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Ostrich leather and feathers benefit from strong relationships with brands

Published: 17th Jan 2024
Author: Tony Dickson - S&V Editor

Oudtshoorn, W. Cape, SA – The South African ostrich industry has had a sustained 2-year period of mostly good news, much of it due to its own diligence, according to SA Ostrich Business Chamber (SAOBC) CEO Piet Kleyn.

“Post-covid, we’re in a better state than we’ve been for some years,” he said.

Leather and feathers are both doing well. Meat remains hobbled by the regulations around Avian Influenza (AI).

Led by the fashion brands, demand for high quality leather and feathers remains strong. Their popularity is typically cyclical, “but looking at the orders, I don’t see a drop in popularity anytime soon”, he said.
In part, the ongoing strength of ostrich leather and feathers is due to the industry’s ability to prove its animal welfare credentials. “Farms, hatcheries, and abattoirs are regularly inspected and certified by independent auditors. For the brands, it’s vital to be able to show that their sourcing is compliant with all regulations, and the South African ostrich industry doesn’t give them any headaches, which leads to long-term relationships.

“Also, we’ve developed a direct relationship with the ultimate end user because of our transparent systems. Overall, it’s had a huge impact.”

Demand is explicitly at the top end, which is where SA’s handful of ostrich tanneries operate. That has shielded them from low-cost competitors, led by Iran.

“Iran’s ostrich industry is built around a big domestic demand for meat,” he said. “They face the same international restrictions on meat exports as we do, and I think leather and feathers are for them byproducts. The same I think has been true for countries which tried to develop ostrich industries, but which have largely got out of it – Australia and New Zealand, Brazil, the USA. Nonetheless, Iranian, and other ostrich leather does compete directly with lower grades from South Africa.”

The strong performance – backed by good rain in producer areas, which helps cut the cost of production – hasn’t yet led to a major increase in production, despite a shortage of top-grade leather and feathers.

“There’s been a slight increase in production,” he said. "I don’t expect a big increase going forward. The number of compartments registered and the number of farmers who slaughter are both stable.”

Ostrich meat exports remain an intractable problem. The EU – previously more-or-less the entire market – remains closed to raw meat exports because of intermittent positive tests for high pathogen AI. Export of heat-treated ostrich meat – less satisfactory to both exporter and consumer – continues, but even that is forbidden for a period of 30 days from any farm within 10 kms of a positive test for high pathogen AI.

“We feel some of the restrictions on heat-treated meat exports are unnecessary, especially as the available serum test for AI sometimes give misleading results. The EU’s regulations are inflexible, and the Animal Health Division of the DALRRD (the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform & Rural Development) considers those tests to indicate potential high path.”

He said most potential alternative markets had similar regulations. 

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