Poultry farmers can’t catch a break as the COVID-19 pandemic, the bird flu and now a sharp hike in poultry feed are causing them untold distress. In the face of the uncertain future, many of them are abandoning their chicken farms.
The hike in the price of poultry feed has added to the distress of poultry farmers. All photos: Gaon Connection
Ghulam Mohammad has been in the layer chicken business for several years now. Till a year ago, he had more than 17,000 chickens on his two farms in Jarwal, about 80 kilometres from Lucknow. But at present, only one farm is working, with 10,000 chickens in it.
“Last year, our business was severely hit due to the pandemic. We thought we were on the recovery path by December, when the bird flu broke out and ruined everything, and the price of poultry fell drastically,” a beleaguered Mohammad, who lives in Bahraich district of Uttar Pradesh, told Gaon Connection.
Troubles continue to peck at the poultry industry. Once considered a profitable business, the outbreak of COVID-19 and the bird flu has left it in the doldrums. The latest in its long list of woes, is the increase in the price of bird feed.
The hike in the price of poultry feed has added to the distress of poultry farmers like Mohammad. A sack of feed that weighs anything between 50-60 kgs usually costs Rs 1,200. But that is now selling for Rs 1,400 a sack, Mohammad said.
“Currently, the daily feed costs as much as eighteen thousand rupees, over and above the fixed charges of electricity, labour and medicines. The poultry cost is overriding the price of the product in the market…” he complained.
Similar concerns are echoed by Ali Akbar, president of the Lucknow-based Uttar Pradesh Poultry Association. “The poultry business began faltering when the price of maize [the other major component of poultry feed] went up in 2019. Then too, the prices of poultry went up considerably,” Akbar told Gaon Connection. He has a poultry farm in Ghazipur about 350 kms away.
“In the last two months, the price of feed has gone up nearly one and a half times. A sack of poultry feed that cost up to fourteen hundred rupees is now selling for seventeen hundred a sack,” Sanjay Sharma, secretary, Poultry Farmers (Broiler) Welfare Federation, told Gaon Connection. He runs a poultry farm in Ludhiana, Punjab, which used to produce around 75,000 broiler chickens per year before the pandemic, and currently produces only 30 per cent of its capacity.
Poultry farmers are feeling the pinch of the price hike of poultry feed. Maize and soybean are used in making poultry feed. Poultry feed is made out of the residue after crushing soybean, that is called soymeal. Last year, the price of soymeal was Rs 30 per kg. Today it has shot up to Rs 57 a kg. Because the price of soybean has gone up it has also impacted the price of the feed.
Meanwhile, soymeal exports also increased between October last year and February this year. According to the Soybean Processors Association of India (SOPA), exports during the period stood at 1,435,000 tonnes as compared to 365,000 tonnes in 2019.
The All India Poultry Breeders Association demanded that the central government should allow duty free import of 120,000 tonnes of soybean meal. Association members also wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi informing him of the drastic price hike of soymeal due to the rise in the price of soybean. They appealed to the government to ban the trading of soybean on the commodity exchange. But so far there has been no action taken on their demand.
“It is not just the rise in the price of soybean, but it is also to do with the hike in diesel prices,” Saryu Pathak, sales manager of Uttara Feed Pvt Ltd, Varanasi, which supplies poultry feed in several districts of Uttar Pradesh, informed Gaon Connection. Pathak warned the price of the feed may go up even further.
Last month in March, members of the All-India Poultry Breeders’ Association met Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu to apprise him of their problems.
“Most of the poultry farms in our region had to close down. It caused so much economic loss to the farmers that they cannot even dream of resuming operations,” Ali Akbar, stated.
Apart from the poultry feed, the cost of chicks has also increased. “The rate of chicks has also gone up,” Mohammad pointed out. “I had ordered the chicks in December at the rate of forty one rupees each. Today the present rate is over forty five rupees,” he informed Gaon Connection. He said he was lucky he had ordered the chicks when he did, before the price hike.
According to him, the production cost per egg is Rs 4, but it is selling at anything between Rs 3.75 and occasionally at Rs 4.25, which means the profit is negligible or not at all.
“At present, the price of a broiler chick is about fifty rupees. But the cost of raising a chicken has gone up from seventy five rupees to ninety five rupees,” said Sharma, adding that there was however no corresponding increase in the price they were selling the chickens at. “The price we are getting for the chickens doesn’t justify the cost of raising them,” he reiterated.
“We were forced to sell the birds cheaply due to the bird flu. It has become far too challenging to do poultry farming nowadays,” Sharma lamented.
According to him, many poultry farmers have branched out to other things fearing the uncertain future and the resurgence of COVID-19. He said no one knew what the situation would be after a period of 45-50 days, the time taken by the chicks to grow into chickens.
“People are left with no money to buy fresh batches of chicks and restart production. It will take a couple of years before one can talk of profits. If this situation prevails poultry businesses will completely shut down,” concluded Akbar.