16 April, 2006: Pataudi - In the aftermath of bird flu, as the poultry industry faces huge losses, it's the small poultry farmers who have been the worst hit.
Over a million farmers across the country have virtually lost their livelihood and have found desperate measures to tide over the crisis as they wait for the government to intervene.
Deep in debt, poultry farmer Naresh's future looks empty. He says he is on the brink of suicide. His small poultry farm in Haryana's poultry belt, Pataudi, is left without chicken.
Before the Avian Flu outbreak little less than two months ago, small farms were bustling with 3,000 to 5,000 chickens. But a few days into the outbreak, chicken prices crashed and Naresh was forced to sell his chicken at a throwaway price.
Now, no feed supplier is ready to sell the small poultry farmer chicken feed on credit.
No feed means no chicken and no source of income.
“I have lost 2,000 chickens and Rs 60,000. We could not repay the feed mill owner's credit, who can't give any feed now, and our farm is empty,” said Naresh.
For farmers like Rajesh, no money means no school for his children. With no income he says even relatives are not ready to give him loans for daily needs.
"I have three kids, no money for fees, and had to withdraw my son from school, even relatives are not giving us any credit,” said Rajesh.
The small farmer is in a real crisis. He says that the government's financial package has no meaning for him. He says he needs the consumer to restart eating poultry products.
The government's financial package involves reduced interest on bank loans, but 1.1 million small farmers across the country do not take loans. Their business runs purely on credit from the feed supplier and the supplier of chicks.
The feed suppliers say farmers are in no position to repay their credit as sales have dropped, a story that's echoing in poultry farms in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh as well.
“We might have to close the mill this way. There is no one to sell to and so we have not even applied for a loan if the farmer can't buy it," said Vishal Singh, Feed Mill Owner, Pataudi.
The NDTV team also met desperate poultry farmers from Rajasthan who bought feed in return for grain worth Rs 50,000 that will last only a week.
"We have no money now, so the grain we grow, we are selling that. We don’t know where this rumour of avian flu came from, we have been destroyed,” said Hakim Singh, another poultry farmer in Rajasthan.
The crisis also trickles down to breeder farms where chickens are reared to provide eggs for hatcheries.
The breeder chickens represent the start of the poultry production chain.
The poultry farmer cannot afford to buy them, so they have not been fed and hence they don’t lay eggs.
For the last seven weeks, the chicken have been fed only five gms of feed instead of the usual 170 gms per day, so that it stops laying eggs.
The breeder farmers face losses of Rs 1,80,000 per day as even big hatcheries are no longer buying eggs.
With the whole system of credit collapsing, small farmers are now looking towards the government to bail them out.
However, the biggest challenge for the poultry industry and the government still remains the consumer, who can make all the difference if they decide eating chicken is safe once again.