Wholesale prices of chicken and eggs have crashed 80% and 60%, according to figures from the Poultry Federation of India. (Representative Image)(Sant Arora/HT)
Wholesale prices of chicken and eggs have crashed 80% and 60%, according to figures from the Poultry Federation of India. (Representative Image)(Sant Arora/HT)

Poultry sector predicts losses of over 1k-cr

Even in states free from the avian flu so far, consumption of poultry has plunged, several stakeholders said.
By Zia Haq
PUBLISHED ON JAN 12, 2021 01:01 AM IST

A surge in avian influenza or bird flu, an outbreak that has now spread to 10 states, has decimated over three dozen large farms, shut down hundreds of hatcheries and upended supply chains as more poultry farmers confront the pervasive fear of its rapid spread.

Even in states free from the avian flu so far, consumption of poultry has plunged, several stakeholders said.

Regions where H5N8 cases have been confirmed are spread out across the country, forming a south-to-north arc, raising the threat for other central and eastern states, an official from the department of animal husbandry said.

Samples of dead birds are piling up at the Bhopal-based National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases (NIHSAD) as the epidemic tears through 10 states: Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Delhi, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.

“Our estimate is that business losses are to the tune of 1,500 crore. This includes layers, or poultry farms specialising only in egg production,” said Surinder Khanna,a former poultry development officer with the Haryana government and a consultant.

Avian flu has significant economic impact. Poultry farmers are counting losses from devastated farms.

“My farm is empty now. It is one of the six medium sized layers where 100% culling took place. Nearly 3,000 day-old chicks and 3,000 30-day-old chicken were culled, causing losses of 2,40,000,” said P. Suresh of Dynamix Poultry Cooperative in Kerala’s Allapuzha.

According to Khanna and other analysts, an estimated half-a-million birds may have been culled so far, although no official figures are available. Industry figures show that a one-day-old chick sells for 45, while it costs poultry farmers 80-90 to raise a chicken for 30 days.

Wholesale prices of chicken and eggs have crashed 80% and 60%, according to figures from the Poultry Federation of India.

India’s poultry business runs largely on a contract model, whereby poultry firms enter into written contracts with raisers.

“During outbreaks of bird disease, if affected population in a firm is more than 10%, which is usually the case in epidemics, farmers aren’t paid anything in accordance with contract terms,” Khanna said.

Union minister for fisheries, animal husbandry and dairying Giriraj Singh told reporters on Monday that the Centre was “coordinating with states to implement a national action plan” and there was no need for panic.

The flu has a domino effect in related supply chains. When chicken prices crash, they tend to bring down maize prices too, hurting farm incomes, said Abhishek Agrawal of Comtrade, a commodities firm. Maize is a major feed used for poultry, which consumes 14 million tonnes of corn annually.

“Poultry consumption in eastern Indian states, unaffected by bird flu, has fallen by an estimated 70%,” said Rajesh Kumar Singh, the editor of industry poultry journal Pashudhan Praharee.

According to official data, India’s layer farms produce 250 million eggs a day. The country produces 1.5 billion broilers a year, while 380 million chicken are raised annually for laying eggs.

Poultry is one of the fastest growing segments of the agricultural sector in the country. While output of crops has seen a decadal rise at a rate of 1.5-2% annually, that of eggs and broilers has been rising at a rate of 8-10% annually, according to agriculture ministry data.

India has among the highest incidences of bird flu outbreaks globally because it lies underneath three transnational flight paths of migratory birds, showing how difficult it is to prevent poultry diseases in the country.

Bird flu epidemics have occurred 24 times in the country since the first outbreak in 2004. The last outbreak happened in 2016, when the flu infected poultry in Delhi, Kerala, Punjab and MP.

Kerala and Haryana have completed several rounds of culling in accordance with national animal disease guidelines.

Avian flu mostly comes from infected wild birds, which shed the virus in their faeces. In India, the disease mostly is spread by migratory birds, such as geese, ducks and shorebirds.

Since 2004, compensation worth 400 crore from federal funds were given to poultry farmers who faced the epidemic, aside from financial aid from states.

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