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Zimbabwe Counting on Ostrich Market to Soar

From Reuters

Reeling from the worst drought this century, Zimbabwe’s farmers have turned to raising ostriches in hopes of making big money by selling the birds’ skins and meat to Europe and the United States.

Despite an undeveloped market overseas, the farmers have teamed up to build a huge abattoir near the capital, Harare, where 40,000 ostriches will be slaughtered annually and earn the country much-needed hard cash.

“We hope the . . . abattoir will develop ostrich-related industries such as tanneries and other processing facilities to boost our industry,” said John McCree, export manager for the Ostrich Producers’ Assn.

He said the group of 235 farmers hopes to tap the European market, targeting countries including Britain, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands, as well as the United States.

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“Overseas, people regard ostrich meat as a delicacy because it is high quality meat that does not have cholesterol, much hated there by the health lobby,” McCree told Reuters recently.

“In addition, we hope to market the ostrich skins, which are turned into fancy shoes, handbags, purses and jackets abroad.”

The farmers, who launched the industry in 1991-92 when southern Africa’s worst drought wiped out crops and livestock, expect to earn around $12 million--about 1% of Zimbabwe’s annual budget--from exports of ostrich meat and skins next year.

Although the income is little changed from last year’s exports of live ostriches, McCree said the farmers believed the industry would expand by at least 30% annually after the Harare abattoir was fully operational.

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Chris Bradshaw, manager for the trading arm of the ostrich farmers, added: “The expansion of the market is evident as demand for ostrich meat overseas is very high. This will help boost the national flock of around 120,000 now.”

The farmers are also taking advantage of the fact that the world’s largest producer, South Africa with 250,000 ostriches, has banned all exports of the world’s largest bird.

“South Africa is the world’s largest producer of ostriches with a flock over 250,000 birds, but is not involved in exports, as laws there prohibit this,” McCree said. South Africa bars export of live birds and fertilized eggs to try to prevent competitors in other countries from obtaining breeding stock.

The farmers have also ventured into selling ostrich meat to the local market, although most Zimbabweans prefer beef, which is cheaper, traders and restaurant owners said.

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