An old idea gets wings

English: Ostriches at the Cape of Good Hope, S...
English: Ostriches at the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was growing up my father would come back from a business trip from Oudtshoorn in the Cape Province with ostrich eggs and other handmade ostrich egg shell products. Me and my brothers were fascinated when my mother would cook the yolk from the ostrich egg. We were amazed at how many normal chicken eggs made up the giant ostrich egg. We would ask our parents how many and get all sorts of answers but I think it was about 20 to 24 eggs.

Our fascination about ostriches increased more when we were told that humans could ride on them and that there was once a thriving industry in the Little Karoo selling ostrich feathers to the United Kingdom when well over 100 years ago. Then there was a huge demand for ostrich feathers for ladies hats. During this Victorian-era ostrich ostrich feathers were one of South Africa’s most important export products. With the arrival of the motor car ladies wearing large hats with ostrich plumes found that their hats were not suitable and were blown off at fast speeds. The region’s economy was ruined and farmers returned to traditional crops but the Little Karoo town of Oudtshoorn is still home to the world’s largest ostrich population with many specialised ostrich breeding farms.

Now the Cape Argus reports that a small export business has started in the Little Karoo in an old ostrich hatchery in the town of Prince Albert. The small business exports its handmade ostrich egg shell products to several countries. The investment, it seems, is a public-private partnership to create jobs. The shop in the former factory is also a potential attraction for tourists visiting Prince Albert.

It’s interesting to see how an old ostrich hatchery has been revived and resuscitated into a small business opportunity for residents in this town. I don’t know if you’ve been to some of these small Karoo towns but if you have you will know that the economic activity is often dismal. So initiatives like this with new ideas to generate income in the town are inspiring. With the weaker rand currency, the handmade ostrich products should be more competitively priced.

The one thing that has amazed me when I’ve been to the small towns in the Little Karoo is that while there is often nothing but small agriculture, there are other opportunities that are often overlooked. If we look at an area we’ll typically see that there is human capital, natural resource capital, social capital (often stronger in these small communities) infrastructure capital (I’m talking about your basic facilities like electricity and water and roads), manufactured capital (usually small craft or manufacturing businesses) and financial capital (difficult to attract unless positive cash flow projects are placed on the table). For me, the greatest capital is the human capital. I don’t see why more attention is paid to increasing the skills of people in these local communities. The capital that sustainability experts and economists hardly ever mention is creative capital.

If you combine human resource capital with creative capital you get an exponential increase in opportunities and eventual growth. Yet what this takes is upskilling and training and perhaps even increasing individuals’ capacity to use their creative potential in spotting and identifying their own opportunities for income generation projects. It would be so much better for locals to come up with their own ideas than to rely on experts and consultants from Cape Town and Johannesburg who don’t know the area and investors from both the public and private sectors that have never lived in these small towns and have no attachments to them.

It’s great that locals in a small town like Prince Albert have got together and revived the old ostrich hatchery in the town and can now generate income and create jobs that will help slowly keep people in the town and improve the quality of their lives.

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