The ostrich has been farmed for around 150 years in South Africa, first for its feathers and recently for the hide. The hide is the product for which an established market exists, primarily in the Far East for the manufacture of luxury goods, although the meat is increasingly important to the economics of production. The ostrich is a credible competitor in the red meat market in that it produces a very lean red meat.
Production in other parts of the world became possible when Namibia achieved independence. Ostrich farming is now an international industry, with South Africa still by far the major player. There are no reliable comprehensive sources of published information on global production and markets for ostrich products.
Initially the market in Europe was for breeder birds, followed by a transition to a slaughter market over the last year or so.
Many legislative, welfare and operational issues have still to be addressed. Because of the industry's development history, little technical knowledge about ostrich production has been gained through published scientific research. A lack of market development for meat and leather products, a lack of research into ostrich production under European conditions, and a lack of a developed infrastructure hamper progress towards a successful ostrich industry in the UK and the European Union.
There is a reasonable level of demand for ostrich meat in many countries of Europe, but this is currently being met predominantly from outside the EU. However, Increased global production in 1996-7 has combined with the recent Asian crisis, causing the currently depressed state of the industry worldwide. The future viability of the enterprise will require the development of new products and markets for the highly durable and attractive leather, as well as increasing the existing demand for ostrich meat.
Despite a lack of official support, experience in the UK and elsewhere over eight years of rearing ostriches has formed the basis of a sustainable industry, combining production, processing and marketing within the EU itself.
Research is needed to resolve the outstanding husbandry and welfare issues. The ostrich offers an opportunity to develop a range of value-adding activities as well as a diversification opportunity away from traditional farming systems, and is therefore suited to the concept of integrated rural development in the less favoured areas of Europe.