Chickening out

Even with a readily available market, poultry farmers sometimes suffer losses due to frequently fluctuating rates as the market here is controlled by deep-pocketed north Indian businessmen.Abdul Mohamin reports.

Ghulam Nabi Bhat opens his grocery shop in a narrow lane at Ahmednagar Srinagar at 9 in the morning. Most of the shelves in his shop are half-filled or empty, unlike other grocers in the suburban neighbourhood.

A year ago he was not a shopkeeper. He had a poultry farm where he reared thousands of chicken. But plummeting prices triggered by an import glut made him suffer huge losses. He becomes uneasy when anyone asks him about poultry farming – a sector seen by many as a prospective employment generator.

Bhat took up poultry business and decided to rear broiler chicken to earn a living and stop being an unemployed.

As an enthusiastic young man, Bhat would work more than 14 hours a day to see the first consignment of 1500 chicken grow. “I was highly enthusiastic about the new venture, and we had rented space at Rangil, where the chicks were growing at a fast pace with good quantities of feed being devoured by them, but when the chicks were ready after 35 days the market plummeted – a phenomenon I was totally unaware of,” said Bhat forcing him to sell chicken in retail at street squares. Still he suffered losses.

The set back did not take away his enthusiasm and he resolved to carry on. “I kept on with my resolve to produce poultry locally, but unaware of how the agribusiness lobbies in other states in league with the officials here were destroying a readily available market. I and many others like me were no match to them,” says Bhat.

He says, whenever their produce was ready the rates will go down. “Many first timers like me suffered losses. We had no option but to give in to the market forces as the broilers consume more feed once they grow to their optimum size,” Bhat said.

President, Kashmir Valley Poultry Farmers Association, GM Bhat, finds “exploitation” and low returns as the main reason of their failure to produce enough chicken locally.“The work is hard, and involves much of time, and every year expenses are increasing and farmers don’t get fair returns, who later give up and turn to other businesses,” GM Bhat said.

Poultry farming has not been given industrial or agricultural status so far though Kashmir consumes more than one lakh chicken every day.

Even with a readily available market poultry farmers suffer disastrously at times, GM Bhat says, due to lack of proper “marketing assurances” from the government. “Dr C. Rangarajan who heads a committee for formulating a job plan for Jammu and Kashmir agreed with us when the association met him,” GM Bhat said.Rearing a broiler chicken costs a farmer Rs 65 per kilogram but at times they have to sell it at Rs 50, with the local traders here also exploiting the framers.

The sector on paper is most viable with improved feed helping to grow a chicken to table size in 32 days rather than 40 days it would take earlier.

“Commercial broiler rearing is highly profitable, what sabotages our interest is more potent and politically connected poultry entrepreneurs operating in north Indian states,” a top Animal Husbandary official, wishing not to be named, said.

“Our state lacks a hatchery that could have a permanent parent stock to run this business here. We are dependent on hatcheries controlled by businessmen in north Indian states,” said the official, adding that even a proposal with government to set or initiate one in private sector is pending for long.

The local farmer has to cough up sometimes around Rs35 for a day-old-chick as the rates are dictated by the outside businessmen.

The poultry farmers from outside the flood the local markets with their produce to create a glut in the market diminishing the returns of the locals as they do not want to lose control of a huge market, the official said.

Though the poultry farmers are dependent on the outside business cabal, Bhat feels that chances of growth are immense. “This sector could create lot of employment,” Bhat said.

Monitioring officer with the Poultary division of the Animal Husbandary department, Dr Muhammad Shafi Surma acknowledged that market fluctuations deprive the farmers of genuine returns at times.

Surma said that the rate of such produce is determined by the Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution (CAPD) department and they have been urging the government to set up a mechanism where stakeholders in this business would have a say on prices of poultry to stop losses to the farmers.

“The department has also taken an initiative wherein we are willing to purchase the produce from the farmers at government rates and payments are done on spot so that he would keep the business running and save them from any losses,” Surma said.

Selling the produce as frozen dressed chicken could have acted as a hedge in overcoming rate fluctuations but the concept has not materialized in the valley, where people prefer fresh meat and chicken.

However, Urban Poultary Dealers Association (UPDA) general secretary M Manzoor Dar said unregulated supply and demand scenario is responsible  for the price fluctuation.

He advises farmers to follow a set cyclic production pattern in the birds besides suggesting a proper trade guidance to farmers.

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