Ostriches back in vogue
The most discredited agricultural commodity, ostriches, are back on the farming radar after the Ministry of Trade and Industry, in collaboration with the National Development Corporation, earlier this year concluded a feasibility study and an execution plan, to investigate the revival of the ostrich industry.
The ostrich industry showed exponential growth some fifteen years ago but then collapsed in a spectacular fashion at the beginning of 2002 when the market for ostrich skins collapsed.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry confirmed to the Economist this week that it is contemplating a possible N$19 million ostrich farming project near Keetmanshoop.
The proposed project under the ministry’s Socio-Economic Development Programme was intended to be implemented in the 2013/14 financial year but was postponed due to uncertainties surrounding its viability.
The earlier history of ostrich farming played a significant role in the ministry’s reluctance to proceed with the project.
The Namibia Development Corporation (NDC), the designated local executing agency, drew up a business plan for the ostrich project in consultation with South African consulting firm, Ekon, under the local company Westside Trading 144 (Pty) Ltd.
The NDC’s, Koos Van Staden, talking to the Economist said that some discrepancies may exist in the original business plan as the ostrich project has not been finalised yet.
According to the current business plan, the source of income would be from a combination of meat and leather as agricultural commodities with the meat making up 45% of the value, and the skin the rest. This is in contrast to the European market where the meat constitutes 75% of the total value.
The proposed business plan foresees this to change by regaining the Asian market which has the potential to exceed the European market.
During the first attempt at commercial ostrich farming, the emphasis was on the value of the skins as export commodity.
In 2004, Karas Abattoir and Tannery (KAPT) and the government signed an agreement in rejuvenating the industry with Agribank providing a loan of N$14,000,000.
The government would act as guarantor of the loan and the project was intended to target 50 communal farmers. As far as the Economist could establish, this project never got off the ground.
The revived ostrich project will be centred again on the same 1428 ha farm Coenbult near Keetmanshoop. New financing of N$4.25 million has been secured for a meat processing plant and a feedlot.
After an Avian Influenza outbreak in 2010 in South Africa , the largest exporter of ostrich meat, the total export volume came down to about 2000 tonnes per annum.
This is one of the indicators in the most recent study that growth potential exists in the existing ostrich consumer markets. A 140 hectare lucerne farm with irrigation from the Orange River, is also planned for the renewed project.
The cost of establishing this feed production unit is estimated to exceed N$5.3 million, producing about 850 tonnes of fodder per year.
A further 70 hectare maize farm under irrigation is also envisaged.
Expected yield from this source will be about 14 tonnes per hectare. Local production of staple fodder is a key component of the financial viability of the local ostrich project.
The feasibility study indicated that imported fodder will make the project not viable.