Despite abnormal increases in input costs and a constant fear of avian influenza, the Indian poultry industry is shaping up to be a well organised sector without much interference from the government. This industry has recorded magnificent growth over the past 25 years, with good prospects for a successful future.
By Dr. H.C. Saxena, Pune, India
With annual production of 53,000 million eggs and 3.2 million tonnes of poultry meat, India is now among the biggest egg and broiler producers in the world. At the current level of production, the poultry sector contributes about US$9.3 billion to the gross national product and provides direct and indirect employment to over 3.2 million people. Additionally, over 20 million maize farmers and 500,000 soybean farmers are directly dependent on the poultry sector, as more than 80% of the maize and a very substantial share of soybean meal produced in the country are used by the poultry industry.
The state of Andhra Pradesh alone produces over 30% of the country's eggs, with other top-producing states being Tamil Nadu (15%), Karnataka (8%) and Punjab & Haryana (14%). Regionally, egg production in the south makes up over 50% of production; north and west about equal, with Eastern India rapidly gaining presence. Thus, it can be said that the industry, both layer and broiler, is set to grow. Per capita consumption of eggs has already gone up to 41 from an estimated 32 in 2005.
Public perception positive
Excellent work has been done by the National Egg Co-ordination Committee in highlighting nutritional value of eggs. Suffice to say that eggs with a high biological value (93.7) is highest when compared to milk (84.5) and fish (76.0). It contains minerals as well vitamins, including the much needed Vitamins A, D3, E, B1, B6 and B12. It cannot be adulterated and, above all, considered to be suitable for vegetarians. Many authors have given detailed description of the nutritious value of eggs, and it is now widely accepted as a complete food providing protein, calories and vital minerals needed by the human body.
The poultry sector in India has undergone a paradigm shift in structure and operation – it’s transformation from merely a backyard activity into a major commercial activity has developed in a very short time. The introduction of hybrids like Hyline, Shaver and Babcock in the early 1906s laid the foundation of this industry. Farmers made profits and poultry expanded leaps and bounds. Input by the feed industry in providing high-quality nutritional layer rations helped the industry to march forward and very soon large farms were set up with 1,000-2,000 layers. In 25 years, such farms expanded to have 200,000- 500,000 layers under the banner of private and cooperative farming.
With good quality feeds, better hybrids and proper management, production of up to 300 eggs per hen housed is obtained on many farms. Considerable support from the veterinary, health and poultry equipment manufacturers contributed to rapid expansion. The contribution of all ancillary industries to poultry production is widely recognised. Over 80% of all layers are reared in cages, leaving about 20% on floor; birds on the floor belong mainly to the small-scale sector in remote villages.
As said earlier, there is significant variation in the industry across regions. The four southern states account for about half of the country’s egg production with a per capita consumption of 57 eggs and 0.5 kg broiler meat per year. There was a time when nobody would bet on such egg numbers in southern state of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, as they were generally classed as purely states with largest vegetarian population. Eggs are now accepted by all people and slowly but surely the per capita consumption is rising.
In the broiler sector, India has achieved an unprecedented rise, estimated to produce 3.2 million tonnes of poultry meat. This industry began from scratch with the introduction of Arbor Acres broilers in 1960. A multinational company in Bombay was asked to prepare feed for the parents. The best FCR recorded was 1:3 at 10 weeks of age with about 1 kg body weight. Things have changed drastically since then as the present breeds - Ross and Cobb - achieve an FCR of 1.75/1.80 with an average live weight of 1.5 kg at 35-37 days of age, with less then 5% mortality.
The industry is establishing itself with the introduction of processing plants. Soon, all chickens will be processed in modern abattoirs to produce clean, edible poultry meat. Today, chicken meat is the cheapest meat available in India. Mutton and fish prices have sky-rocketed! Largescale production ensures that there is a steady supply of birds to the market. Meanwhile, consumers are assured of fresh chilled chicken at affordable prices.
Growth in the broiler sector has been phenomenal as well. Earlier, broiler farms produced an average of 200-500 chicks per cycle. Today, units with less than 5,000 are becoming rare and units with 10,000-50,000 broilers per week are now common. Many small layer units shifted to broilers as they are able to recycle their incomes in six weeks.
All aspects of production
The structure of India’s poultry industry varies from region to region. While independent and relatively small-scale producers account from the bulk of production, integrated large-scale producers now account for a growing share of output in the west and southern region. These integrators have all aspects of production, including rearing of grand parents and parent flocks, rearing day-old broilers, contracting production, compounding feeds, and providing veterinary services. All large integrators are concentrated around big cities. Per capita consumption of meat varies a lot, estimated at 0.25 kg in rural areas and 1.25 kg per year in urban areas.
Changes in consumption habits are also evident. Quoting from National Sample Surveys, 42% of household are vegetarian in that they do not eat fish, meat or eggs. The remaining households are non-vegetarian. Over time there is a gradual shift from vegetarianism to non-vegetarianism. The change is more visible in rural areas then in urban areas. They quoted price elasticity and finally thought that there is a lot of scope in raising the demand for poultry products in rural areas where 75% or more of India resides!
In recent years India has exported all types of poultry products, from table eggs, hatching eggs, meat, live birds and value-added products such as egg powder and frozen yolk.
Keeping feed supply going
With such rapid growth, it is evident that some constraints have already appeared on the horizon. Lack of basic infrastructure such as storage and transportation, including cold chains, has resulted in wild fluctuation in the prices of eggs and broilers. Also, the inefficient marketing system is hurting producers; pressure of so many market intermediaries harms both the producer and the consumer. Another problem relates to the availability and price of feed resources. Maize (55/60% ) and soy (35%) are two items the industry will have to depend on, even with its rate of 15% increase per year. Maize and soy production will have to keep pace with increased availability of these two main sources of feed materials. Maize is usually diverted to other industry uses and not available at economical prices to poultry farmers, thereby creating a big problem regarding production costs of broilers ex farm gate. The cyclical nature of these ups and downs occurring rapidly during the year is hurting the industry and must be looked into. The government should look into increasing maize production by introducing GM seed variations, and also continue work to find other sources of feed ingredients that can replace maize.
According to Nick Dale from the University of Georgia in the US, alternative ingredients offer little comfort. Moreover, he states that there are no cheap trainloads of a new grain in Manitoba or an undiscovered oil seed in Mississippi. In other words, India must clearly raise production of both maize and soy to provide for expansion of the industry, which was built over 25 years ago. While ushering a livestock policy, administrators are acutely aware of the issue of providing maize and soybeans, and it has been generally agreed that this aspect will get full attention for the further development of the Indian poultry industry.