Compared to world averages, the per capita consumption of poultry and eggs in the Middle East is still relatively low. A scenario of making poultry products accessible for a wider public, is possible however. That demands improved strategies.
By Dr. Salah H. Esmail , Cairo, Egypt
The Middle East is the geographic region where Europe, Africa, and Asia meet. It is the term that now generally refers to the Arab World which consists of independent countries spread over the south eastern part of Asia, all North Africa and most of the eastern part of Africa. These countries are rich in natural resources including petrol, minerals, fish, and fertile land, with a surface area amounting to about 1352 million hectares, which is about 10% of the world’s surface.
The people from these regions are great consumers of red meat, particularly mutton and lamb, and do not eat pork, except in the small Christian communities living all over the Arab world. Poultry meat and eggs are the second largest group of foods consumed, indicating the significance of poultry meat and eggs.
Vast difference in consumption Given in Table 1 are the per capita production values of poultry meat and eggs in the Arab world (2010), with the population of each country to determine the total production. There is, of course, a vast difference in per capita consumption between Arab countries, as evidenced by the values reported for example in Sudan (0.8 kg of meat and 24 eggs) relative to those reported for Kuwait (35.2 kg of meat and 212 eggs).
In Table 2, the per capita production values for the developed countries are provided along with the average world values for comparison. It is obvious here that the per capita production of poultry meat and eggs in the Arab world is relatively low compared with the world average, and is even lower when compared with the reported values for some developed countries.
Five contributing factors The reduced poultry industry performance in the Arab world could be classified into the five following contributing factors:
1 Economic factors Under utilisation of the full capacity of poultry farms, especially in the private sector, contributes to increasing production costs, reduced profits and hence reduced investment attractiveness indicators. This results in an increase of the fixed costs. Lack of enough parent stock scales and the dependence on import of chickens (and eggs) at higher prices are also an economic factor.
2 Feed supply In the Arab countries, with the exception of the Gulf region, the central feed plants barely produce sufficient feed to meet the poultry industry requirements. This has forced most private farms to buy rations from unauthorised local feed mills. Such feeds often have inadequate nutrients and feed additives, and often have a high level of mould. This is largely responsible for the modest performance, low feed efficiency, and the prevalence of nutritional diseases observed in most birds.
In addition, the feed batches obtained from such sources are usually mixed with drug preparations (lysine, methionine, coccidiostats, anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals, etc) through vertical mixers which are not capable of producing homogenous feed mixtures. As a result some feed batches might contain surplus drugs, while others contain only traces or none of it. Either of these cases would have a negative effect on the response of chickens to the drug treatment and hence on production.
3 Disease problems Infectious diseases such as Newcastle, gumboro, fowl pox, coccidiosis, and infectious bronchitis are common, and in a few instances salmonella and E. coli occur in laying flocks. In recent years, infectious stunting syndrome has been introduced into some countries such as Libya, Jordan and Yemen via imported hatching eggs, and now affects over 20% of flocks presenting a major threat to the poultry industry.
Avian influenza has also been recently introduced to some Arab countries and resulted in dramatic losses. In Egypt, for example, the total production of poultry meat and eggs dropped in 2006 to 20% of the current value, and the country has lost more than EGP 17 billion of investments in this sector. None infectious diseases such as white muscle disease, lameness, rickets, and tendolytis also prevail together with a variety of nutritional and parasite problems.
4 Marketing seasonality There is a kind of seasonality in regards to the demand for poultry meat and eggs. For example, during the Ramadan holy month, the consumption of poultry meat increases and that of table eggs decreases. On the other hand, consumption of eggs increases during the school year and then decreases during vacations. The lack of a contracted price system enlarges the negative impacts of this phenomenon on the producers and on the poultry industry as a whole.
5 Lack of governmental subsidies There is a lack of subsidies given by most governments to national poultry farms, and this has forced many farms to close. Conversely, the poultry farmers in the Gulf region do receive subsidies from their governments. This has enabled a country like Saudi Arabia, for example, to not only achieve self-sufficiency but to export over 50% of its annual production of poultry meat and eggs. The Saudi Arabian model, however, cannot be generalised to all Arab countries, especially those currently undergoing revolutions such as Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya and Bahrain. In these countries, the economy is becoming somehow unstable due to the increased demand of people for better social and living conditions, which leaves no chance for the governments to duly support the poultry sector or the like.
Improvement strategies At farm level, the utilisation of the full capacity of the farm will reduce the fixed costs, including depreciation, maintenance, permanent labour, farm rent and management, and the opportunity costs of capital interest. Studies in Egypt, for example have shown that the increased lots of broilers in a given farm to five lots per year instead of the current performance of three lots will reduce the fixed costs from 14% down to only 4.5%, with a resulting increase in sales rates due to reduced sale prices.
The establishment of parent stock companies will also diminish the total cost of production. In case of broiler production, for example, the price of domestically produced chicks will be 29% less compared to the price of imported ones. As the chick price accounts for about 20% of the total production cost, the latter would then be lowered by 5.8% with a resulting increase in sale rates and decrease in sale price.
Extension programmes Proper feeding and management practices should always be adopted when attempting to arrive at lower production costs and improved performance. Unfortunately, a great deal of business of poultry and egg production in the Arab world is run by people outside the agricultural sector, who become financially and technically involved. These people may not always be aware of the scientific basis of poultry feeding and management. Herein lies the importance of extension programmes involving widespread media such as radio and TV, which help these people to scientifically manage their poultry business.
Diagnosis and disease treatment Also, effective disease control programmes should be established at all farm levels in order to alleviate the production losses indicated earlier. The use of proper drugs and vaccines, the rearing of poultry at moderate density, and the adoption of biosecurity measures for disposal of dead birds and for management of litter and waste feed should all be strictly enforced under the supervision of authorised veterinarians.
It is not uncommon in most Arab countries to see farmers explaining their problems and trying to get the prescription through phone calls with the veterinarians. This cannot be an effective way of diagnosis and treatment of diseases, and the little savings obtained here would not justify the losses resulting from such improper communication of the veterinarians.
Adopt integrated system The establishment of automated broiler processing plants and the cold storage units are important parts of the marketing infrastructure for the broiler industry. It encourages stability in supply and demand and creates consistency and equilibrium in the market. Indirectly, such an aspect would raise productivity by facilitating the sale of broilers at optimum economic weight, thereby reducing the amount of feed consumed. Finally, the adoption of integrated poultry farming in the Arab world could be beneficial, as it provides the required leap in efficiency and productivity indispensable to making the industry more competitive.
Under this system, agreements are made between farmers and companies that specify conditions for production and marketing. Such a system has recently been adopted in Iraq with improved performance over the traditional farming system (Table 3). The improvement here could be attributed, among other things, to the provision of technical assistance and financial support, transfer of know-how, and allowing easy access to the market through the integrated system.