Two- thirds of the 130,000 jobs in the beleaguered broiler industry could be lost if no urgent action was taken against cheap European Union imports, Kevin Lovell, the CEO of the South African Poultry Association, warned on Friday.
Lovell said that over the past few years more than 10,000 jobs, including indirect jobs, might have been lost.
"It is very bad. I do think it can be fixed as long as there is urgent action. So I have hope," Lovell said.
Country Bird, South Africa's third-largest poultry producer, this week became the latest chicken business to cut jobs when it announced it was closing one of its three abattoirs in Mahikeng in North West.
Last month, RCL Foods, formerly known as Rainbow Chicken, closed factories in Hammersdale outside Durban, slashing about 1,350 jobs.
The local farming industry and unions have been raising the alarm against imports and repeatedly asked the government for bigger protection tariffs.
Agribusiness Chamber CEO John Purchase said the local broiler industry was still under considerable duress. The 13.9% safeguard announced in December had not yet been increased, as required. "Ideally, the industry needs an antidumping duty against imported bone-in brown meat portions from the EU."
Declining yellow maize prices would bring some relief, but lower feed costs would not fully solve industry structural challenges and trade issues that needed to be addressed, Purchase said.
The local industry is to meet EU representatives this week.
Lovell said the industry was waiting for cabinet ministers to take a range of actions.
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana confirmed at a public meeting on Friday that the government had agreed to act to support the poultry industry and had been talking to the EU.
"The government has been talking to them [EU] so far and it is now for us to take the next steps. We hope to do so soon.
"They [the government] acknowledge that we have a crisis, caused by imports of surplus dark meat, and without fixing that, any other issues within the industry cannot be resolved," Lovell said.
- Additional reporting by Bloomberg