Ostrich ban affects South African farms

South Africa’s ostrich farms are struggling as an export ban caused by Bird Flu continues to cause havoc in an industry that dates back to 1864.

Since the H5N2 virus was discovered on 9 April 2011, it has been detected on 43 of South Africa’s 740 ostrich farms – most of them located in the Western Cape – and led to the culling of 43,000 farm-reared ostriches.

The European Union (EU) subsequently introduced a ban on all fresh ostrich-meat exports from South Africa, which had been exporting 90 per cent of its output and supplying 77 per cent of world demand.

According to regulations issued by the World Organization of Animal Health – of which South Africa is a member – all birds on farms where avian flu is detected must be culled, and the ban won't be lifted until the country has been disease-free for over three months. Meanwhile ostrich farmers are required to re-register their farms, chlorinate the bird’s water supply, improve fencing and limit access.

The move has affected the 20,000 jobs on the counrty’s farms, slaughterhouses, tanneries and feather-processing plants. Before the outbreak, the sector had been earning $115 million a year from meat exports, but now the industry estimates that it is losing more than $13 million per month. The price for adult ostriches has dropped about 40 per cent and so far farmers have received a total of $6 million in state compensation.

Some farmers have been able to stay afloat by exporting ostrich feathers to South America where they are used in the Rio Carnival.