PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA – The government of South Africa implemented stringent lockdown protocols to quell a rise in COVID-19 infections. This action has resulted in lower imports of US chicken, but imports of US beef products are tracking higher as consumers turn to alternative proteins such as offal, the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of the US Department of Agriculture said in a recent report on the impact of the lockdown on South Africa’s livestock industry.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO) South Africa had 2.21 million cases of COVID-19 and 64,509 deaths from Jan. 3, 2020, to July 13, 2021. Heightened lockdown restrictions started June 27 as a result of the rise in COVID-19 infections, and the increase in hospital admissions. Segments of the agricultural industry in South Africa are affected by the new lockdown regulations, although the agricultural sector is designated as an essential service and exempt from certain restrictions, FAS said in the report. On July 11, President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa extended the lockdown for an additional 14 days.

“The lockdown restrictions initially affected the livestock industry directly, as they were prohibited from gathering for auctions,” FAS said. “As a result of this, the in-person auctions that were scheduled between June 28 and July 11, 2021, were either cancelled or scheduled for online auctions.

“However, farmers are concerned that online auctions are not always practical or possible because of connectivity issues and other activities that take place during the auctions,” the agency said. “Notably, while the lockdown was extended for another 14 days, the restrictions on in-person, agricultural auctions was relaxed.”

Lockdown restrictions affected foodservice operators in South Africa the same as in other countries. Restaurants, hotels and other establishments were allowed to sell food to-go, but many operators were unable to sustain their businesses and were forced to close. FAS said the closures negatively impacted the beef and chicken sectors, including US imports, which depend on demand from the restaurant and tourism industries which are major consumers of meat and chicken.

“The pandemic seems to have contributed to a reduction in US chicken imports into South Africa, but also to an increase in imports of certain beef products,” FAS said. “During the year 2020, the United States exported 79,472 tonnes of poultry meat and products to South Africa, which decreased by 11% from 2019.”

But exports of US beef to South Africa climbed, FAS said. In 2020, the United States exported 20,235 tonnes of beef and beef products to South Africa at a value of $12.6 million which increased by 9% from 2019.

“Edible beef livers that are frozen contributed 89% to the US exports of beef and beef products to South Africa. South Africa has a huge domestic market for offal,” FAS said. “The increase in beef live imports is as a result of financial pressure that led consumers to switch from expensive beef cuts to beef livers as an alternative for protein.”