Saturday, 28 June 2008

Bhutan : Poultry alternatives on the table

27 June, 2008 - Livestock officials are looking into the possibility of importing day-old chicks (DOCs) from Delhi and Pune in India to meet the scarcity of poultry and poultry products in the country that has been fuelled by the ongoing ban on the import of poultry products from India.

Two livestock officials are in India to check the viability of this option. They are expected to present a feasibility report to the multi-sectoral task force in Bhutan that would decide if it would be possible to lift the import ban from non-affected parts of India like Delhi and Pune.

The DOCs, if imported, would be reared by the livestock department and sold to farmers at a subsidized rate, according to officials.

Livestock oficials said that, since the ban of poultry and poultry products from India due to an outbreak of bird flu (avian influenza) in West Bengal, it had been tough to meet the demand of farmers and consumers. The recent ban was imposed in December last year.

The demand, according to the chief veterinary officer, Dr Karma Tenzing, was always there. “The import from India helped but, since we have imposed a blanket ban on India, we were unable to meet the demand.”

“Having explored other avenues, there’s no other way but to import from Delhi and Pune on the condition that it will be airlifted. There will be no land travel,” said Dr Karma Tenzing.

Last month, livestock officials brought in 2,520 eggs for egg production service from New Zealand, of which only 585 survived. This result, officials said, was not encouraging and the cost was high. In July, 600 DOCs are to be imported from New Zealand to see if it’s viable.

Officials also said that they tried to source DOCs from Nepal last year. It was unsuccessful as Nepal was not in a position to meet the demand. The cost per chick was as high as Nu 80 in Nepal, while in India, prior to the ban, it was Nu 22. In Nepal, despite the cost, it also posed greater risk due to proximity to West Bengal, said livestock officials. Dr Karma Tenzing further said that they even tried to import from unaffected countries like Europe and America, but it was too expensive.

There are three government poultry farms and three major private farms in Thimphu, Genekha and Gelephu, that are into chicken and egg production. Every year, Nu 200,000 is spent on each government farm.

There are several semi-commercial and small backyard farms owned by farmers in the country. Along with the ban, the demand for pullets shot up over the years, according to officials.

The pullet demand for egg production is 120,000 a year, while the demand for meat production is around 400,000 DOCs a year, according to officials. Of this the government could meet only 20 percent of the total requirement. The rest was met through imports from India.

The ban has served the local poultry farms well. The price of local poultry and poultry products soared every time the ban was imposed.

Today local eggs cost Nu 400 to 450 a tray in Thimphu and chicken costs about Nu 150 per kg.

Dorji Wangmo, a resident of Changzamtog, said, “It’s cheaper to buy meat than eggs. One egg costs Nu 15. It’s been months since we’ve eaten eggs.”

Major (rtd.) R K Pradhan, who owns the Wangchutaba poultry farm, said that supply has been in decline as the cost of production is high.

“We supply a few meat shops in Thimphu for Nu 120 a kg. When production is good, we supply around 300 to 400 kg. Eggs are Nu 200 a tray.”

Last year, 476,848.5 kg of chicken was imported from India. Of that, 1,331.25 kg was rejected. The local production was 73,213.8 kg, of which 1,829 kg was rejected.

The local egg production was 1,614 cartons while 92,362 cartons were imported from India. Livestock department officials, meanwhile, believe that the scarcity will improve in a year’s time. The department has plans to maintain parent stock to offset scarcity in future. They said that the present infrastructure is being upgraded with new equipment.

A poultry breeding centre will also be started in Sarpang next year, which officials say, would help in meeting demand and reducing import from India.

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