building, while KFC has reopened most of its outlets in Maseru. These closures were a result of the restrictions imposed on importing poultry products from South Africa because of the outbreak of Avian Flu. This decision was made in response to recent outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), specifically the H5N1 and H7N6 strains, which have occurred in various provinces of South Africa including Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Northwest, Free State, and Kwazulu-Natal, during the months of September and October in the year 2023.
Avian influenza, also known as bird flu, is a viral infection that can infect not only birds but also humans and other animals. Symptoms of bird flu in humans include cough, diarrhoea, respiratory difficulties, fever (over 100.4°F or 38°C), headache, muscle aches, malaise, runny nose, and sore throat.
Bird flu is transmitted to humans through contact with infected bird faeces, nasal secretions, or secretions from the mouth or eyes. Generally, the first signs of sick animals include a drop in production, meaning that sick chickens will produce very few (if any) eggs. This, together with the added mitigation of placing farms under quarantine, means no eggs from these infected farms will make their way to the shelves.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, specifically its Department of Livestock Services, has taken this action to ensure the safety and security of Lesotho’s poultry industry. Consequently, all import permits that have been issued for poultry and poultry products were nullified with immediate effect.
According to one of the largest poultry producers in South Africa, Quantum Foods (QFHJ.J), in just a week following the disease’s outbreak, about two million chickens were culled.
Reuters also reported at the time that another South African poultry producer, Astral Foods (ARLJ.J), said the total cost associated with the outbreak amounted to about 220 million Maloti.
It further stated that there are currently 49 new HAI cases, which have occurred from April 18, 2023, to September 5, 2023, of which 10 have been confirmed to be caused by HPAI H5, while 39 were confirmed to be caused by HPAI H7.
New cases were reported in all types of commercial chicken in the provinces of Kwazulu-Natal, Western Cape, Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and Northwest, respectively.
In 2021 reports estimated that Lesotho imported US$38.9 million (which is more than M730 million) in Poultry Meat, becoming the 93rd largest importer of poultry meat in the world. At the same year, poultry meat was the third most imported product in Lesotho.
Namibia is also reported to have banned poultry products import from South Africa. The country is estimated to consume about 2,500 tons of chicken every month, relying mainly on imports from South Africa. However, the Department of Agriculture South Africa revealed that the flu outbreak is now under control and egg supplies are improving,
About six million egg layers and 2.5 million breeder chickens, nearly a third of the national flock, have been culled due to the bird flu, according to the South African Poultry Association. This has led to a shortage of eggs and fears of poultry meat shortages heading into the festive season. In a statement, the South African Department of Agriculture said the government had facilitated increased imports of eggs, fertilised eggs, egg powder and liquid eggs to ease shortages.
“The department is happy that the HPAI outbreak is under control and that 70% of farms that were not infected continue to produce eggs and chickens,” the department said, adding that “egg stock levels are replenishing steadily”. South Africa’s leading poultry producers and processors Astral Foods (ARLJ.J), RCL Foods (RCLJ.J) and Quantum Foods (QFHJ.J) have said the bird flu outbreak has ravaged a sector already burdened by the country’s frequent electricity cuts and rising costs.
In contrast, local poultry suppliers recently appealed to Prime Minister Sam Matekane, urging him to revoke the government’s prohibition on importing chicken and poultry products from South Africa.
Their demonstration from Pitso Ground to Sefikeng sa Moshoeshoe sought to draw the premier’s attention to their predicament and emphasize the ongoing risk the ban poses to their businesses.
‘Mantsane Rantekoa, the chairperson of the farmers and suppliers group, said they were forced to shut down operations due to the scarcity of chicken within the country.
She noted that the ministry of agriculture had encouraged them to import poultry products from elsewhere after South Africa was placed on “red alert” by the World Organisation of Animal Health but alternative sources are too expensive for them.