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How coronavirus, bird flu and rumours to stay off non-veg hit poultry industry hard in India

With prices crashing across India, the poultry industry is facing an estimated loss of Rs 700 crore in just the first two weeks of March.

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New Delhi: The poultry business in India has taken a severe hit following the coronavirus cases in the country and a bird flu outbreak in parts of Kerala and Karnataka that has led to a scare on social media.

The estimated loss to the industry is worth nearly Rs 700 crore in just the first two weeks of March, a senior official in the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying told ThePrint.

“The major challenge is to make the poultry industry recover from the damage that has been done to it by coronavirus-related scare, as there has been only 5-10 per cent of usual trade as compared to normal sale,” said the official, who didn’t wish to be named.

According to poultry farmers, prices of chicken have crashed from Rs 100-150/kg to Rs 20-10/kg in most parts of India, and of eggs to below Re 1 per piece from the usual rate of Rs 4-5.

‘Nothing left for the bird flu to destroy’

As parts of Kerala and Karnataka saw a bird flu outbreak earlier this month, poultry farmers across Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Kerala said not much is for it to destroy in the industry as the coronavirus pandemic has “wiped out everything”.

Thajudeen M., state president of All Kerala Poultry Federation, said, “Almost 60 per cent of state poultry has been destroyed by coronavirus scare as most of the stock used to be dispatched to the north where there is no demand after coronavirus outbreak. And here, it is mostly seafood that is consumed by the local population.”

There is little capital left with small scale poultry farmers, he said. “So they are either way culling chickens as they can no longer feed or sustain it. Kerala already has a protocol, in case of an avian influenza outbreak, since 2004 when H5N1 disease broke out over all over the world.”

Last week, the Kerala government ordered poultry culling in Parappanangadi after two avian influenza (bird flu) incidents were reported from Kodiathoor and Vengeri villages in the state.

“We are closely monitoring the situation and have sent an alert to other southern states too along with Maharashtra. But the outbreak is still limited to two areas in Kerala and one area in Karnataka, which we have contained in coordination with the state administration,” said the ministry official quoted above.

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Rumours hit business

Poultry farmers’ associations have blamed the massive dip in trade to rumours doing the rounds on social media platforms that the consumption of non-vegetarian products is likely to cause coronavirus infection.

Akbar Ali, head of the UP Poultry Association, said, “Production cost on one kg of chicken is Rs 80-85/kg, which usually sells at Rs 100-150/kg. But it is now being sold at Rs 20-10/kg due to decline in demand. Similarly, egg which had a production cost of Rs 3-3.5/piece is usually sold for Rs 4-5/piece. Now it is being sold as low as Rs 1-0.5/piece.”

As poultry farmers are not even getting a return of their production cost from the sale of products, Ali said, “…they are either culling their stocks or burying them in the ground as they can’t even sustain their feeding cost.”

Farmers who aren’t able to afford culling or burying are devising new methods to get rid of their stock amid this financial crisis. Many retail and wholesale poultry farmers are either leaving their stock out in the forests or are dumping it in markets for free.

Anil Sahu, a poultry farmer from Jharkhand capital Ranchi, said, “My stock of 1 lakh birds had to be culled as they had to be fed at least five times a day. The feed alone cost me at least Rs 3-5 lakh for a day, which I could not afford. I could barely make a few thousands in the market for last week.”

Chandan Rai, a small scale poultry farmer from Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh, said culling requires additional labour and machine costs of digging and dumping. “I can’t afford it as I have long-pending supply, fodder and other bills to pay.”

Rai had a stock of 8,000 chickens. “I had to dump 2,000 in the nearby forest and about 1,000 in the market for free as I could neither afford to feed them or kill them,” he said.

Also read: Faced with COVID-19, India chose to protect lives, not livelihoods. And that’s a good thing

Demand for poultry feed and machines dips

With a fall in the sale of products, the demand for feed and poultry related equipment has also seen a decline, hitting the farm mechanisation industry.

P. Chakradhar Rao, chairman, Indian Poultry Equipment Manufacturers Association, said, “There are absolutely no takers in the market for poultry related equipment for now as there is zero sales of products in the market. This has led to zero capital infusion in the market for the last two weeks.”

Rao said he used to do a monthly business of Rs 300-400 crore. This has now fallen to Rs 70-90 crore. “We have asked the government for a financial relief package for the industry or else at least a deferment for the payments to be made to the banks,” he said.

Also read: US-China battle heats up again as coronavirus disrupts global strategic order


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