Chickens come home to roost in numbers as govt lifts poultry ban


. . . bleeding economy counts the costs in entire value chain


MASERU – The government this week lifted the ban on importation of poultry products but the chickens have come home to roost as the entire sector’s value chain counts the dear costs of the three-month embargo. The ban of chicken in the country has left the entire budding value chain ranging from poultry farmers, through retailers of all sizes right down to food street vendors devastated and counting losses estimated to run into millions of Maloti.

The ban on imported poultry products, especially from South Africa (the main supplier) was meant to protect consumers from the impact of a ravaging bird flu strain which saw the giant neighbouring economy culling millions of birds.

Coming particularly towards the festive season when chicken, the most affordable protein source, is in peak demand dealt a far-reaching blow to the national economy.

Consumers, chicken farmers, stock feed retailers, poultry products retailers, restaurants and food vendors alike were gutted as chicken prices simply shot up, following the traditional demand and supply matrix.

Cash-strapped consumers who normally feed on affordable protein had to fork out much more when they were lucky enough to find chicken in shops while prices of other varieties of meat such as beef and mutton simply followed the upward trajectory as opportunistic retailers grabbed the chance.

Lost RSL revenue

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food security and Nutrition Principal Secretary (PS) Moshe Mosaase concurred that the ban had a devastating impact on the economy overall.

Citing the bleeding Lesotho Revenue Services incurred due to losses in potential Value Added Tax (VAT) revenue, he said in an interview yesterday that, for instance, if a farmer imports around a million chickens or chicks the tax man earns about M150 000 in VAT, therefore such losses if properly quantified are very significant to the economy. He said some farmers in Lesotho can single handedly order up to 25 000 chicks to breed and sell, therefore a lot of revenue has been lost since the October ban

He said Basotho are unable to produce their own chicken due to the expensive value chain that comes with it; from feeding to having an abattoir, the entire chain is expensive. In other words, Lesotho’s value chain in chicken production is yet to develop since the nation imports almost everything in the chain, from fertilized eggs or day-old chicks right up to chicken feed itself. Thankfully, Mosaase revealed that the ministry has added a comprehensive Poultry Policy in the 2024/2025 budget, which includes incentives to assist farmers in attracting investors which in the long run would lead to Basotho being able to produce their own chicken and establish a sustainable value chain.

“Chicken is one of the proteins which cost less therefore without it, everything has been slow. The ministry has been working hard looking for a way forward to find solutions in the matter,” he said. Although the government has lifted the ban after three months evidence is pervasive that it brought untold disaster as the entire country went into the festive season without chicken, the most accessible relish of ready choice for many.

Poultry Policy birthed

However, the Minister of Agriculture, Food security and Nutrition Thabo Mofosi said there is a new agreement between the two countries which commenced yesterday. The agreement is to select places from which Lesotho will import frozen chicken and fertilised eggs in South Africa.

He said both South Africa and Lesotho health specialists will coordinate the process while South Africa will have to issue a certificate when it adds more sourcing places.

“It is however still risky to import live chickens into the country that is why frozen chicken was found eligible. We have also selected the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries which will assist in this situation excluding S.A.

“Both eSwatini and Zambia are the right countries to import from to assist Basotho. eSwatini is able to produce its own poultry products without relying on other countries, except in fertile eggs where it was also importing from South Africa.

“To enable Basotho to produce their own chicken as well as other countries, we have included in the 2024/2025 budget speech that farmers and individuals are met half-way in terms of costs and transportation while importing chicks.

“We are already in negotiations with the Ministry of Finance to see to it that they include all that. Also, each district will have to issue out a list of poultry producers to enable productivity,” he said.

Mofosi further added that the marketplace is wide open at the moment of which many franchises in the country already stated how much chicken they need.

For instance, he said KFC needs about 190 000kg of chicken in about 10 months, and 120 000kg between the months of November and December, which is the peak.

At the rate of M36 a kg (which has been the average price of chicken lately) it means the economy lost more than M4 million Maloti to lost business for KFC franchises alone between November and December.

He emphasized that it is not that Basotho are unable to produce their own poultry products, it is that they lack guidance and training and handle finances recklessly.

Budding entrepreneurs

A stock feed supplier Malethole Masenyetse of RJM Animal Farm feeding, told Public Eye yesterday that the ban of chicken in Lesotho has really affected them in a very negative way because selling animal feeds is the mainstay of their business.

“The chicken ban has really affected our business because before the ban we used to sell at least 40 bags of chicken feeds in a week, be it Starter, Growers or Finisher feeds and about 50 bags of Layers feed in a week. From October until now we had no chicken feeds because there was no point of buying the bags of feeds that were only going to expire” Masenyetse said.

