Livestock Industry Struggling Due to Prolonged Financial Crisis

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The paramount focus on the livestock industry has been ignored due to the country’s ongoing economic crisis and it is riddled with issues such as poor pay and allowances, dearth of veterinarians, fuel, medicines, and a lack of a national policy to promote the industry.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Livestock has been abolished, with the sector now falling under the purview of the Ministry of Agriculture and focus has been shifted to factory farms capable of generating domestic revenue.

Even recently a wildlife veterinarian had to travel over 189km to save a leopard as veterinarians are disproportionate and dispersed throughout the country. There is a scarcity of vets In the North, East and in North Central Provinces. 

The demand for animal protein is continuously rising up and it is quite challenging to cater to the national demand under current circumstances. In par with the demand the Department of Animal Production and Health (DAPH) has intensified its functions mainly in providing technical guidance and statutory functions related to livestock sector in the country despite the difficulties created by the Covid-19 pandemic followed by the economic crisis, their 2021 annual report showed. Upgrading and maintaining a healthy animal population, providing required inputs, quality assurance of animal products, animal feeds and veterinary pharmaceuticals, and research and development are the main functions implemented by different divisions of DAPH with collaboration of provincial DAPHs and other livestock stakeholders. In general, Livestock sector had a slight setback due to the indirect influence of the pandemic and economic crisis in the country. However, there was a slight increase in milk collection comparing to the year 2020, the report noted.

Also, several veterinarians say that food security comes along with safeguarding the livestock industry and all meat, milk, and egg consumption has increased significantly over the past decades causing the sector to expand.  But expansion has become weak and fragile as livestock is not listed under essential commodities.

They also stated that there is no national policy to establish zones for the livestock sector, and there is constantly conflict over wildlife, industrial, agricultural land and real estate. 

The importance of animal protein to our diet is immense. Animal protein have become an indispensable of our nutritional needs. Mainly, milk, eggs and meat are important to get animal proteins. In the past,Sri Lankans used to drink liquid milk. Although the country is self-sufficient in eggs and chicken,dairy and dairy-related products are imported. Only 1.2 per centis accounted for in the GDP by the livestock sector and it is currently on the decline. Due to the economic crisis and the shortage of dollars, there is less imports of dairy products and locally produced eggs, chicken and milk do not meet the national requirement. Overall the industry is also facing a fuel shortage.

Dearth of vets

Dr. H.H. A. Sisira Piyasiri, President of the Sri Lanka Veterinary Association, explained to Ceylon Today about the shortage of veterinaries in Sri Lanka and how veterinaries are leaving the country to Australia and New Zealand for better opportunities. Dr. Piyasiri doesn’t blame them because the benefits and facilities available to local veterinarians are pitiful.

He describes how livestock veterinarians must travel to farms because animals are not brought to their clinics and they must visit such farms whenever the need comes. Such calls cannot be ignored in the same way that a patient wishes to be treated. Most vets do not receive additional compensation for travelling at midnight. He also mentions that due to fuel shortages, some vets use bicycles and threewheelers to get to farms, and that this has been the problem for the last seven months.

Prices of available products have risen as a result of rising fuel prices and a scarcity of animal feed. The cost of transportation for animal feed and animal products has risen.

“As far as the dairy industry is concerned, the main problem has been the rise in the price of concentrates. Here, currently exported agricultural by-products should be used locally for animal feed. Problems have arisen for the efficient transportation of liquid nitrogen and bull semen to veterinary offices. Similarly, there is no priority in providing fuel for fieldwork related to providing veterinary and artificial insemination services to farmers. As a result, we face the threat of animal death and production decline. Therefore, it is time to make grass cutting an essential service as well as give priority to the transportation of animal feed and animal products.”

He goes on to say that in 2021, the daily milk production was 1.1 million litres, which has decreased to 0.65 million litres. The daily consumption of milk in Sri Lanka is 3 million litres. Therefore, Rs 58 billion have been spent on the import of milk-related products in 2021.

He also says that animal husbandry has been severely affected by the increasing cost of importing medicines. “Here, the import taxes should be lowered. Also, electricity is used a lot for animal products. It also requires a large amount of electricity. In the wake of the economic crisis, electricity cuts have a severe impact on the collapse of the animal husbandry sector. Although we are rich in terms of poultry industry, all the above mentioned factors have also affected it.

