Guwahati, April 28: Assam's poultry industry is feeling the heat. Soaring temperatures in southern India are affecting production in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, from where the state imports most of its broiler chicken eggs.
The parent (breeding) farms in the southern states are reeling under a water crisis and the hatching percentage of the imported eggs has decreased substantially, to anywhere between 30 and 50 per cent now from about 80 per cent during winter. This means that production of chicks in Assam has fallen drastically - from 72 lakh per month in October last year to about 60 lakh per month currently - resulting in a severe poultry shortage in the state.
"Poultry farmers here buy hatching eggs at Rs 25 each from parent farms in south India. But, given the hot weather in southern India, coupled with the (extra) heat felt during transportation, almost half the imported eggs do not hatch. In winter, the hatching percentage is better at 82 per cent," Mridul Kumar Borah, publicity secretary of the All Assam Poultry Farmers' and Traders' Association, told The Telegraph.
To make matters worse, the cost of production per chick has gone up to Rs 50 from Rs 35 and the price of poultry feed, whose ingredients are either scarce or not available in Assam, has gone up from Rs 32 per kg to Rs 37 per kg. Studies indicate that feed accounts for the highest overhead cost of raising birds.
"The closure of Amrit Agrovet (a Calcutta-based company), a prime integrator, in October last year created a huge demand-supply gap. Amrit had a weekly placement of six to seven lakh chicks across the farms of the state," Borah said.
The number of farmers in the state has gone down drastically, from about a lakh to about 40,000, since Amrit shut shop. There are around five major national integrators, who allegedly exercise a lot of control in terms of pricing, while a number of local companies are in the fray as well.
The retail prices of broiler chicken across the markets of Assam have risen sharply over the past month with consumers having to spend about 20 per cent more.
"To make matters worse, avian flu had broken out in the parent stock farms owned by Coimbatore-based Suguna. With a lot of chickens dying, the company closed down some of its farms," Borah said.
The association has not been proactive of late. In 2012, it had demanded a ban on the big poultry companies operating in Assam.
"The state government has done precious little so far in terms of providing subsidies," Borah said.
The outbreak of avian influenza in back-to-back years since 2008 had affected three projects of the state animal husbandry and veterinary department.
"The birds reared at the Coordinated Poultry Breeding farm and the Central Chick Rearing farm in Khanapara had to be culled. Poultry feed and hatching eggs, too, had to be destroyed. Since then the two farms have been non-functional," said Utpal Bharadwaj, an official of the veterinary department.
"Another project, regional broiler farm at Birubari, had to be discontinued during the flu outbreak. There is only one operational broiler chick farm, housing about 1,000 birds at Birubari," Bharadwaj said.
"The department has attained optimum level in regard to passing technical expertise to entrepreneurs. Assam is almost self-sufficient in regard to its meat requirements now," he said. However, there is scope for improvement. "We still have a lot to do in terms of attracting entrepreneurs to take up rearing of layer chicken (which lays eggs for consumption)," Bharadwaj said.