Sector Series I: Impact of COVID-19 and the lockdown on Animal Husbandry and Poultry sectors in India

India is currently experiencing a cataclysmic wave of COVID-19. What seemed like a meager flu and cough symptom when the first case was reported in Thrissur, Kerala on the 27th of January, 2020 has resulted in more than 332,000 infections today along with 2,250 deaths. The numbers have nearly destroyed all the prior records and presently attained a vertical coronavirus growth curve. Well, the story doesn’t halt here. Not only the number of cases have peaked but the daily reported death curve’s slope has attained a vertical picture too.

A fragile healthcare system is practically grappling with the rising number of patients begging for something we’ve never imagined in our wildest nightmare, Oxygen. Amidst this catastrophe, it’s highly important for us to know how has this pandemic affected the major forty-two sectors of the Indian Economy and that is where I bring forth to you the Sector Series where I will be speaking to the NGOs and people involved in various occupations and would be attempting to put forth an honest picture of the additional challenges every sector is fighting against.

Here’s presenting the first sector of the series, the Animal Husbandry and Poultry Sector of India in 2021.

Livestock and poultry have always been one of the fastest-growing sectors in recent years. However, the sheer inadequacy of country-wide information has posed to be a major bottleneck for a detailed understanding of the impact of the prolonged lockdown on the various sub-sectors of livestock and poultry. This very sub-sector of agriculture in the country had been contributing almost 4.9% of the total gross value added of the country and providing employment to about 8.8% population. It has undoubtedly been the largest provider of animal protein for both non-vegetarians and vegetarians in the country, with a population of approximately 537 million livestock and 852 million poultry.

But unfortunately, the impact COVID-19 and its associated lockdown has had on this very sector has been phenomenal. It is further anticipated that the impact would not only continue in the long run but will have a major bearing on employment.

Our country, with milk production of 188 million tonnes (as per 2019 data) had been growing by 6% annually since 2014-15. However, with the incidence of COVID-19, the overall demand reduced by 25-30% at least during the first month after the lockdown. As per reports, with the immediate declaration of lockdown, consumers tried purchasing milk in bulk in order to meet their requirements for the next couple of weeks, which had led to a surge of 15-20% demand initially. However, the subsequent days showed a drastic slowdown. With the eventual closing down of roadside tea stalls, eateries, and restaurants, a share of about 15% of total milk consumption had arrived to a complete halt.

Reduction in the frequency of conducting cultural ceremonies and professional events, which generally utilized the milk in bulk, further added to its reduced demand. With a clear dearth of available markets, farmers have been milking their animals only once a day, thereby losing substantial money. Secondary sources of information, however, reveals the picture that while the demand for several mil-products, namely, ice-cream, milkshakes, and lassi have witnessed a drastic drop, the demand for paneer, cheese and ghee has been on a sharp rise these days. But since the household consumption of milk adds up to about 27% of the overall milk usage of the country, such marginal increase in consumption proves insufficient to compensate for the overall decline.

Additionally, the major setback in the piggery sector had been pretty similar to that of dairy. The most important issue on this front has been the lack of marketing opportunity, which thereby forced the owner to hold on to the animal for a longer period, much beyond the marketing age. Longer rearing periods causing overgrowth of animals have thereby led to reduced market acceptance and lower-income.

The sub-sector which has been the least affected so far has been goat farming. This farming practice in the country being a largely extensive system, the investment that goes into supplementary feeding has been almost non-existent. Furthermore, as the goat farmers are generally small and marginal and possess barely five to six animals per family, the loss incurred was minimal.

Farmers possessing horses and ponies, which are utilized in significant numbers in religious places as a means of conveyance for the pilgrims of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, etc. have incurred huge loss of livelihood on account of tourism halt. This very situation is also being faced by camel owners in Rajasthan, who were depending on desert tourism.

India, as of 2019, is the fourth-largest poultry producer in terms of volume. As per data, during that year about 3.8 million tonnes of poultry meat was consumed, which was valued at about 85,000 crores in retail. However, unlike most other economic sectors, the impact on the poultry sector was rather more pronounced even before the imposition of the lockdown. Surprisingly even before India had registered its first case of COVID-19, the rumors of poultry birds being the likely carrier of the virus had gotten viral on social media which resulted in reduced demand for poultry meat and eggs in several parts of the country. Adding to that, insufficient storage facilities especially in the case of eggs led to forced disposal of the produce. There were several shocking incidents that witnessed burying thousands of live birds, killing and burning them in masses in order to curb the spread of coronavirus.

As per the latest estimates, this very scare and the ongoing lockdown impacted ten lakh poultry farmers and an estimated loss of Rs. 27,000 crores. Retail prices of the live poultry slashed to as low as Rs.10-30 per kg in the very beginning of the lockdown which hit the unprepared market and the poultry farmers with a massive economic blow. Over time, the recuperation on the demand front did happen but owing to the huge supply-demand gap that was already ailing the market, the former could have a very tiny positive impact on the same.

Adding to the above losses, the inadequate availability of inputs like fodder significantly affected the growth and development of these rearing animals, lead to major economic losses. Limited access to veterinarians at this hour coupled with problems of transportation of animals to the polyclinic resulted in high level of morbidity and most of the time, death. This limited healthcare and neglect is anticipated to gravely impact the reproductive efficiency and productivity of animals in the long run. The Routine Vaccination Programme that is usually carried out by the Centre and State for Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) at intervals of six months and hemorrhagic septicemia annually for both cattle and buffalos has not been undertaken in any of the states during this pandemic which might lead to huge difficulty in controlling disease outbreaks in the near future. Additionally, the sudden halt of a surveillance programme for the livestock and poultry diseases undertaken by the ICAR-NIVEDI in Bengaluru coupled with the collection of serum samples for serro-surveillance would lead to a major setback in disease forecasting.

As an attempt to bring back this very sector into normalcy, both the Central Government and State Governments have suggested several strategies, including declaring supply of animal products under essential services, ensuring hassle-free interstate transport of livestock, facilitate the procurement of milk via dairy cooperatives, and so on.

Although the impact perceived as of today does provide us an overall qualitative picture of the present gross scenario, a significant effort is, therefore, necessary to take a holistic view on the impact of the coronavirus on each of these sub-sectors and the associated value chains via the collection of primary data across states and analyzing it through organizations for arriving at the quantitative figures.
[The article was originally published on ScrollStack]

Bidisha Bhattacharya
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Bidisha Bhattacharya works ScrollStack. Prior to
this she was a Consultant to the Fifteenth Finance Commission, Government of India and has worked as a Political Researcher in Prashant Kishor’s Strategic Research and Insights (SRI) team at I-PAC.

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