Although our country is self-sufficient through the poultry industry, the price of eggs and meat has increased beyond consumer reach. As a result, public health has deteriorated due to the rise in malnutrition and other diseases at the social level. Also, crises are building indirectly due to the loss of jobs in the industry.

The collapse of a self-sufficient industry like poultry, which pays billions in taxes, will directly affect national production as well as the collapse of livelihoods and this foreign exchange-earning industry is also directly affected by the diesel shortage. It is expected that there will be a big collapse in production which will take years to restore with the removal of parent animals,” he elaborated.

“We can see a golden opportunity in this difficult time of foreign exchange. This means that Sri Lanka’s poultry industry can easily be developed as an export industry. For that, our strengths are that Sri Lanka is free of bird flu, our poultry farms and poultry products comply with international standards, and the value of the dollar is very high, so exporters have a large amount of foreign exchange at this time. Earnings are very important. Therefore, government support is expected to help and facilitate the identification of international markets, identify trade partners through foreign embassies and provide facilities for the import of animal feed ingredients that are not produced in this country.”

At a recently held press conference too Dr. Piyasiri who is also a veterinary surgeon noted that the current economic crisis has very badly affected to the livestock sector of the country in varies ways. He also noted that this is the time that veterinary surgeons have to visit farmers than ever to give practical solution for issues they are suffering. “Instead of attending to farmers, vet surgeons are in fuel queues. And even no effective method of providing fuel at least for their office vehicles, therefore they are failing to provide the service which livestock farmers are needed in this critical situation. Artificial insemination which has to be done in timely manner has been affected due to fuel shortage for the extended staff, which directly affect the production of calf and milk yield. Further, shortage and high prices of veterinary medicaments and vaccines has badly affected on treating diseased animals and disease control programmes”. Therefore, he highlighted the importance of identifying the livestock services as an essential service and establishment of effective method to provide fuel and at least need medicaments and vaccines with government interventions. We strongly request the government to focus on the proposal we have submitted under the theme of ‘Livestock Beyond 2022’ and take adaptive measures given in the proposal for the sustainability of the industry and to take maximum output from the sector to the GDP of the country.

Consultant Nutritionist Dr. Renuka Jayatissa pointed out that they are in a dire need of providing good protein to the population, since malnutrition is an emerging threat. So far, they have been able to maintain the public health and nutrition with available foods. But developing threat of prices of human foods, especially of good protein sources, it is now at risk of maintaining the nutritive status we sustained in the society.

Because older individuals, children, and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition, the country should place a premium on the quantity and quality of protein in human diets. Animal proteins play a significant role in this, as rice and other foods can only offer 50 per cent of our daily protein requirements.

Animal protein

Dr. Ushan Pallegama, another veterinary surgeon, emphasised that animal protein is an important part of the human diet. Chicken and eggs have been highlighted as key sources of protein for human nutrition. Though these were considered a luxury, they are now considered necessary everyday foods. “Prior to the current crisis, we were self-sufficient in chicken and eggs. We were producing approximately 160 million broiler chickens and approximately 10 million layer chicks each year. Not only that, but we now have parent farms to obtain these layer and broiler bird products, as well as grant parent farms to obtain parent birds. Previously, we imported even parent birds from foreign countries. We have farms with cutting-edge technologies and the most advanced machinery in the world, and we produce to worldwide standards. The majority of these farms are run and controlled by contemporary computer software, and even feed composition for birds is done using highly expensive specifically built software.”

“Not only by providing protein for human nutrition, the poultry industry is largely contributing to the country’s GDP by creating around one million direct employments and uncountable number of indirect employments through constructions, equipment manufacturing and supply, maintenance, technical services etc. and even through transportations, warehousing, packing material supply, printing and marketing fields. Further, paddy farmers and rice millers are generating extra income by selling straw, paddy husk and rice polish to the poultry industry. But production has been reduced by around 40 per cent due to the current crisis and accordingly the number of eggs and chicken comes to the market has been reduced. This has vice versa effects which prompted producers to cut down their production due to shortages and very high prices of input materials which caused price increment of final products. And then due to very high prices of products, the buying power of society dropped markedly which again discouraged producers. Therefore, if this situation remains further, not only the food security of the country, but also millions of jobs created under this are at high risk.

