KOTTAYAM: It was during the complete lockdown declared in the state following the Covid outbreak when Prince Joseph John decided to start a poultry farm near his house. The Muvattupuzha native, who owns a taxi, was badly affected by the pandemic and he found the new business as an alternative source of income. He pledged his wife’s ornaments to avail a gold loan and invested nearly Rs 8 lakh to set up the poultry cages. He bought 800 chicks and started getting 550-600 eggs per day.
Prince’s new venture was profitable until this January. However, the sudden jump in the price of poultry feeds poured cold water on his enthusiasm. He incurred a huge loss in the following months, and it forced him to sell nearly 700 hens at a cheaper price.
As of now, Prince has financial liability of Rs 6 lakh and he plans to quit the field. “Forget the return. I don’t even get the operational expense,” said Prince. It is not an isolated case. Anaz Karim, a native of Nedumangad in Thiruvananthapuram, who has been into poultry farming for more than six years, also plans to wind up the business due to huge loss.
“At the start of this year, the price of a 50kg bundle of poultry feed was Rs 1,050. However, the companies mercilessly increased it to Rs 1,600, subsequently pushing farmers into crisis,” Anaz said. Farmers said the demand for brown-coloured locally-produced eggs is high, which is being sold at a price of Rs 5-6 per egg in the market. The farmers found it reasonable until the price of poultry feed went up. Adding to their worry, Tamil Nadu has started producing and sending similar eggs to Kerala markets at Rs 3.80 (per egg).
According to farmers, the production cost of an egg comes to Rs 4-5, which includes feed, medicine, food supplements, etc. “Most of the poultry feed companies have their own farms with a capacity to rear up to 10,000 hens. We can’t compete with them,” Anaz added. Unlike backyard poultry production, BV 380 breed of hens are reared in commercial layer (egg-laying hens) farms.
They are capable of producing up to 300 eggs a year. With commercial egg production becoming non-profitable, the demand for chicks has also decreased. “Earlier, chicks were being sold within 45 days. Now, we are unable to sell them even after 90 days,” said Binu Varghese, a native of Vechoochira in Pathanamthitta, who sells BV 380 breed.
Most farmers point out price hike of feed as the prominent reason for loss. According to farmers, the state government doesn’t have a system to monitor and control the price of poultry feed. The marketing executives of companies point out the Ukraine-Russia war and petroleum price hike as reasons for the increase in feed price.
The farmers have been seeking government’s intervention to control the price or to provide sufficient subsidies. As per the statistics of the Kerala State Poultry Development Corporation (KEPCO), there is an annual requirement of 565 crore eggs in the state, but the domestic production is only around 120 crore. Presently, Kerala depends on Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh to meet the demand.
State in need of commercial egg farms
Per-capita consumption of eggs in Kerala is approximately 74 and about 80% of egg production comes from backyard poultry farming. Farmers point out the focus of the government should be shifted from backyard farming to commercial egg farms to make Kerala self-sufficient