SOUTH Africa risked wiping out its ostrich industry if it continued culling all ostriches in a region affected by the bird flu virus, and should consider alternative methods such as vaccination Absa AgriBusiness head Ernst Janovsky, said yesterday.
Addressing the AMT Agricultural Outlook Conference in Pretoria, he said it did not make business sense for the government to insist on a method proven to be ineffective, as all birds could carry the virus. He said targeting only ostriches to be culled was "mind-boggling".
More than 43000 ostriches have been culled in South Africa since the H5N2 bird flu virus was detected in April last year.
Janovsky said the crisis had raised the prices of hides and feathers tremendously. Some farmers had reported birds being plucked overnight by criminals wanting to take advantage of the high price of feathers, which were "as good as gold".
"Farmers should not yet plan to walk out of this industry, despite the flu disaster," he said. "While it would take some time to recover, there is a lot of money to be made due to the demand."
Janovsky also cautioned against panicking over rising food prices as a result of high international maize prices.
He said South Africa still expected to harvest sufficient quantities of maize for local consumption, which would go a long way to thwarting or reducing the impact of global price changes.
Johan van den Berg, climatologist at Santam Agriculture, said farmers expected a loss of about 15% on this year's harvest due to drought in some parts of the country. He did not specify which crops would be affected, but advised farmers to have multicrop risk insurance for the coming years as South Africa was facing an 80% chance of entering the El Niño climate pattern this year, with higher Indian Ocean cyclones moving moist air to the east.