Masenyetse showed that they sell about 40 bags of starter feeds and each at around M380 this mean that they have lost M15 200 in a week, M60 800 in a month and about M182 400 in three months on each type of chicken feeds. These are conservative estimates. Masenyetse added: “Lesotho Flour Mills now allows people to buy individually, which is really unfair because to us license holders have to buy in bulk and pay tax in the process. We are expecting them to allow us license holders to buy then individual people should buy from us because it is weighing us down when they let individuals buy from them directly rendering our licenses useless,” Masenyetse said.

Masenyetse added that despite such heavy losses in business because of the ban, they still have bills to pay such as workers, electricity and maintenance which cannot be deferred. Masenyetse, whose business is located after the Thabong Circle on the road to Lakeside said unannounced road works have aggravated their loss of business.

“Last week there was a road repair programme at the Thabong circle and it really affected us because the road was closed and that is the road that comes to our business and for that reason we did not get even one customer that week. The most painful part about it is that they did not even inform the business owners close to that area, who might be affected by that road infrastructure.”

Silver lining

But the ban on chicken was not all doom and gloom as there has been a silver lining to it for small players such as traders who sell sheep and goats by the roadsides. In the absence of chicken, those who sale alternative varieties of meat had roaring business.

Public Eye spoke to some men who sell sheep around Ha Matala who recorded unprecedented brisk sales. Mohau Malataliana, the Secretary of Tsoelang Pele Baits’ukuli, says the shortage of chicken saw him making huge gains during the past Christmas holidays. In 2022 during Christmas holidays he sold less than 100 sheep while in 2023 Christmas Holidays he sold up to 180 sheep at M1 200 apiece on average.

Malataliana said since 2010 when he started selling sheep, it was his first time experiencing customers buying sheep in such large numbers.  However, he said the biggest drawback for him and his partners is lack of sites on which to conduct business. “We are really working hard because with the money we get we plan to be able to secure sites here in Maseru and build our own houses,” added another sheep farmer who refused to be identified.

Malataliana added, “Of course, were are making a lot of money but during rainy days were are struggling because there is nowhere we can shelter ourselves and that forces us to knock- off before our normal time and we lose our potential customers.”

He again said as an organisation, they are facing a lot of difficulties concerning the site they are using at Ha Matala and they have even written a letter to the Maseru City Council (MCC) seeking permission to operate legally.

Malataliana said they wrote a letter to the Ministry of Trade, Industry & Small Businesses to at least come to their rescue.  “Indeed the ministry of small businesses took an initiative and gave us site at Maqalika next to the Lesotho Agricultural College.  Keketsi Phole, on behalf of the Ministry of Trade Industry & Small Businesses, said after surveying the place at Maqalika, they realized that it is not a good idea to allocate the place to the sheep farmers.

Phole said they are working hand in hand with the MCC and they have already selected two sites near Maseru town but only one will be selected for the farmers to work on it and they will soon let them know when will they start working.

Small players knocked out

Meanwhile Public Eye also conducted interviews among street food vendors to gauge the impact of the chicken ban. Mojabeng ‘Moleli, who specializes in selling meals of chicken mala or offals near Pitso Ground said business has been bad because she has lost a lot of customer to the extent that she had to ask one of her two employees to leave because they were not making enough money to pay her.

“We are buying chicken from chicken farmers and they are now very expensive. Before the chicken ban, we were buying a whole chicken at M70.00 but now it is M120.00. Our traditional customers are complaining high prices of our food. Normally the price of a plate was M40.00 but now we have to sell at M50.00,” said Tebalo Mpora, another vendor.

Mme Mathato Mosala, another food vendor at Stoppong also sells chicken offals to people who work around the bustling area, including taxi drivers. She painted a sad tale of huge losses for the poor vendors struggling to eke out an honest living.

She says she normally buys four boxes of 10 packets each and all of them are sold out each day. Each packets used to cost less than M15 but since the ban pushed demand up, the chicken offals now range between M20 and M25 rand a box which has really hurt her business.

Asked if she tried to sell other types of meat she said:

“Yes, I tried to but other meat products are not as popular since they are more expensive but with chicken offals I am always sure that my daily stock sells out since nearly everyone does not mind sparing a little money to get lunch, breakfast and sometimes dinner,” she said.

Another lady who sells food at a stall next to hers, who simply wanted to be identified as Mme Palesa also echoed the same tale of woes wrought by the chicken ban but added that despite the tough economic times, last year her small enterprise was flowing well until October when the ban was suddenly imposed.

“Of course I do not make huge sums of money but I could smoothly get by until October. From there all my dreams of buying clothes for my teenage daughters evaporated. To make matters worse I had deposited some clothes on lay-bye but I failed to make the last payment in time for Christmas because my daily takings had taken a knock,” she said. Mme Palesa added that she had to forgo her plans to indulge her family during Christmas knowing she would need to cough up money for school fees and stationery soon after the holiday.

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