Growing South Africa’s Poultry Exports Quickly
South Africa’s poultry industry has been beset by numerous challenges in recent years, including the rising cost of feed among several other input costs (more so following the Russia-Ukraine war). In turn, barriers to numerous export markets, the quarantine conditions imposed by the global Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the rise of predatory trade in the form of dumping (where markets such as Brazil, Denmark, Ireland, Poland, Spain, the United States, and most recently Australia, are dumping chicken on South African soil for a far lower price than the actual poultry production cost in the originating country), lead to substantial job losses in the past, including the closure of several major poultry farms and production plants around the country.


However, while poultry consumption has consistently outpaced production during the last ten years, thanks to the implementation of the Poultry Sector Master Plan, local producers have increased local production capacity by 9.8%. The continued rise of emerging farmers means that South Africa’s already globally competitive poultry industry can trade more of its products on the international stage.



The Poultry Master Plan has defined clear goals for the local industry to achieve over the next five to ten years: Exporting both cooked and raw product to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and other countries included in the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA), the European Union, the United Arab Emirates and the Middle East. The aim is to export at least 3% to 5% of local production by 2024, growing that tally to between 7% and 10% by 2028, and then growing exports proportionally to local industry growth and production thereafter.


Historically, South Africa has hardly exported any poultry products beyond its borders, partly due to varying standards in numerous export markets prohibiting the entry of South African poultry products. However, the EU, UAE, Saudi Arabia and countries within SADC and ACFTA have been identified as potential export destinations. Poultry meat exports have been increasing globally as robust demand from countries like China (Asia is currently the global leader in terms of pork and poultry imports, and is projected to remain highest in the coming years) has propelled shipments from Brazil and the USA (the EU, USA and Brazil account for more than 70% of global poultry export volumes).


As noted by the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy, the bulk of chicken exports are destined for the Southern African region, where the product mix is similar to South Africa. Consequently, while this is undoubtedly a growing market, it does not enable an improvement in carcass valuation strategy by providing a premium for high-value portions. As per the Master Plan, the industry has invested in creating 120 tonnes of additional cooking capacity per week. This is specifically designed to access the export market in the EU and the ME where there is greater demand for partially- and fully-cooked poultry products.



South African producers are globally competitive; the local industry can produce a kilogram of chicken meat at a lower cost relative to the European producers, although still at a slightly higher cost than exporters such as the USA and Brazil. This difference is mainly attributed to feed costs.


Given that South Africa has preferential access into the EU under its Economic Partnership Agreement, currently it does not have the required structures in place across the board to enable certification of compliance to EU food safety stipulations, therefore exports to the EU are limited under current conditions. The Poultry Industry is currently working towards achieving these objectives, but it’s been a lengthy process to create the veterinarian capacity to do the required testing in a timeous fashion. SAPA has put forward a collaborative strategy with the Food Safety Agency (FSA) to use the FSA’s veterinarians to alleviate the current capacity issues, but the certification process is lengthy and time-consuming.


Some of South Africa’s larger producers have successfully started exporting poultry products to the UAE, however, EU regulations stipulate that poultry product imports must be accompanied by appropriate certification and enter through a Border Inspection Post where inspections are carried out to ensure compliance with all the relevant requirements.


While the goal is to get more South African Poultry producers export-ready by increasing the number of qualified veterinarians to test the designated export products, there is still a host of exceedingly intricate exporting requirements. Countries will only be listed as eligible by the European Commission if there is a competent veterinary authority responsible for the entire food value chain and the animal health standards of the World Organisation for Animal Health are fulfilled. This requirement, by and large, is currently being fulfilled by the bulk of South Africa’s poultry producers, but without qualified veterinarians to provide the appropriate sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) certification, progress on physically exporting these products have been slow. Additionally, the competent authority must have laboratories which comply with certain requirements and must guarantee that the relevant public health requirements are met. Establishment like Farms, abattoirs, processing plants and cold storage facilities will only be approved after inspection (and subsequent regular inspections) by the competent authority which guarantees that the EU requirements are satisfied; these include the fulfilment of animal health standards and a monitoring system for residues of veterinary medicine, pesticides, and contaminants.


Even though South Africa has tariff-free access to Europe, local producers have not been able to increase the number of poultry exports to Europe largely because the veterinarian testing processes to deliver the SPS certification to the European markets has been slow, and its capacity strained. Thankfully, the Poultry Association is working with government to identify viable solutions to certify more veterinarians, increasing veterinarian capacity, and making the SPS certification process more efficient.


While South African poultry exports to other countries are limited (with exports making up approximately 2% of production), the industry advancements on these requirements sees the sector growing its export opportunities and capacity. This is one of the poultry industry’s biggest focal points in 2022/2023. The South African Poultry Association is committed to its members, the industry, and the implementation of the Poultry Master Plan, and to ensure that any willing producer is export ready. It is estimated that the export targets set out in the Poultry Master Plan will be met by the close of 2023 as planned.