Amid steep losses, many poultry businessmen had to wind up their farms or curtail operations in the wake of the first wave of coronavirus.
The situation had begun to improve since December last year when social events returned, and the tourism and hospitality sector boomed after a lull, driving up the demand for poultry meat and eggs. The farmers cashed in on the rebound in the business, selling the chicken at higher prices.
At the farm level, the price of chicken (Sonalika) shot up to Tk 300 per kg from Tk 180 per kg. The broiler sold for up to Tk 130 per kg from Tk 100 per kg.
The seven-day lockdown-like restriction from April 5 pushed the prices down at the retail markets, impacting the production.
Yesterday, the broiler was sold at Tk 120 per kg and Sonalika Tk 200 per kg. The red egg was priced at Tk 5.4 apiece, and the white egg Tk 4.4 each.
The enforcement of the strict lockdown from April 14, which coincides with the beginning of Ramadan, has widened the loss.
During the fasting month, the demand for eggs usually drops at bakeries and confectionaries. So, the price of eggs has declined. Egg sales also decreased due to the restriction, said Shimul Haque Rana, a poultry farmer.
“Farmers are incurring a loss of Tk 3 per piece of white egg. If the situation persists, the poultry sector will see the devastation,” said Rana.
According to the Bangladesh Poultry Khamar Rokhha Jatiya Parishad (BPKRJP), there are about 98,000 poultry farmers. Of them, 28 per cent shut down their farms during the pandemic.
The poultry business has different segments — egg and meat production and hatching. Large farms operate in all segments, while small and medium farmers focus on one or two segments.
Mohatab Ali Mondol has a hatchery business in Panchbibi in the northern Joypurhat district.
He bought fertile eggs of Sonalika chicken at Tk 18 for hatching. The cost of hatching is Tk 5.
He thought of selling day-old chick at Tk 25 or above. But after the restriction was imposed, the price of the one-day chick has dropped to Tk 8 to Tk 9. He lost about Tk 2 lakh after hatching just one batch.
“I have a capacity of hatching 16 batches. But after the price dropped, I stopped hatching,” said Mohatab, who has been involved in the poultry business for a decade.
Many other farmers went through similar experiences last year. As a precaution, poultry farmers hatched chicken on a limited scale last year.
Mohammad Suruz Sheikh is involved in the egg business.
The proprietor of Satata Poultry Khamar in Bogura has about 20,000 laying hens on his farm.
He said the price of chicks had dropped significantly.
“If the price of chicken shoots up by 10 per cent at the retail market, the price of chicks goes up by almost 50 per cent,” he said.
Apart from the Covid-19 impact, seasonal disease and feed price hike have increased the loss, hurting small and medium poultry farmers.
Mohatab lost another Tk 12 lakh in seasonal disease last month.
“I had a coop of 6,000 chickens. Suddenly, three or four of them died. Before it spread further, I sold all my chickens immediately at a loss,” he said.
Khondaker Mohsin, the general secretary of the BPKRJP, apprehends that many farmers would not be able to cope up with the recurrent loss and would wind up poultry farms.
Apart from restriction, the feed price hike intensified the loss.
Mohsin said a good amount of feed could not be released from Chattogram Port because of the absence of the testing kit.
“Feeds are tested before release, but due to a lack of kit these could not be tested for the last four to five months.”
The freight charge has almost doubled to $4,200 per container, Mohsin said.
Moshiur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Poultry Industries Central Council, said poultry farmers had been on a path to recovery after last year’s shock and were making a profit.
“Because of the new lockdown, they have again started incurring losses. There are instances that the businessmen pulled out from Dhaka’s market due to the lower prices. It will be a matter of concern for poultry businessmen if the current situation prolongs.”
Since February, about 70 per cent of poultry farmers have received Tk 10,000 to Tk 22,000 cash incentives from the government. The incentive aims at helping poultry farmers who had suffered financial losses due to the pandemic.
“The incentive will heal the wound to some extent. But if the Covid-19 situation keeps worsening, there will be a disaster in the poultry sector,” Mohsin said.