LESOTHO – Retailers and restaurants in Lesotho are grappling with the adverse consequences of the government’s decision to impose a ban on chicken imports as Avian Influenza in South Africa continues to disrupt the supply of poultry products to the country.

The Minister of Agriculture, Food Security, and Nutrition, Thabo Mofosi, imposed the ban to safeguard Basotho consumers from the potential risks of infection associated with the outbreak of the bird flu in South Africa.

This highly contagious avian disease has been a persistent concern since June 2023, with 50 outbreaks recorded in poultry farms and among non-poultry birds in several South African provinces,” he said.

Meanwhile, the ban on chicken imports has had a cascading impact on the availability of chicken and its byproducts in retail outlets across Lesotho since most of the chickens and chicken products consumed in the country are traditionally imported from South Africa.

Notably, popular fast-food chains like KFC have already been forced to temporarily close their doors due to the scarcity of chicken.

KFC, which exclusively sources its chicken from South Africa, faced severe supply chain disruptions due to the unexpected government regulations.

“Our supply chain has been severely impacted due to unexpected government regulations, we are sorry, but all our Lesotho restaurants will be temporarily closed,” KFC announced.

Similarly, the Crispy King fried chicken outlet is also facing closure by the end of the week due to the lack of chicken.

Lemohang Moshesha, the Crispy King Manager, highlighted the challenges they face in accessing their South African supplier, leading them to explore new local suppliers as a means of preserving their business.

Moshesha used the situation as an opportunity to advocate for Basotho to establish sustainable local chicken suppliers to prevent similar crises in the future.

He expressed concerns about potentially losing customer trust during the temporary closure, trust that the business had built over time.

Major retailers in Lesotho, such as Pick n’ Pay and Shoprite, have also been affected by the poultry import ban, leading to shortages of poultry products in their outlets.

Although neither of their management teams provided comments on the situation, Katleho Moshesha, the general manager of another retail outlet, Econo Foods, noted that their current stock of poultry products could only last for about a week.

Beyond that, it’s a waiting game for all retailers until the ban is lifted, allowing access to South African suppliers.

Lesotho heavily relies on the importation of approximately 2.1 billion chickens annually, making the country particularly vulnerable to poultry shortages if supplies from South Africa are disrupted, as is currently the case.