AFTER a four-month hiatus, local chicken farmers will soon be able to resume their operations because starting next week, imports of live chickens and fertilised eggs from South Africa will be allowed.
Feb. 9, 2024
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The chairperson of Lesotho poultry suppliers association, ’Mantsane Ntekoa, confirmed this exhilarating news after a meeting with personnel from the Prime Minister's office on Wednesday this week.
In an interview with this publication, she expressed her gratification with the government's decision to finally repeal the ban that has since severely crippled the local poultry industry.
“After enduring prolonged disputes, we are now ready to resume our business operations. Despite the challenges ahead, we are happy that we won the battle,” Ntekoa said.
Looking back, the idea of importing chicken from South Africa to Lesotho appeared implausible. Consequently, small poultry business owners voiced their discontent with the government's discriminatory treatment towards them in relation to the buying and selling of chicken, especially when compared to larger enterprises.
Their dissatisfaction stems from the government's exclusive permission for the importation of frozen chicken into the country, which came after a four-month prohibition on poultry products in Lesotho.
The ban was implemented due to avian influenza, also known as bird flu, which is a viral infection that can affect both birds and humans. Symptoms of bird flu in humans include cough, diarrhoea, respiratory difficulties, fever, headache, muscle aches, malaise, runny nose, and sore throat. The virus is transmitted to humans through contact with infected bird faeces, nasal secretions, or secretions from the mouth or eyes.
To ensure the safety and security of Lesotho's poultry industry, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, specifically its Department of Livestock Services, took that necessary action.
Consequently, all import licenses chicken and poultry products were promptly revoked.
Local poultry suppliers groups, however, objected, arguing that large retailers gain more from the relaxation of frozen chicken prohibition than local chicken suppliers.
Despite their efforts to persuade the government to lift the ban, the importation of fertile eggs and chickens remained prohibited in the country until this week.
In earlier interviews, Ntekoa stated they had first Prime Minister Sam Matekane to reverse the government’s prohibition in a letter addressed to the Prime Minister’s office.
“The Ministry of Agriculture instead urged us to import poultry products from other countries following South Africa's "red alert" status by the World Organisation of Animal Health,” she said.
Despite their efforts to find alternative sources in neighbouring countries, including Eswatini, they were unsuccessful.
"We were then advised to visit Eswatini to learn how they run and monitor the poultry business, but after our return with the Ministry of Agriculture under Livestock, there was still no clear solution,” Ntekoa said.
She noted that last week, the government relaxed the prohibition on frozen chicken exclusively, rather than the ministry coming up with a suitable solution for the whole country.
According to the Minister of Agriculture, Food Security, and Nutrition, Thabo Mofosi, the two nations have a new agreement that went into effect last week.
The agreement shows that Lesotho would import frozen chicken from designated locations in South Africa.
He said both South Africa and Lesotho health specialists would coordinate the process, while South Africa would also have to issue a certificate when it adds more sourcing places.
“It is, however, still risky to import live chickens into the country, which is why frozen chicken was found eligible. We have also selected the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries that will assist in this situation, excluding S.A.
“Both eSwatini and Zambia are the right countries to import from to assist Basotho. eSwatini is able to produce its own poultry products without relying on other countries, except for fertile eggs, which it also imports from South Africa.
“To enable Basotho to produce their own chicken as well as other countries, we have included in the 2024/2025 budget speech that farmers and individuals are met half-way in terms of costs and transportation while importing chickens.
“We are already in negotiations with the Ministry of Finance to see to it that they include all that. Also, each district will have to issue a list of poultry producers to enable productivity,” Mofosi said.
He added that the marketplace is wide open at the moment, and many franchises in the country have already stated how much chicken they need.
For instance, he said KFC needs about 190 000kg of chicken in about 10 months and 120 000kg between the months of November and December, which is the peak.
At the rate of M36 a kg (which has been the average price of chicken lately), it means the economy lost more than M4 million Maloti to lost business for KFC franchises alone between November and December.
The Minister emphasised that it is not that Basotho are unable to produce their own poultry products; but they lack guidance and training and handle finances recklessly.
On the other hand, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security, and Nutrition Principal Secretary (PS) Moshe Mosaase concurred that the ban had a devastating impact on the economy overall.
Citing the bleeding Lesotho Revenue Services (LRS) incurred due to losses in potential Value Added Tax (VAT) revenue, he said in an interview yesterday that, for instance, if a farmer imports around a million chickens or chicks, the tax man earns about M150 000 in VAT; therefore, such losses, if properly quantified, are very significant to the economy.
Mosaase said some farmers in Lesotho can single-handedly order up to 25, 000 chicks to breed and sell; therefore, a lot of revenue has been lost since the October ban.
He said Basotho are unable to produce their own chicken due to the expensive value chain that comes with it; from feeding to having an abattoir, the entire chain is expensive. In other words, Lesotho’s value chain in chicken production is yet to develop since the nation imports almost everything in the chain, from fertilised eggs or day-old chicks right up to chicken feed itself.
Thankfully, Mosaase revealed that the ministry has added a comprehensive poultry policy to the 2024–2025 budget, which includes incentives to assist farmers in attracting investors, which in the long run would lead to Basotho being able to produce their own chicken and establish a sustainable value chain.
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“Chickens are one of the proteins that cost less; therefore, without them, everything has been slow. The ministry has been working hard looking for a way forward to find solutions in the matter,” he said.
Although the government has lifted the ban after three months, evidence is pervasive that it brought untold disaster as the entire country went into the festive season without chicken, the most accessible relish of ready choice for many.
In 2021, reports estimated that Lesotho imported US$38.9 million (more than M730 million) in poultry meat, becoming the 93rd largest importer of poultry meat in the world.
In the same year, poultry meat was the third most imported product in Lesotho.