Import of poultry products: Should we ban it ?

Prof E. Bijoykumar Singh *

A rooster (left) and hen (right)
A rooster (left) and hen (right)

As our income has increased the demand for meat and poultry products has increased several folds. In our childhood chicken preparations were available in OK hotel and there was also a taboo against the consumption of meat, chicken and even eggs in our homes. During the last three decades the food habits have changed radically and poultry products have emerged on the top of the consumption basket of the middle class.

Now shops selling meat and poultry products have mushroomed everywhere. The change in food habits is also reflected in the physique of our youth. One can say with confidence that the average height of our youth both male and female is higher than ever before. Our comparatively better performance in every field may also be attributed to the change in food habit.

Unfortunately; there is a huge cost - of the environmental kind - in this fastest-growing agricultural segment in the country. With close to 95% of the chickens produced in India being sold on "street-side stores" pollution is rapidly increasing, and has reached worrying proportions. The chicken waste, feathers and concomitant dirt from such stores are spreading germs and diseases in many parts of India. It is not very different here.

As per the 17th Quinquennial livestock census in 2003 there were 4,14,527 pigs and 29,40,774 poultry in Manipur. The term poultry applies to a wide variety of bird species like chicken (domestic fowl), duck, turkey, geese, pigeon, guinea fowl, pheasants, quail and other game birds.

Chicken, accounts for more than 90% of the total poultry population in India. According to the Statistical Abstract of Manipur 2009 published by Directorate of Economics & Statistics, Govt. of Manipur the number of poultry breeding farms and pig breeding farms were 2 and 4 respectively in 2007-8. The production of eggs rose from 605.32 lakhs in 1994-5 to 833.66 lakhs in 2005-6. Chicken production was 4643 tonnes in 1997-8, the latest year for which we have data.

Now and then one sees price war in poultry product market. When dressed chicken was available for Rs 150 per kg, a farm in Porompat slashed the price below Rs 100. During the next few days some other farms also tried to match the offer by introducing add-ons like free dressing and emphasizing the maturity of the birds on offer.

For the consumers it was a good time as the price of chicken was gradually falling everywhere. Then all those ads disappeared and price rose to peak during Ningol Chakkouba. Chicken has entered the Ningol Chakkouba fare in a big way. The Chicken eating generation has become the young married generation with less inhibitions about the mix of items.

Poultry farming has advantages like small initial investment; short generation interval of poultry as compared to other' livestock; availability of quality chicks; quick, assured and better returns compared to other livestock species; availability of trained manpower; better understanding and knowledge of the improved and scientific methods of feeding, management and health control; easy loan facilities; and poultry's nutritive value.

Starting in 1983 with an investment of Rs 5,000 in Udumalpet near Coimbatore, Soundarajan, the owner of Suguna Poultry jacked up a business of Rs 7 crore within the first three years of operations, backed by 30 contract farmers. Rising disposable incomes, urbanisation and the expansion of the Middle Class are a few key drivers of the growth in chicken business. Integrated poultry production and contract farming have lowered the cost of production of chicken.

Major players in the poultry meat business are Pune-based Venkateshwara Hatcheries, Pioneer Poultry, Godrej Agrovet, Sky Lark, Amrit Group and so on. India's chicken consumption has risen to more than 3 kg per head a year from less than 1 kg a decade earlier. This segment is expected to grow 12-13% annually.

Chicken consumption is expected to double over the next five years. According to a US Agriculture department report India's broiler meat consumption has risen from 2.23 million metric tonne in 2007 to a projected 2.75 million this year.

Recently the poultry farmers in Manipur expressed their resentment over the import of poultry products. The argument ran like this- imported poultry products are crowding out the local poultry products because these are available at prices which make local poultry farms non viable. While the dislocation caused by imported products needs to be minimized there are certain points which also need some introspection among our farmers.

The imported products are being transported on a notorious route with so many check posts and stretches of bad roads. These invariably raise their price. Something has gone wrong when one says that one cannot compete with them. If the poultry farmers protest too much about the non viability of poultry farming, there is a need to examine the economics of poultry farming afresh.Banning 'import' is not the answer.

It is justified only for protecting poultry from avian influenza. Farmers in Manipur, by now, must have recovered from the trauma of avian flu when countless birds had to be destroyed and the demand for poultry products crashed. Given its importance in creation of self employment jobs there is a need to protect it by remedying its weaknesses.

We have to see whether the advantages of poultry farming have been sustained. If these have been neutralized, how can they be restored? However mismanagement should not be protected. Nor the poultry farmers be allowed to form a cartel to squeeze the consumers. If a mismanaged industry is protected the consumers will not get what they deserve.

There is no reason why we should not benefit from growth in poultry industry. Just as there is a need for protecting their livelihood, there is also a need to protect the consumers. They should not be made to protect inefficiency. Poultry farmers need to become more competitive. Indiscriminate and sustained protection definitely is not the answer.

* Prof E. Bijoykumar Singh wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition)
The writer is at Economics Department, Manipur University
This article was posted on December 03, 2012

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