South Africa’s egg shortage: How poultry products became a hot commodity

by MMC
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  • By Nobuhle Simelane
  • BBC News, Johannesburg


South Africa has been hit by a deadly and highly contagious bird flu.

Eggs are currently the most popular commodity in South Africa.

The country is grappling with one of the worst outbreaks of bird flu: millions of chickens have been killed in recent weeks, poultry meat supplies have been threatened and the country’s supermarkets are running out of eggs.

Experts predict that the egg shortage will cause the price of this popular ingredient to rise – which is far from ideal given that it is one of the most affordable sources of protein for millions of people. people living in poverty.

Retailers, farms and industry giants were also hit, with the country’s largest chicken producer saying the flu had “ravaged” a sector already burdened by rising costs and a power crisis.

In an effort to stop the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza – a deadly and extremely contagious type of bird flu – farmers have culled more than seven million laying hens. This represents 20-30% of the country’s entire chicken stock, according to the South African Poultry Association.

As a result, social media sites have been flooded with photos of empty supermarket shelves, while many shoppers have found that stores still selling eggs have set limits on the number of eggs that can be purchased.

Online shopping sites are no better: many consumers hoping to buy eggs on the Web have been confronted with “unavailable” or “low stock” messages.

No more cheap eggs

Domestic worker Nomalanga Moyo buys eggs every week to make muffins for her children’s lunch boxes.

His shop of choice is a spaza shop – the term for a small informal outlet – in his town of Diepsloot. Here she can buy any quantity of eggs – when funds are low she can only get two eggs for around 2.50 rand (13 cents; 11 pence). However, this week the store was completely closed.

“I will now wait until I go to work during the week to see if I can find eggs in the usual stores. However, it will cost me more,” said Ms Moyo worriedly.

More than half of South Africans live below the poverty line. They already spend around 35% of their income on food and, according to the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Research Group, this share is likely to increase due to the egg shortage.


Many supermarkets have placed limits on the number of eggs each shopper can buy.

“Not only will consumers spend more on eggs, but the rising price of eggs will affect all other food products for which producers use eggs and other poultry products,” he said.

Businesses were also affected by the flu.

In a trading update late last month, major South African poultry producer Astral Foods said the outbreak had so far cost it $11.5 million.

Astral said the flu has “spread at an alarming rate” and ravaged the poultry industry. The company also joined other producers in warning that South Africa could experience a shortage of chicken meat in the coming months.

Smaller businesses, less able to withstand market shocks, have also expressed concerns.

“After making scones for a customer yesterday, I had three eggs left. I then went shopping for more eggs, but the price was too high for me,” said Zamapholoba Ngcobo, owner of a bakery in the town of Pietermaritzburg.


Zamapholoba Ngcobo bakery is one of many businesses affected by the shortage

The shortage couldn’t have come at a worse time, Ms Ngcobo said, as the wedding and graduation season means cake orders are at an “all-time high”.

But where there are losers, there always seem to be winners.

Ukulinga, a poultry farm in KwaZulu-Natal province, was informed of flu outbreaks in Brazil and Argentina earlier this year and implemented strict biosecurity measures as a precaution.

Nkululeko Ngidi, farm manager, said: “When we started the farm, we had to look for business. Now that our farm is one of the few to be bird flu free, customers are looking for us.

“We have seen increased demand…we are currently supplying 130,000 eggs to area businesses on a weekly basis.”

Unknown strain

Farmers and industry experts estimate it will take six months for the poultry sector to replace slaughtered chickens, meaning any shortage of poultry products could last through the holiday season and into 2024.

Paul Makube, agricultural economist at First National Bank, told the BBC: “The outbreak has grown at a rapid pace, it is worse than what we saw in the 2017 outbreak. Another complication comes from the fact that we are facing a strain that we have not yet faced.”

Concern has spread across the border: Namibia, which imports most of its poultry from South Africa, has banned its neighbor’s poultry products amid the outbreak.

In an effort to reassure consumers and businesses, the South African government has announced it is considering purchasing bird flu vaccines.

And for those lucky South Africans who can find eggs in stores, authorities have stressed that chicken products on shelves are safe to eat.

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