With thousands of jobs on the line, the South African Poultry Association (Sapa) is anxious that the industry “may never recover” from the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain of bird flu currently gripping South Africa.
This after a devastating outbreak that has already resulted in a whopping R800 million losses for affected farms – which have been forced to cull a countless number of egg producing chickens.
“Sapa is indeed worried that some of the producers may never recover from the devastation, resulting in shortages of mostly table eggs and also job losses,” the association’s acting CEO Dr Charlotte Nkuna said.
“In 2016, the total number of people employed by the industry and associated industries was about 132 000. Over 1 000 jobs have been affected directly by the outbreak. We expect the numbers to grow once the impact cascades to secondary industries.”
Since June 2017, following an outbreak in neighbouring Zimbabwe, there have been 67 reported outbreaks of avian influenza. This includes 20 in commercial chickens, two in commercial ducks, 12 in commercial ostriches, 18 in wild birds, nine in hobby birds and six in backyard flocks.
Bird flu is currently spread along Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and the Free State provinces.
“Our estimate is that over 4 million birds have been or are in the process of being culled,” Nkuna said.
“We have never had any outbreaks of HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza) in chickens … The impact is devastating!”
Nkuna said the annual production in chickens for 2016 was just under 1 billion broilers and about 24 million table eggs layers.
Speaking on affected producers, Nkuna pointed to financial assistance being necessary for recovery of farms.
“Some will take as long as six months to repopulate. Some may not recover if they do not receive financial assistance.
“Some may take longer, depending on the availability of point of lay pullets, which they need to repopulate their farms.”
Farmers have since increased their biosecurity immensely, she added.
“Since the disease can be transmitted by wild birds, producers have invested in bird-proofing their chicken houses and also in systems that repel wild birds.
“We have been working with epidemiologists to trace the disease and its spread. We are also working with the Bureau for Food and Agriculture Policy to assess the economic impact of the disease.
“We are discussing with developmental institutions and government to get assistance for the affected producers.”
According to the World Health Organisation, H5N8 thankfully poses no threat to human health, as compared to the deadly H5N1 strain recently found in Poland at two poultry farms.
Sapa previously pointed to the H5N8 strain having being spread by wild ducks that migrated from Europe to the Western Cape.