In 2011, the population was counted, the cost of the modern world to the environment was counted, and the Industrial Development Corporation counted itself among a group of three involved in an innovative chicken project.
On 9 October 2011, South Africa undertook its third census since the advent of democracy in 1994. It found that there were 51.77 million people in the country as of midnight on the day, and 30% of the people of working age were unemployed.
It was an opportune year to run the census, as meeting the needs of an exploding world population while preventing environmental damage was at the forefront of people's minds. The United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP17 – was held in Durban from 28 November to 9 December, with the theme "Green Economy: Powering Climate Solutions".
Also in the same year of the census, as if sensing the urgency to create employment – especially for the unemployed youth in the country – the Industrial Development Corporation entered into an agreement with Vrystaat Koöperasie Beperk (VKB), an agricultural company based in the town of Reitz, in Free State, to expand operations at subsidiary company Grain Field Chickens.
The expansion plans have since resulted in the abattoir producing 760 000 chickens a week; in addition, 950 workers, most of whom are women and youth from Reitz and surrounding areas, are employed at the abattoir.
The partnership between the IDC and VKB is a result of the corporation, the Department of Labour and the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) pooling R350-million to invest in the project, with the UIF contributing R65-million and the IDC chipping in with slightly over R23-million.
On 28 February 2014, President Jacob Zuma visited the abattoir and was highly impressed by the project, stating: "The joint funding has assisted the project to expand and manage its operational capacity to produce and slaughter about 760 000 chickens per week. We congratulate you on this achievement."
Established in January 2011, Grain Field Chicken ran its first test in July 2012 with just 300 chickens. Four days later, it started official production with 9 000 birds in a day. Currently, the abattoir slaughters 130 000 birds a day, or 650 000 a week.
Grain Field Chickens has contracted 70 independent farmers in Free State who have environmentally controlled chicken houses. At present, 70 houses produce chickens and the company is planning on adding a further 140 houses. This will result in another 140 job opportunities being created.
The ownership structure of Grain Field Chickens addresses key government initiatives, one of which is broad-based economic empowerment. The IDC has a 23.1% stake held for a workers’ trust in Grain Field Chickens; the balance is held by VKB.
The abattoir is the fifth largest chicken abattoir in South Africa and the new production capacity is expected to make a significant dent in the country's chicken imports. In addition, the abattoir is very innovative, which will help the local chicken production industry become more competitive.