At the same time, they stated that they see a chance to develop the chicken business into a foreign exchange generating industry as a result of the crisis. Entrepreneurs can create foreign exchange by exporting their products and earn more local currency than ever before thanks to high exchange rates, which they can employ for local operations. Though, for the time being, we have a low level of export that is insignificant to the country’s economy. There is an opportunity to develop this sector for exports because we are free of avian flu, our products meet international standards, and the market is opening from other nations due to the sectoral downturn of some frequent providing countries”.

He added that government intervention is needed in this juncture to find foreign buyers for local products. It can be done through marketing of our products through Sri Lanka Embassies in those identified countries by arranging trade fairs and agreements.

Current crisis affecting farms

Chairman, All Island Poultry Producers Association and President-Sri Lanka Association of Animal Production Ajith Gunasekara added that the livestock industry has large scale companies, medium scale farms and small-scale farmers.  Most of this production is from small-scale and medium scale farms which represent 65 per cent dairy farms. They are the group which has been affected largely due to current crisis. Shortage of feed materials, high prices of feed materials/ veterinary drugs/vaccines and even fuel shortage have very badly affected their operations. This has led to marked drop in dairy production, increasing demand for foreign currency to import milk powder. Already milk powder import has been reduced due to the lack of foreign currencies attributing the shortage of milk in the market. The prices of imported milk powders has been increased three times. Locally produced liquid milk price also has been increased due to shortage and high price of animal feeds, low production, high price of other inputs like packings, fuel and power crises. This situation is attributed in large scale dairy processing; these factories are not running with full capacities, but most of daily costs have not been reduced, but have been increased, which lead to increase the unit cost again.

The crisis has also had a significant impact on the poultry industry; some small and medium-sized farms have had to close because of a scarcity of feeds and the associated high costs. Since these medium- and small-scale farms provide the market with about 80 per cent of the eggs, we have seen significant price increases for eggs and a dearth of eggs in grocery stores. The number of parent bird producers has decreased as a result of this circumstance. If the situation worsens, we will need to prevent the market from being without products because we won’t have day-old chicks for layers and broilers to produce chicken meat and eggs if the enterprises that produce parent and grant parent birds curtail or halt their operations.

Ajith Weerasinha, President of the Sri Lanka Poultry Forum, stated that the country’s poultry sector is well-developed, with a big number of large-scale broiler poultry farms equipped with cutting-edge technology and machinery. “All of these farms are completely automated and run by software. Software controls the temperature, humidity, ventilation, and even wind speed inside the cages, and even the feeding and watering of the birds is totally controlled. We need continuous power supply to execute this process since birds cannot survive for more than 15 minutes if power goes off and all systems shut down. All of these farms are emergency power generators, but they require fuel. Poultry feed manufacture also necessitates continuous power supply since once a batch of feed is started, it cannot be stopped until the entire batch is finished and bagged. As a result, not only are raw ingredients for chicken feed scarce and expensive, but power and fuel are also a bottleneck for our operations. Every stage of this operation requires timely transportation,” he added.

– Day old chick dispatching from the hatchery has to be delivered to farms within the day. Those chicks should be provided with feed and water within the day of hatching. Otherwise, it affects performance and lead the death of high number of chicks.

– Feed has to be delivered on time. Birds cannot go hungry for at least for 30 minutes; that affect performance and stresses the birds.

For all these events, timely transport is a must, for that we need adequate volume of fuel for transport as well as for power generators. Government should give priority for livestock also in furl allocation. At the same time, solar power generation has to be encouraged and facilitated. If farmers personally attend to set solar power units, they have to face so many difficulties getting permission, finding reliable suppliers and proving extra generated units to the national grid. Therefore, clearly defined system has to be established with coordinating all related authorities, he added.

Sri Lanka has a system in place, but it has to redesign the entire livestock industry in light of the changes in politics, regulations, the climatic conditions and market demands. The livestock sector plays a significant role in the rural economy in raising the standard of life.

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By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan