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Pullet Shortage Blamed for Egg Price Rise

by 5m Editor
4 October 2010, at 10:51a.m.

SRI LANKA - The coming festival season could be adversely affected by shortages and high prices of eggs and chicken as the reuslt of a shortage of day-old layer pullets.

Probably the cheapest form of protein available to man, eggs are an essential part of our daily consumption – be it fried or in other food items like cake or hoppers we find eggs in almost everything we eat.

The Nation of Sri Lanka reports that egg prices have climbed drastically going from five to 15 rupees (LKR) in recent times, depriving the people of cheap access to the protein nutrient.

The government has been saying that the price increase in eggs was unnecessary and that producers and wholesalers were showing an unnecessary shortage to raise the egg prices.

Consumer Affairs Minister, Johnston Fernando, has warned that the government would enforce a control on egg prices if the farmers did not bring down the prices. If this were to happen, it would be the first time that such sanctions have been enforced on the poultry industry.

The minister, meanwhile, announced that the Co-operative Wholesalers Establishment (CWE) will buy eggs straight from the farmers disrupting the 'middle men', who, he said, hold a monopoly over the egg prices.

The ministry claims that the wholesale price of a white egg at the CWE is LKR12.70 and the retail price for a red egg is LKR13.20. The retail prices are LKR13.20 and LKR13.70, respectively.

Though the government has come up with this solution, consumers claim that retailers are still selling eggs at the old prices.

However, these reductions in prices seem to have little effect on egg prices at major supermarket chains in the country where the price of a pack of 10 eggs is around LKR175, which means an egg is sold for LKR17.

Meanwhile, poultry farmers claim that the minister’s solution is not a sustainable one, reports The Nation. The farmers argue that they cannot always deal with the CWE if they are to reach a wider market.

Senior veterinarian and Poultry Farmers Association (PFA) chairman, Dr D.D. Wanasinghe, said the main reason for the shortage is the deficiency in the population of egg-laying hens.

Dr Wanasinghe pointed out that a shortage of day-old pullets has resulted in a slow production and a hike in the prices. It is cited that there exists a shortage of around 250,000 pullets that has slowed down production.

Unless this gap is filled soon, the farmers complain that they might not be able to meet the demand during the oncoming festive season. Pullets bought by farmers must be kept and fed for at least six months before they mature into egg-laying hens. A single hen will be productive for around 18 months and will lay an egg per day.

Local hatcheries are saying that they will be unable to meet the demands of the poultry farmers before next April, in which case, the shortage is likely to continue until September next year. The situation is worsened by the limited number of five hatcheries that operate within the country.

The Department of Animal Production and Health (DAPH) confirms that all local hatcheries are completely booked until April next year with two of them booked all the way to the end of 2011.

Though local hatcheries will be equipped to meet these demands by April next year, the pullets that are acquired then will take another five to six months to mature. The present state of things means that the high demand cannot be met till September next year meaning that the prices could keep on increasing until the end of next year when the production could finally meet the demand. However, given the state of the present market, that might be too late to bring down the prices.

The present price of a day-old pullet is LKR117 but the prices are expected to soar to at least to LKR290 within the coming month with the high demand, according to Dr Wanasinghe.

"Already there are reports that there have been instances where farmers have had to buy pullets at 300 rupees," Dr Wanasinghe told The Nation. Although the big farms have been able to survive during this crisis, most smaller farmers have been running out of business unable to handle the production costs. The solution would be for the government to make provision for the import of the required number of pullets. If this was done, the situation could be dissolved before the festivities, he contended.

Dr Wanasinghe continued: "We have already discussed this issue with DAPH and they are yet to come back to us. It is important that the government does intervene in this situation. Otherwise, the small-scale farmers will loose their ground in the matter. Industrial level farms could easily take up the expense to import these chicks and from that point onward they will hold the upper hand when selling them to the small scale farmers and thus hold a monopoly over the system again."

The PFA, meanwhile, insists that if the pullets are to be imported there should be a way of getting them directly to the small scale farmers as well.

Dr Wanasinghe added: "Otherwise, the small timers will suffer creating a greater monopoly over the system and a probable increase in prices again. However, given the present situation even the big scale farmers are struggling to meet the demand. If importing pullets is allowed, these farmers will easily come out of the situation. The small scale farmers who have no access to internet or other ways of contacting exporters will suffer unless the distribution is controlled somehow."

According to experts, if the population of egg-laying hens increases then there will be an abundance in the meat production as well. Currently, there is a demand for 8,000 metric tonnes of chicken per year in Sri Lanka.

Demand is expected to rise up to 8,500 to 9,000 metric tonnes within the next year. For that sort of a demand, the current produce is clearly not enough since the festive season is also at hand. According to farmers, the Christmas and New Year seasons can double the demand for poultry meat and eggs.

Meanwhile, DAPH director-general, Dr A.D.N. Chandarsiri, accepted the fact that there is a shortage of day-old pullets in the country. He explained that, although the situation has been somewhat politicised, there is a lack of hens in the country.

He said: "Though it has been suggested that importing these chicks can help deal with this issue, it is not as simple as it sounds. The government cannot allow importers to bring chicks into the country without a proper evaluation.

"Unlike in a situation where you are importing dry goods, there are huge risks when importing livestock. Generally, Sri Lanka is a disease-free country and we need to make sure that the countries and producers that we import from meet those standards. Otherwise we could even risk severe diseases like bird flu sweeping into the country," he cautioned. The DAPH, which has held a discussion with the farmers, is yet undecided on whether they should import eggs or not.

According to Dr Chandasiri, the DAPH has already held discussions with the Ministry of Agriculture as well as the Treasury and is awaiting their response.

While the solution is being debated upon, consumers will inevitably suffer. The Nation report concludes that until the authorities and egg producers break their deadlock and come up with a sustainable solution, the fun at the oncoming festivities might be dragged down by the economic burden.