A reply to a DA parliamentary question reveals that significant export markets have been lost due to the Agriculture Department’s failure to comply with international regulations relating to animal disease and pest control.
I will be asking follow-up questions about the total economic impact of this non-compliance and what progress is being made to reverse the decline. The National Development Plan (NDP) notes that “biosecurity risks and mitigation measures must be given priority” if South Africa is to achieve its 2030 vision of one million more people employed in the agricultural sector.
China imposed trade restrictions on wool exports from South Africa due to an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever (RVF). The restrictions have since been lifted, but the disease continues to wreak havoc on our sheep farming industry. Some farmers only reaped 20% of their lamb crop this year. In 2011 there were 3 125 reported sheep deaths and 268 goat deaths from RVF alone. Given that the majority of deaths are not reported, the true figure is likely much higher.
An outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in 2011 resulted in South Africa losing its FMD-free status required for trade in cloven-hooved animals and products. This issue remains unresolved and the red meat industry is still under severe pressure. Export markets that took decades to establish have been lost while government sits idly by. The DA has just learned that Egypt has stopped importing our wool because they are concerned about South Africa’s FMD status. For the same reason the EU is now adding a 22c/kg levy on wool exports. The World Health Organisation’s animal health unit estimates revenue losses at between 0.3% and 0.6% of GDP per year for countries that were previously free of FMD. Of this year’s GDP alone, that is a loss of R21.3bn (at 0.6%) for South Africa.
African Horse Sickness (AHS) outbreaks since 2011 have resulted in the loss of our horse export market to the EU. This will not be resolved until the AHS-free zone has been rid of the disease for at least two years. Reports suggest that the outbreak is far from being resolved.
Also last year, an outbreak of Avian Influenza (AI) devastated ostrich and poultry meat exports as sanitary regulations require the country to be certified as AI-free. This too remains unresolved. The resultant revenue losses amount to R4bn a year.
Finally, lucrative fruit export markets to Thailand have been lost as a result of non-compliance with new phytosanitary legislation in Thailand. These markets will not be recovered until Thailand has completed a pest risk analysis (PRA) for each fruit in question. The value of exports to Thailand alone is R150m a year. It is imperative that no further avoidable losses are incurred lest the associated jobs be jeopardised. Total fruit exports last year earned the country R12bn across 70 countries and the industry employs 450,000 people.
At a time when the Rand is relatively weak, we should be capitalising on export opportunities and creating jobs. But the agricultural sector is unable to do so as a result of government negligence and institutional dysfunction in the Agriculture department.