Ostrich farmers hold heads high

2 August 2004

South Africa’s ostrich industry may have had its wings clipped by international competitition, but experts say the country can maintain its dominant position in the global market – and that the industry presents a key opportunity for emerging farmers.

According to Business Day’s trade supplement, The South African Exporter, more ostrich meat is exported from South Africa than any other red meat.

South Africa currently has around 600 export-registered ostrich farms, with roughly 300 000 ostriches slaughtered in the country each year. The industry employes around 20 000 workers, and total investment in production and processing is around R2.1-billion per annum.

The European Union, which places tough requirements on exporters, is the largest consumer of South Africa’s ostrich meat, while Asia is also a major export destination.

The potential market for ostrich meat was highlighted during the mad cow disease scare of the 1990s. At the time, much of the local industry was concentrated in the Karoo, with Oudtshoorn accounting for around three-quarters of South African production.

Since then, other parts of the country – including the Free State, Gauteng and Limpopo – have begun producing ostrich meat competitively.

Staying ahead of the competition
So too, however, have Namibia, Zambia, China, Japan, Canada and the United States. In 1995 South Africa was responsible for 82% of ostrich slaughters worldwide; since 2000 this has dropped to 65%.

China, in particular, is seen as a threat to the local industry. With governmental and private backing, Chinese ostrich farmers are growing in strength.

Industry players say, however, that South Africa has a historical advantage over newcomers in the industry – as well as natural conditions that favour ostrich farming.

The main source of South Africa’s world domination is the ostrich leather market, accounting for around 65% of total ostrich export earnings. In 2003, South Africa supplied 79% of the world’s ostrich skins.

According to the South African Ostrich Business Chamber (SAOBC), South Africa has a comparative advantage over Europe in that local operations permit economies of scale.

In South Africa, the value of a slaughtered bird is broken down into 45% skin, 45% meat and 10% feather. This contrasts with Europe, where the breakdown is 75% meat and 25% skin. The chamber says SA’s competitors still have to explore income from feathers, which involves very labour-intensive operations. The value of the oil from Ostrich fat also remains underdeveloped.

Involving SA’s emerging farmers
In the Strategic Plan for South African Agriculture – which the SAOBC argues is the most important agricultural initiative since 1994 – the Department of Agriculture, Agri South Africa and the National African Farmers’ Union mapped out a vision for a united and prosperous agricultural sector.

According to the SAOBC, there are several obstacles to entering the industry. High start-up and running costs, the risk of disease, inexperience, the absence of guaranteed markets and a lack of export expertise are among the reasons why new ostrich farmers and processors fail.

Because ostrich farming does not lend itself towards subsistence farming, there are few emerging farmers in the industry. The learning curve for new farmers is steep, as they grapple with the intricacies of general farm management and the industry-specific pitfalls of ostrich farming.

Since its inception, the SAOBC has been laying foundations for easier access and improved equity in the ostrich industry. So far, it has reviewed the challenges facing the industry in creating equitable access to and participation in ostrich farming, the deracialising of land and enterprise ownership, and unlocking the entrepreneurial potential in the sector.

In consultation with its members, the SAOBC is drafting an action plan with objectives that are both realistic and attainable. The final plan will contain key performance indicators, service delivery standards, monitoring and evaluation systems, a conflict resolution mechanism and well-defined timeframes, the chamber says.

One of the flagship empowerment projects in the ostrich industry is the Community-Based Ostrich Farming Project (CBOFP), which was initiated by the Camdeboo Meat Processors in Graaff-Reinet.

At Camdeboo’s request, the association for commercial ostrich farmers in the province, the Eastern Cape Ostrich Producers’ Association, donated seed money for the project and pledged to provide mentorship to the fledgling farmers.

“The more we work on the plan, the more we find ways of removing obstacles which have traditionally hindered access to our industry”, says SAOBC general manager Francois Hanekom.

“I am confident that, as the sense of unity among old and new participants in our industry grows, we will be able to remove the remaining obstacles through mentorship and strategic partnerships. Ultimately we want a strong industry which is both representative and competitive.”

SouthAfrica.info reporter