The South African Ostrich Industry
9 May 2004
Ostrich farming started in South Africa in 1864. An increasing demand world-wide for ostrich plumes reached its peak
in 1913. At that time, ostrich feathers became the countryís fourth largest export earner after gold, diamonds and wool.
However, poorly co-ordinated marketing, changing fashions, excessive supply of feathers and disruption of export because
of World War I, caused a rapid decline and collapse of the industry. By 1930 the ostrich population had dropped from
770 000 to 23 000.
In 1959 a one-channel co-operative marketing system was established. The first abattoir was erected in 1964. In 1970 a
tannery was established. The one-channel marketing system was abolished in 1993.
PRODUCTION AND PROCESSING
The country has about 558 export registered farms, producing Ī300 000 slaughter birds annually. There are ten export-approved
abattoirs (for European Union purposes, while meat also goes to Asia on a large scale), and 15 tanneries. Total employment in
the production and processing sectors of the ostrich industry is just below 20 000 workers.
Since deregulation, the South African ostrich activities have spread from the Klein Karoo region (which maintains its prominent
role) into the Southern and Western Cape, as well as to the Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North-West and North Cape.
By value, South Africaís ostrich production is one of the top twenty agro-based industries in the country and it ranks high for
The total investment in ostrich activities (production and processing, excluding value adding manufacturing and businesses,
and tourism) exceeds R2,1 billion. Linkages with a whole set of related input and supporting industries have become stimulating
Export income amounts to R1,2 billion annually with 90% of both leather and meat products being exported.
Traditional handicraft from ostrich products are presently being twined with First World designs, reaching new heights of
In 1995 South Africa was responsible for 82% of the world slaughter figures. Since 2000, the South African contribution had gone
down to 65%. This downward trend is partly to be attributed to the competition brought about by global interest of nations and
individuals, wanting to share in the benefits of this wonderful product.
Due to its historic advantage and excellent natural conditions, the South African ostrich industry should be able to maintain
its position of world leadership, if certain conditions are being met. In this regard fruitful interaction with government,
both national and provincial, is a prerequisite.
Meat, presently extremely popular in Europe, due to its health characteristics (low in cholesterol, lowest fat contents of any
meat, etc) is produced under the most stringent health standards. For this the industry work closely with government support systems.
Ostrich leather is one of the most beautiful, supple and durable of all exotic leathers. The industry is continuously concerned
with product development.
Emerging entrepreneurs are being incorporated into the benefits and challenges of ostrich business. There are projects by which
emerging farmers from previously disadvantaged communities are brought into mentorship programmes and other empowerment initiatives
are also being implemented in addition to ongoing technical support, funding from international agencies is being organised.
The ostrich industry has been organised into an umbrella organisation, called the South African Ostrich Business Chamber with
headquaters in Oudtshoorn. Its income is generated from a contribution paid on each slaughter bird, collected at the participating
abattoirs. The Chamber is supported by two well established organisations
- The National Ostrich Processors of South Africa (NOPSA)
- The South African Ostrich Producers Organisation (SAOO).