Poultry Farmers in a Quandary
By Dilanthi Jayamanne
How much did your avurudu lunch and sweetmeats cost this year? Those who focused only on purchasing clothes must have not felt the pinch, but for those who focused on the traditional avurudu kema to celebrate the New Year, would have definitely felt a pinch in their pockets. The 2021 Sinhala and Tamil New Year would have most likely pinched the pockets of a multitude of middle and low income earners with the price of undu surging over Rs 1,000 per kilo, turmeric selling at Rs 250 per 100 grams, chicken prices rising to Rs 800 per kilo and the high cost of vegetables.
The only solace would have been for most was that the price of an egg in the market ranged from Rs 11 to Rs 13.
But, while this was consolation to some, it was a tear jerker to the egg producer. Carried out as rural business by small-scale farming communities, at present a majority of these farming communities are faced with the crisis of being unable to meet the cost of production. Therefore, the eggs produced are transported in small lorries or vans and sold by the way side.
To give a minor breakdown of the production cost of an egg; one kilogram of maize in the market amounted to Rs 80 to Rs 85. A kilogramme of soya was around Rs 160. Animal feed (chicken feed) manufactured in feed mills amount to Rs 90 a kilogramme.
Secretary of the All Island Egg Producers Association (AIEPA), Ratnasiri Alahakoon faulted the Government for stopping the import of maize to help local cultivators. In return the move had dealt a severe blow to the rural poultry industry. Both the production of eggs and chicken suffered as a result. Nearly 99 per cent maize whether locally produced or imported was utilised to manufacture chicken feed. Although small-scale rural business organisations were given the licence to import maize during the past number of years and distribute it among poultry farmers, the situation changed with the Government’s ban on maize import.
The President of the AIEPA, R.M. Sarath said that feed mill licences had been issued by the Department of Animal Products and Health (DAPH) to larger manufacturers of poultry and poultry products from whom even the small rural farming communities had to purchase animal feed. Local farming communities have no other option but to make their own preparation as chicken feed using rice bran, animal fodder (punnakku) as they cannot afford to purchase the feed sold by the large feed mill owners. He said that while there were only close to 200 medium and large scale egg and poultry owners, there were over 3000 rural farming communities engaged in the business of eggs and broiler.
There is State Minister of Livestock, Farm Promotion and Dairy and Egg Related Industries who should be held responsible to introduce an alternative for maize such as corn. Medium sized egg had dropped to Rs 12 and Rs 13 whereas they were retailed at Rs 17 to Rs 20 at one time. Currently, smaller eggs were retailed at ten rupees. He noted that the COVID-19 situation last year had severely affected the egg industry where small-scale farmers were forced to sell their poultry and bury eggs as they were unable to sell them. This year the ban on maize and the unfair manner the Government has given only certain people the licence to import maize and produce chicken feed has affected the industry.
On the other hand, the price of chicken available in the market during the Sinhala and Hindu New Year sky rocketed to Rs 800 per kilogramme in certain areas. There was a time in the past when a kilo of chicken which is still considered a delicacy and a dish which marks a grand meal to serve during any occasion was sold at Rs 400 to Rs 500 at the maximum. But alas, especially in the town areas and the suburbs a kilo went up to Rs 800. A veteran in the rural poultry industry holds that this was due to the blow that had been dealt to the rural poultry industry. There is no competition for big names also engaged in the industry to compete with.
Price of chicken feed
President of the Traditional Medium Meat Producers Association (TMMPA), Noordin Abdul said the situation had deteriorated since 2015 with the gradual to drastic increase in chicken feed. A kilo of soya is Rs 160, rice bran too is close to Rs 100 per kilo and should chicken feed be purchased from feed mills it costs around Rs 90 a kilo. Added to this is the cost of vitamins that need to be given to the animals.
Earlier a chick cost only Rs 60 but now the price has increased to Rs 150 a chick.
Noordin said that beef was sold at Rs 2,300 a kilo while mutton was sold at Rs 1,300 to 1,600 a kilo. However, with such production cost there is no injustice in meeting at least part of that cost.
The State Minister of Livestock, Farm Promotion and Dairy and Egg Related Industries said although there is a question as to whether he is more inclined to enhance only the dairy industry while neglecting the rural poultry business. Or else there should be price regulations to help the rural poultry farmer in enhancing the production of eggs.
If it is the Government’s aim to safeguard small-scale industries such as the poultry farmers and rural broiler farmers or even the gam kukulas, perhaps the bigger picture must be viewed instead of killing one to safeguard the other as is being done to rural coconut oil mills. The issue stems mainly from the move by the Government to ban the import of maize. But perhaps the State Minister should seek expert advice and recommend an alternative for the banned grain and work to safeguard the small rural poultry industry which also contributes to the country’s economy.