South Africa’s poultry association (SAPA) believes more than 30,000 local jobs could be created if the government blocked chicken imports.
The impact of imports on the industry was best illustrated in 2017, when RCL, the company that owns Rainbow Chicken, sold 15 of its 25 farms in Hammarsdale, KwaZulu-Natal, retrenching 1350 workers.
Other heavyweights in the industry, Country Bird and Mike’s Chickens, dismissed 1500 and 1000 workers respectively.
Izaak Breitenbach, general manager of SAPA’s broiler organisation, says statistics show that chicken imports reached a record high last year totalling 538,434 tons- up from the previous high of 528,108 tons imported in 2016.
“Every ton of import represents South African jobs lost or not created. We have worked out that we could create 30,000 jobs by replacing imports, which were worth R6 billion last year. We cannot understand why the government has allowed the wholesale “dumping” of imported chicken when South Africa ranks among the top producers of chicken in terms of cost and quality” Breitenbach adds.
Referring to the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy report, which was released last week. Breitenbach highlights the country’s competitiveness on within the broiler industry.
“The report showed that we were the fifth most competitive producer of poultry in the world. The chicken industry in countries that ranked higher than us, like the US and Brazil, were subsidised by their respective governments. They receive subsidies for maize and soya feed in those countries; after all, feed represents 70% of the input cost to raise chicken. South Africa is a semi-desert country. Therefore, it is more expensive to produce maize and soya, which affects production costs”.
That Brazil is currenty the largest exporter of chicken to South Africa.
The EU has banned imports from 20 Brazilian chicken producers because of salmonella fears. Last year, 348,155 tons of chicken was received in South Africa from Brazil.
“We are unable to physically test all of the containers of chicken. My concern is that exporters are capitalising on this and offering us meat that is possibly contaminated, at very low prices.
“Therefore, we’ve asked the Department of Agriculture to ban all Brazilian import”. Breitenbach says.
Marthinus Stander, chairperson of Country Bird, one of the top three chicken producers in the country, says the proliferation of imports is a “crying shame and missed opportunity”.
“We’re not scared if whole chicken carcasses come into the country; we could compete. We cannot compete with the prices that leg quarters are being dumped in South Africa for,” says Stander.
Chicken thighs and drumsticks are referred to as “brown meat” in the industry and are not the preferred cuts of consumers, especially in Europe.
They prefer “white meat” (breast portions), which results in unwanted brown meat being dumped in third world countries.
It’s a no -brainer, stop the imports and the economy will grow.
Presently, only the middle men (importers) are benefiting and the industry is dying”, Stander adds.
Jake Mokwena, a chicken farmer in the North West, said it was time the government intervened and helped farmers.
“We can’t compete against overseas people who are subsidised. And government also needs to help emerging farmers like me, otherwise we will just be observers in this industry”, Mokwena says.
Local players clamour for the South African government to step in and protect the local industry and the thousands of jobs at stake. South Africa’s department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Department of Trade and Industry had not responded to queries at the time of publication.
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