Bid to look to eSwatini for chicken hits a wall


Modern chicken farm production of white meat ** Note: Shallow depth of field


MASERU – Poultry farmers under the Malitshibana Lesotho umbrella visited eSwatini last December to establish relations with farmers in that country and look for ways of importing chicken and poultry products. Lesotho consumers are reeling from an acute shortage of chicken which hit the country at the end of last year after the government issued a ban on importation of poultry meat from South Africa, traditionally the sole supplier of poultry products.

The ban was necessitated by an outbreak of Avian flu virus which affected most of the large poultry producers in South Africa. Authorities in the sector had to cull up to three million birds to contain the outbreak. The visit was on December 18, 2023 and came shortly after the group had petitioned Prime Minister Ntsokoane Matekane to revoke the government’s ban on poultry products from the neighbouring South Africa.

Malitshibana’s Public Relations Officer (PRO), Rethabile Makhalema, told Public Eye this week that they held several meetings with Prime Minister Matekane and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security through its department of livestock did not yield any positive results.

Instead, they were advised by Matekane to try and establish a relationship with Swaziland and look for the possibility of importing from there. “We learned a lot from Swaziland policies about how they run their business. For instance, they protect their products. For instance, because if they have enough meat in their country they do not allow any meat to be imported into their country but rely on local meat.

“The other things is Swaziland has not banned meat from South African even during the outbreak of Avian Flu Virus in South Africa,” said Makhalema. “Unfortunately, the trip was unsuccessful because Swaziland is trying to stabilize their market and supply their own people before they can export to other countries so they cannot help us. We will know a way forward after the meeting with the Prime Minister,” Makhalema said.

Basotho chicken farmers came together and formed an association called Malits’ibana Lesotho to try and stabilize the supply of poultry products after the tragedy of the ban of chicken import from South Africa to Lesotho. They then voted for a temporary committee to handle matters for them and to see to it that they get back to the market.

In the past few months, the complete unavailability of chicken and all poultry products has put a major strain on the country’s economy, leading to closure of, among others, the popular Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and Galitos outlets nationwide. Many retailers are experiencing an acute shortage of chicken. There has been a complete absence of cooked, packed or frozen chicken in most retail stores across the country.

In the few supermarkets where chicken is still available, prices have significantly increased, as observed by the reporter covering this story. Lesotho, along with several other Southern African countries like Botswana and Namibia imposed a ban on the importation of poultry products from South Africa. Avian Influenza (HPAI), specifically the H5N1 and H7N6 strains, have been identified in various provinces of as South Africa, including Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Northwest, the Freestate, and Kwazulu-Natal, during the months of September and October 2023.

Avian influenza, also known as bird flu, is a viral infection than can infect not only birds but also humans and other animals. Symptoms of bird flu in humans include cough, diarrhea, respiratory difficulties, fever (over 100.4◦F or 38 ◦C), headache, muscle headaches, malaise, runny nose, 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 find their way to the shelves.

In October, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, specifically its Department of Livestock Services, took this action to ensure the safety and security of Lesotho’s poultry industry.

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