South Africa egg shortage: How poultry products became a hot commodity

Eggs are currently South Africa’s hottest commodity. The country has been grappling with one of its worst outbreaks of bird flu – millions of chickens have been killed over the past few weeks, supplies of poultry meat have been threatened and supermarkets across the nation have run out of eggs.


Experts predict the egg shortage will cause the popular ingredient to jump in price – far from ideal considering it is one of the most affordable sources of protein for the millions living in poverty.


Retailers, farms and industry giants have also been hit, with the nation’s largest chicken producer stating the flu had “ravaged” a sector already burdened by rising costs and an electricity crisis.


In an effort to stop the spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza – a deadly, extremely infectious type of bird flu – farmers have culled more than seven million egg-laying chickens. That amounts to 20-30% of the country’s entire chicken stock, according to South African Poultry Association.


As a result, social media sites have been inundated with pictures of bare supermarket shelves, while many shoppers found that shops still selling eggs have set limits on how many can be bought.


Online shopping sites are no better – several consumers hoping to buy eggs on the web have been met with “unavailable” or “low in stock” messages.


No more cheap eggs


Domestic worker Nomalanga Moyo buys eggs every week in order to make muffins for her children’s lunchboxes.


Her store of choice is a spaza shop – the term for a small informal outlet – in her township of Diepsloot. Here, she can buy any quantity of eggs – when funds are low, she is able to get just two eggs for about 2.50 rand (13 cents; 11p). However, this week, the store was totally out….

Unfamiliar strain

Farmers and industry experts estimate it will take six months for the poultry sector to replace the chickens it culled – meaning any shortage of poultry products could last through the festive season and into 2024.


Paul Makube, an agriculture economist at First National Bank, told the BBC: “The outbreak has moved at a rapid pace, it is worse than what we saw during the outbreak in 2017. A further complication comes from the fact that we are dealing with a strain we have not previously dealt with.”


Concern has spread beyond the border – Namibia, which imports most of its poultry from South Africa, banned poultry products from its neighbour amid the outbreak.


In an effort to reassure its consumers and businesses, South Africa’s government announced that it is considering purchasing bird flu vaccines.


And for the lucky South Africans that can actually find eggs in the shops, officials have stressed chicken products on shelves are safe for consumption.




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