Farmers are resorting to panic sales even as they seek government assistance as the Covid-19 crisis is more widespread than the bird flu outbreak of 2006, which was restricted to western parts of the country. Chicken prices were lower in other places, too – Rs 30/kg in Raipur and Pune, Rs 35/kg in Bengaluru, Rs 37/kg in Hyderabad and Rs 40/ kg in Gujarat, according to the Compound Feed Manufacturers’ Association of India. Rates were close to normal in north India, ruling at Rs 55/kg in New Delhi and Rs 60/kg in Punjab.
B Soundararajan, chairman of Suguna Foods, a poultry company, called the current crisis much larger than the 2006 bird flu outbreak. “Though chicken consumption has not been that bad, coronavirus has ruined the poultry industry as prices have crashed. We would like the Central government help the industry by giving subsidised raw material like wheat and rice for feed,” said Soundararajan.
“Every month, farmers have been accumulating about 20% to 30% unsold inventory. At some places, where farmers are unable to handle the huge inventories, have no place to keep unsold birds and cannot afford to feed them, panic sales have started. Farmers have sold chicken at Rs 15/kg to Rs 20/ kg at many places in desperate sales,” said PG Pedgaonkar, general manager at Venky’s, a poultry processing company.
Chicken demand and prices typically drop in March due to exams and some Hindu festivals. Normal average rates for this month range from Rs 45/kg to Rs 60/kg in various parts of the country. In Maharashtra, farmers realised a rate of Rs 72.50/kg in January and Rs 40/kg in February. In March, the price declined to Rs 30/kg and below.
“We met the Maharashtra ministers today and requested them to extend support to the industry. Restructuring of bank loans and interest subvention will help the industry to survive,” said Shrikrishna Gangurde, vice-president of the Poultry Farmers and Breeders’ Association (Maharashtra).
“We have requested the Maharashtra government to extend some subsidy to poultry farmers. As the poultry units are not able to pay electricity bills and local taxes, we also want the government to not cut electricity supply,” said Pedgaonkar.
Ajit Ranade, head of the poultry division of Bombay Veterinary College, said the process of cooking chicken at high temperatures cannot leave any virus alive. “Not a single incident of any occurrence of coronavirus in chicken has been reported anywhere in the country,” said Ranade. “Some videos getting circulated on social media platforms of dissection of the hens are of hens infected with Ranikhet disease.” Gangurde said people are responding to awareness campaigns promoting chicken consumption by saying there is no harm in not eating poultry.