UP poultry farmers stare into abyss as govt chickens out

Covid19: UP poultry farmers stare into abyss as govt chickens out

In the initial days of the crisis, there were several reports of an unproven link between Covid-19 and eating chicken. These reports were dismissed by experts.

Like other poultry farmers in Uttar Pradesh, Gurmeet Singh is grappling with the losses and disruption of business caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. But all he can think about is the pain of losing thousands of chickens he had reared.

Singh, whose farm has a capacity of 4,000 broiler chickens, had never imagined his entire flock, which he bought for Rs 100,000 (Rs 25 a chick) would end up in a pit.

“I had to bury them all as a majority of them died of hunger, since I had no money to feed them anymore. The things I suffered, as a poultry farmer, can’t be expressed in words,” said Singh, the lone earning member in a family of five.

In January, Singh decided to try his hand at poultry farming. “The poultry business was at its peak. I used my father’s and my own savings to invest in poultry farming, for which the Uttar Pradesh government offered many subsidies and other lucrative terms.

“With my parents’ consent, I opened a farm at Samda village near Amausi railway station. I thought the income would help me give my family a good life and a good education to my daughter,” he said.

Singh’s friends, who were already into poultry farming, played a key role in encouraging and advising him in setting up his farm. He invested Rs 100,000 and bought the initial stock of 4,000 birds.

“Once the stock reached my farm, I arranged the feed. It’s a special feed that costs Rs 35 a kg. I arranged for medicines and vaccines and it was all going as per the plan,” he said.

And then the Covid-19 crisis struck India, upending Singh’s life. “I still remember, it was the last week of January when I saw a flash on a news channel stating ‘Chicken ya anda khaane se bhi ho sakta hai Covid-19’ (eating chicken or eggs can give you Covid-19). I rushed to the farm and contacted a few retailers to take stock of the situation,” he said.

“But I was assured that everything was normal. Generally, it takes around 40 days for the birds to mature to be sold to retailers. I was advised to wait eight more days and then sell the stock of 4,000 birds,” he added.

In the initial days of the crisis, there were several reports of an unproven link between Covid-19 and eating chicken. These reports were dismissed by experts.

Singh’s father Sardar Surinder Singh, who retired from the Railway Protection Force (RPF), said: “I wish he had sold his stock in January end itself. One bird costs Rs 25 and matures in 40 days. The total investment on each bird, weighing 2 kg, is around Rs 165. Hence, the cost of our stock of 4,000 birds was Rs 660,000.

“But after the crisis, retail chicken prices crashed to Rs 25 to 30 a bird, following which we suffered a capital loss of Rs 130 a bird in just 40 days. We could hardly sell some birds for Rs 1 lakh and rest of the stock died of hunger.”

Singh is not the only one who suffered massive losses during the crisis. It’s the same story with many poultry farmers in the state. According to the Poultry Farmers Broilers Welfare Federation, a national group for poultry farmers, there are more than 12 lakh families engaged in poultry farming in Uttar Pradesh and their annual turnover is Rs 250,000 million.

“Our industry is perhaps the most affected industry during the Covid-19 outbreak. In February, there was a rumour that consumption of chicken or eggs may cause Coronavirus infections and the industry witnessed a 70% dip in consumption of chicken,” said the federation’s convener, Arun Gulati alias Annu, who owns a breeding farm in Banthra area of Lucknow.

Gulati said the situation worsened after infections were recorded in India, and consumption of chicken fell by 80% and the price was reduced to Rs 20 per kilogram.

“The lockdown proved to be the last nail in the coffin as all the birds were blocked on farms. Since farmers didn’t have much to feed the birds and they began dying of starvation. Farmers didn’t have any option but to bury the hungry birds alive,” said Gulati.


Gulati said the federation approached the chief minister to draw his attention to the grim prospects of poultry farmers. The government allowed grocery, fruit and vegetable shops to operate but no one gave a thought to the meat trade, which remained closed.

“Meat trade is not in the Uttar Pradesh government’s priority list. Other states are selling meat during the lockdown. Here in Uttar Pradesh, those who try to open shops have to face the police baton or harassment. We have written to the chief minister to let meat shops open in order to bring the poultry industry on track,” he said.

In early March, the Central government issued a statement debunking the rumours that created a scare. On March 5, a communiqué from the ministry of fisheries, animal husbandry and dairy’s joint secretary OP Chaudhary stated, “The consumption of Indian poultry and poultry products, including eggs, is safe. General hygiene, however, should be followed.”


In early March, the district administration issued an advisory barring the sale of meat and fish at illegal shops that sell meat in the open. In addition, the administration ordered the fogging of cowsheds. Later, district magistrate Abhishek Prakash clarified it was a general order and the administration had not banned the sale of meat. But he maintained that sales at unlicensed shops and in the open were restricted.

On Thursday, divisional commissioner Mukesh Meshram said meat shops were closed as none of them had a licence from the Food Safety and Drug Administration (FSDA).


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