Local poultry producers under the umbrella of the Poultry Producers Association (PPA) are pushing for a ban on chicken imports, which they blame for negatively impacting on their operations.
The development comes as Namibia has witnessed an influx of chicken imports from Brazil and South Africa, which are competitively priced compared to locally produced chicken.
The PPA has requested to meet with the Meat Board of Namibia (MBN), where its demands would be tabled.
“We are definitely feeling that and it’s now a big problem for the sector. The industry at the moment is in distress due to the imports and we have asked to convene with the meat board which oversees the process to discuss our concerns as a sector. We are actually looking at blocking them because it is causing harm to the local industry,” PPA president James Roux told the Windhoek Observer.
He said employee casualties have already started to be recorded in the sector, without going into specifics, including numbers.
“Companies are retrenching workers because of the imports and I am still to find the exact numbers from the producers. Our chickens are not selling because of the imports,” Roux said.
The PPA president accused chicken importers of unscrupulous business practices, such as the repackaging of imports as locally produced chicken.
“The importers are also importing pieces and reselling them, claiming to be Wambo chicken. We have evidence of this happening and it will be discussed at the meat board meeting,” he said.
Willem Schutz, Manager Operations of the Meat Board of Namibia said they are aware of the complaints raised by the poultry farmers.
“We are aware of the complaints. A steering committee is meeting every two months which consists of both producers and importers together with the ministries of trade and finance as well as the Ministry of Agriculture Water and Forestry. Production and supply is being evaluated and quota for the next two months is then proposed to the MBN. Therefore, producers are part of the decision making process,” Schutz said.
Asked why chicken imports were still being allowed into the country despite complaints raised by the producers, Schutz said only value added pieces were being given access to the local market.
“The reason for importation is to specifically make provision for products that we don’t produce locally like value added products (nuggets, crumped products among others), products that we don’t produce enough of as well as for the catering industry. Products mostly produced in Namibia are individually quick-frozen (IQF) products and those are not receiving permits currently,” he said.
According to the MBN, on average 1 017 tons of chicken are imported per month, with total formal consumption equal to 2 814 tons per month.
“This relates to 63 percent of poultry consumption being produced locally. The determination of quota for September , October, November and December were 750 tons, 800 tons, 1000 tons and 900 tons, respectively (increase only for the festive season) , based on the current oversupply of specific poultry products in Namibia (This is compared to an allowable quota of 1500 tons),” Schutz said.
With regards to Wambo chicken imports, he said small numbers/tonnage are imported.
“These are hens (older chicken) imported for a specific market. Namibia only produces hens in live format (by-product of the egg and broiler industries), but cannot slaughter them in the existing abattoirs. This shortage is being covered by imports and is not competing with the broiler industry,” Schutz said.
Quizzed on what the MBN was doing to protect the local poultry sector, which is also faced with an outbreak of Newcastle disease confined to the Omusati, Oshana, Ohangwena and Oshikoto regions, Schutz said reforms are needed to bring poultry production under the control of the board.
“It is important to note that poultry is currently not a product under the Meat Industry Act and therefore the meat board is only implementing the quota and control of those products. A process is underway to include poultry into the Meat Industry Act at which stage the meat board will also get involved in the total value chain. Currently the ministries of MAWF as well as industrialization, trade and sme development are responsible for the poultry value chain,” he said.
Namibia in 2013, introduced chicken importation restrictions as part of measures to protect the local poultry industry.
Importation ban calls by the PPA come as the South African Poultry Association is also up in arms over chicken imports into the country which amounted to a massive N$4.6 billion last year, putting 130,000 jobs at risk.
Another negative spinoff of cheap imported chicken is that it may force producers to increase brine percentages in their chicken just to make ends meet.
Brine injection into chickens was introduced to make the chicken soft and add weight.
High brine levels means a customer is receiving less than what they are paying for – the rest is just salt water.
In South Africa there is no prescribed limit for brine injection for IQF portions, which negatively affects the nutritional quality and increases the salt content of the product.
High salt intake in South Africa is one of the leading causes of ill health.