No, African egg imports won’t resolve this crisis


Local egg producers are downplaying the critical egg shortage in South Africa, and the South African Poultry Association (SAPA) and Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development (DALRRD) have a few erroneous statements to answer for.

For one, it has been reported that roughly 7.5 million commercial layer hens have been culled during the recent bird flu epidemic that hit the nation. Assuming one hen lays around five or six eggs per week, the local market is then currently underproducing by as many as 45 million eggs per week. Yet, the public is continually told that there’s nothing to fear.

In response, SAPA is calling on government to open imports from Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, and Malawi. The issue is that these four nations, at Hume International’s best calculation, produce only around 1kT per week. By contrast, South Africa needs, at minimum, an influx of 2.25kT to make up for the shortage created by the aforementioned mass culling. We also do not have a clear picture of what the avian influenza situation is like in these countries, and it is highly doubtful that they would sell all their available eggs to South Africa.

No matter how you slice it, we simply cannot rely on our Southern African Development Community (SADC) partners alone to help us out of this developing crisis. We urgently need to ease import restrictions placed on major egg producers such as Argentina, Brazil, the USA, and Eswatini.

DALRRD’s Minister Angela Thoko Didiza also announced at the end of October that the department has granted “thousands of permits for the importation of table eggs, fertilised eggs, and poultry meat to ensure sufficient stocks [are] available for the Christmas holiday season.”

She further specified that, in the past two months, DALRRD granted 115 permits for fertilised eggs, 48 for egg powder, and 24 for table eggs, which amounts to 1.9 million eggs – only a fifteenth of the eggs we need per week, and a mere drop in the bucket.

The question becomes: how does DALRRD plan to fill the outstanding 28 million eggs shortage without opening trade with our far larger South American trading partners?

SAPA’s claim that during the previous avian influenza outbreak in 2017, “poor, rotten eggs” were dumped in the country by South American exporters paints a deceptive picture of the current situation. Hume, like our South African poultry import contemporaries, follows strict regulations on the grading, packing, and marking of imported eggs as set out in DALRRD’s Regulation 345.

Simply put, if we import poor quality eggs, we risk losing millions of rands, which is why we strive to ensure that only high-grade eggs enter the country, and no dumping occurs. This, in essence, allows the market to self-regulate.

SAPA’s misleading assertion that low-quality eggs are being imported in large quantities in refrigerated containers suggests that the local industry may not be acting in the best interests of the average South African who’s struggling to feed the family. Can we assume that the local industry has a hidden agenda for deterring imports from South America while pushing for imports from SADC partners?

The only real recourse for this situation is for the South African government to intervene and rein in DALRRD’s harsh anti-competitive policies, lift the 40-day rule under Regulation 345, and ease import restrictions and anti-dumping duties on certain countries. These measures will ensure that the egg shortage and looming poultry meat shortage is resolved as soon as possible.

Fred Hume, Managing Director of Hume International