Chicken crisis deepens

Chicken crisis deepens
Chicken crisis deepens

Africa-Press – Lesotho. Lesotho’s chicken crisis could be far from over as the government remains reluctant to lift the ban on poultry imports from South Africa. The crisis started in October after South Africa was hit by the avian bird flu.

Lesotho responded swiftly by banning poultry imports from South Africa. But with the ban now nearing three months businesses have started clamouring for the government to reconsider the decision.

Some businesses, especially restaurants, have started cutting jobs and others say there will be more people on the streets if the ban is not lifted soon.

Most affected are fast-food outlets whose menus are heavily dependent on chicken. Even those who have beef on their menus are feeling the pinch because chicken is central to their business.

But their pleas to the government have so far yielded nothing much. It was the same with the emergency meeting that some restaurant owners had last night, at the State House, with Prime Minister Sam Matekane and officials from the Ministry of Agriculture.

Some business owners who were part of the meeting said officials from the Ministry of Agriculture’s Veterinary Department were adamant that they would not lift the ban until South Africa officially declares that it is free of the virus.

The business owners said they were however shocked that the same officials who were insisting on maintaining the ban were quick to admit that they last had direct contact with their South African counterparts in mid-December.

This, the business owners say, proves the officials are not keeping tabs on the crisis and are using outdated information to make decisions “that affected thousands of jobs”.

“One of the senior officials from the department came to the meeting with a Google article which looked like it was from years ago,” said one of the business owners who said he was annoyed by the attitude of the officials from the department.

“She had no clue but was insisting on keeping the ban. They had no answers to the technical questions that are supposed to be their responsibility”.

He said Prime Minister Makekane and the Agriculture Ministry’s Principal Secretary, Moshe Mosaase, “were eager to find a solution but it appeared that the officials from the veterinary department were hell bent on keeping the ban even though they admitted that they didn’t have the latest information on the situation in South Africa.

Mosaase told thepost last night that the government is working “overtime to find a solution to the problem”. He said last night’s meeting at the State House was part of efforts towards finding a solution.

Mosaase said one of the options being explored is importing fertilised eggs because they are less risky. He said this option could be implemented in the next week or two and farmers with hatcheries would be able to produce chicks.

He said if getting the eggs from South Africa is considered too risky the government could turn to Eswatini or other countries that don’t have the outbreak.

“We have to look at ways to help the farmers with the additional cost associated with buying from Eswatini instead of South Africa. We are therefore considering subsidies. ”

Asked about the possibility of the ban being lifted any time soon, Mosaase said “as of now the South African option remains closed but there could be a possibility of opening up less risky areas like fertilised eggs”.

He said a task force dealing with the crisis will meet tomorrow to discuss the options. But business owners say the option of fertilised eggs is long-term and won’t help them out of the crisis they face now.

“We are cutting jobs and losing money,” said one businessperson.

“We keep hearing about fertilised eggs and promises to build the local capacity but we don’t believe the technocrats advising the PS and the government understand the level of investment required.
“They also don’t seem to understand that while they are busy talking about building capacity people are losing jobs and companies are bleeding.”

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