Chickens culled across Western Cape as South Africa's bird flu crisis grows
The poultry industry in the Western Cape is projecting production losses amounting to R800m understood to be the hardest hit region as avian flu spread across South Africa.
Outbreaks of the deadly virus have been recorded in Cape six provinces, putting thousands of jobs on the line. Some producers are pushing for vaccination but that needs government permission while some accuse the authorities of waiting for summer – when hot weather stops the disease.
The Western Cape, which is one of SA’s main agriculture regions, has been the worst affected, according to the provincial government. Affected farms cull all birds on the property and recall and destroy all eggs as part of measures to control the spread of the virus.
Farms also have to shut down production for up to six months, while they embark on surveillance and cleaning.
A provincial department of agriculture estimate puts the cost of production losses of hens and eggs in the region of R800m, not counting additional costs of labour and materials to do composting.
“The overall economic impact will be more significant as many of the farms will lose income for a prolonged period due to quarantine restrictions and time taken to get back to full production, with an anticipated impact on jobs,” the provincial government said in an update on the spread of the disease.
In terms of egg prices, moderate increases in the short term were projected, but prices could return to normal levels relatively quickly, it said.
“This is of concern as more than 900,000 households buy eggs in the province and another 1.2-million households buy chicken meat — the main animal protein source for the majority of poor households.”
The avian flu outbreak had hit the Paardeberg area, the region with the highest concentration of poultry farms in the province, Western Cape economic opportunities MEC Alan Winde said on Monday.
“The Western Cape is the worst affected province. In some regions, poultry-production farms are clustered in a specific area. In other provinces, cases have occurred at locations far removed from these hubs,” Winde told businesslive.co.za .
The provincial disaster management centre would assist the provincial department of agriculture with the co-ordination of steps to mitigate the effects of the avian flu outbreak, said Anton Bredell, MEC for environmental affairs, local government and development planning.
“A big part of what we are busy with currently includes looking after the wellbeing of affected farm workers. In this regard, the departments of social development and agriculture are leading the process.
“Sassa [the South African Social Security Agency] and the Department of Labour are also on board. In addition, the department of environmental affairs’ waste management unit is ensuring the safe disposal of carcasses on affected farms,” said Bredell.
News 24 spoke to Winde, who said: “One of the other areas that also helps us is that it’s getting warmer. And you know with humans and flu – we are more susceptible to flu in winter time. As we move to summer, we are less susceptible to flu and the same thing obviously with Avian Influenza…”