21st March, 2006: COLOMOBO - The International Poultry Science Association, Sri Lanka Branch announced that Sri Lanka is free from Bird Flu and that there is no danger in consuming chicken products.
Meanwhile researchers have indicated that a global flu pandemic cannot be avoided solely by containing at its source, because the H5N1 bird flu virus is now so widespread that a farm able to spark a pandemic could emerge more than once.
Though Sri Lanka has been extremely fortunate that so far there are no reports of Bird Flu affecting any humans in the country, the reports that reach Sri Lanka that neighboring India is affected and the fatal situation of other countries that are affected by bird flu has made tremendous damage to the poultry industry in this country.
Eating chicken has become very popular in Sri Lanka and also rearing chicken has become a profitable business and it also has developed into a cottage industry, mostly in rural Sri Lanka, in addition to large farms maintained by corporate entities.
Large number of farms is maintained in areas like Hettipola, Kuliyapitiya, Udubaddawa, Kobaigane, Dummalasuriya, Deegalla, Madampe and several other adjacent areas. There are extra large, large, medium and small farms in these areas. Most of the farmers indicated that they are adversely affected due to the rumors of bird flu coming to Sri Lanka. The publicity circulating in the country caused almost all the small farms to be closed down and in the panic they have sold their bird population at very low prices, sometime lower than half the market price. In these areas around 25 percent are involved in poultry farming.
K M Gnanathilaka who is the Chairman, K M G Animal Feeds and KMG Eggs in Hettipula maintains a farm breeding around 100,000 birds and he is only one farmer. There are a number of such persons who maintain large farms. He is a native of Palegama, Hettipola and about 18 years ago he started his farm with only 100 birds and today he is a well established poultry breeder and his total investment today is around Rs 100 million. He employs more than 150 workers and also runs a separate poultry feed mixing plant.
At KMG farms, the daily production of eggs is a massive 40,000 and every few weeks around 10,000 chicks are introduced to KMG farms. Due to the rumor of bird flu, these producers found it difficult to sell their chicken and eggs. KMG was compelled to stock their eggs in its deep freezers and the accumulation of stocks totaled to more than a million at one occasion. He said that the production cost of an egg now is around Rs 4.80 but the selling prices steeped down to around Rs 3 to 3.30. They were earlier selling eggs at Rs 5.80 and these farmers were speculating that they could fetch best prices during the coming Sinhala and Hindu News Year. Due to these entire adverse effects KMG farm was incurring a loss of around Rupees one lakh daily.
He also runs a large animal food mixing plant and the business at his mixing plant too dropped by 40 percent.
New Bernard's Animal Feeds (Pvt) Ltd at Udubaddawa is one of the largest animal feed manufacturers. Out of their total animal feed production 90 percent consist of poultry feed and the production per month is 1,000 tons. NBAFL also maintains a hatchery which produces 35,000 chicks per week. The poultry feed sales have dropped by 25 percent and the chicks that were sold at at Rs 38 per chick but now they find it difficult to sell at even Rs 18 per chick
NBAFL has given loans to some of the poultry farmers on a buy- back basis, but when the prices are severely affected, the negotiated prices for the farmers would be very low. Due to the adverse price reduction of chicken and eggs and the resultant low prices all round have affected the buy back mechanism in the Company.
There are also a large number of housewives involved in poultry farming to supplement the family income. There are also widows and other people maintain poultry farms as self-employment and as their sole livelihood. Chandani Sandamali, an Advanced Level qualified young mother of one child, living in Hettipola maintained a farm of 1,000 birds, but when the wave of rumor started spreading, there was panic specially, among the small farmers and they were frantic in getting their bird stocks at the earliest and when earlier sold a kilo of live weight chicken at Rs 125, were subsequently compelled to sell at Rs 60 to 70 per kilo.
Thus the dwindling poultry industry is impeding the pumping of millions rupees into the rural economy, which earlier was able to uplift the living standards of these rural farmers and also the others who were indirectly involved. Most of the poultry farmers in these areas blamed the media in creating this situation of bringing a flourishing lucrative rural industry to the brim of extinction.
O.R.A. Leelaratne is another miller who mix poultry feed in Udubaddawa. He sells mixed poultry food and also helps the farmers to get their various ingredients such maize, poonac crushed and employ about 10 people. They have been with him for the last 15 years. Earlier he used to mix around 8 tons per day, but now it has been around one or two and some days none.
Most of the small farmers who have been rearing 500 to 2,000 birds have already sold their bird stocks and closed down their farms.
In Hettipola, Udubaddawa and Kobaiganne alone, there were more than 300 farms rearing some millions of chicken as broilers and for eggs. Hettipola being the main centre with the largest concentration of farms, earlier more than 20 vehicles converged to buy poultry and eggs where farmers and buyers meet. Now the number of lorries coming to Hettipola has dwindled to a very few, some days depleted to one or two and they were mobbed by large numbers of farmers rushing to sell their chicken and eggs at whatever price. When the market price is around Rs 125 per kilo live weight, these farmers fight with each other in a mad rush to even sell at Rs 50 to 60 per kilo which sometimes end up with brawls and scuffles.
Poultry industry sources in these areas said that around 25 percent of the people in these areas depend on poultry industry for their main income and the failure of the poultry industry would also have a severe impact on the rural economy, and specially a severe impact on the these families. Depending on the success of the poultry business many farmers have leased vehicles and have bought land and property on credit. Failure of the industry would have grave repercussions on these people in paying back their loans.
There would also be a string of other various suppliers who would also be affected, like the rice bran, poonac, and poultry utensils, implements, machinery, medicine and pesticides suppliers.
Some farmers in these areas were really angry with the media and refused to entertain media people by not providing any information. They said that if the total industry dies off would be a major blow to the rural economy and expressed their confidence that the farmers could withstand the vagaries of the present turmoil.
There was one young farmer in Hettipola who rears around 10,000 chicken and the marked selling prices at his farm were: red eggs Rs 3.80; white eggs Rs 3.50, damaged eggs Rs 3 and chicken live weight per kilo Rs 100. He said that the present calamity in the poultry industry is entirely due to the adverse publicity given to a non-existent bird flu in Sri Lanka, but with great confident he said that the industry is now pulling together and would soon stand on its own feet.
But he assured that whoever who are determined to be in the poultry industry are the winners as in time to come where there is a great scarcity in eggs and chicken, those farmers who have determined to stay put with the farming would fetch hefty prices for their produce.
Some poultry farmers also accused the authorities for the failure to counter the adverse publicity and to give the correct picture that eating chicken and eggs has no combination with endemic Evian Flu. Further they pointed out that the counter-action plans which is now on, has come too late as it has always been the case in this country “bolting the stable after the horses got away”
Government has been repeatedly assuring and reassuring the people and the industry that the epidemic has not reached the shores of Sri Lanka and the authorities have taken all the steps to prevent any out-break. Meanwhile some of the ministers and others involved in the poultry industry are going round the country and demonstrate to the people by eating chicken preparations in public assuring that there is no harm anyway in eating chicken. Meanwhile with all these assurances there are disturbing information reaching the country that various new countries affected by the Avian Flu. Thus the flourishing poultry business in now in the balance.