India is currently experiencing a cataclysmic wave of Covid-19. What seemed like a meagre flu-and-cough symptom when the first case was reported in Thrissur, Kerala, on January 27, 2020, has resulted today in more than 21 million infections and 230,000 deaths. The numbers have nearly destroyed all global records and presently attained a vertical coronavirus growth curve. Well, the story doesn’t halt here. Not only have the number of cases peaked, but the slope of the daily reported death curve has attained a vertical picture, too.
A fragile healthcare system is practically grappling with the rising number of patients begging for something we’d never imagined in our wildest nightmare, oxygen. Amidst this catastrophe, it’s highly important for us to know how this pandemic has affected the major 42 sectors of the Indian economy, and that is where I bring forth to you the ‘Sector Series’. In the series, I will be speaking to the NGOs and people involved in various occupations and attempt 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 status of animal husbandry and the 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.
Livestock and poultry contribute almost 4.9% of the total gross value added of the country and provide 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 left behind by Covid-19 and its associated lockdowns on this very sector has been phenomenal. It is further anticipated that the impact will not only continue in the long run, but will also have a major bearing on employment.
With milk production of 188 million tonnes (as per 2019 data), India had been growing at an annual rate of 6% since 2014-15. However, with the incidence of the Covid-19 pandemic, the overall demand of milk reduced by 25-30%, at least during the first month after the lockdown. As per industry reports, with the immediate declaration of the national lockdown, consumers tried purchasing milk in bulk in order to meet their requirements for the next couple of weeks, which had initially led to a surge of 15-20% demand. However, 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 came to a complete halt.
Reduction in the frequency of conducting cultural ceremonies and professional events, which generally utilise 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, reveal a different picture — while the demand of several milk-products namely, ice-cream, milkshakes and lassi has witnessed a drastic drop, the demand for paneer, cheese and ghee has been on a sharp rise. But since the household consumption of milk adds up to about 27% of the total milk consumption in the country, such a marginal increase in consumption proved insufficient to compensate for the overall decline.
Similarly, the major setback experienced by dairy also hit the piggery sector. The most important issue on this front has been the lack of marketing opportunities, which thereby forced owners to hold on to the animal for a longer period, much beyond the marketing age. Longer rearing periods caused an overgrowth of animals, consequently leading to a reduction in the animal’s market acceptance and lower income of the rearer.
So far, the sub-sector least affected by the lockdown has been of goat farming. Goat farming is an extensive system and the investment that goes into its supplementary feeding has been almost non-existent. Furthermore, as goat farmers are generally small or marginal, and possess barely five to six animals per family, the loss incurred was minimal.
Farmers possessing horses and ponies, which are utilised in significant numbers at religious places as a means of conveyance for pilgrims in Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, etc., have incurred a huge loss of livelihood on account of the tourism halt. Camel farmers in Rajasthan, who depend on desert tourism, also faced a similar situation.
India is one of the largest poultry producers in the world in terms of volume. As per a report, in 2019, about 3.8 million tonnes of poultry meat was consumed, which was valued at about Rs 85,000 crores in retail. However, unlike most other economic sectors, the impact on the poultry sector was more pronounced even before the imposition of the lockdown.
Surprisingly, even before India had registered its first case of Covid-19, rumors of poultry birds being the likely carrier of the virus had gotten viral on social media, resulting in a reduced demand for poultry meat and eggs in several parts of the country. Adding to this, insufficient storage facilities, especially in the case of eggs, led to a forced disposal of the produce. There were several shocking incidents of burying, killing and burning of thousands of live birds in order to curb the spread of coronavirus.
As per the latest estimates, the coronavirus scare and ongoing lockdown have impacted over 10 lakh poultry farmers and caused a loss of Rs 30,000 crores. Retail prices of the live poultry slashed to as low as Rs 10-30 per kg at the very beginning of the lockdown, which hit the unprepared market and 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, there was merely a 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, led to major economic losses. Limited access to veterinarians at this hour, coupled with problems of transportation of animals to the polyclinic, resulted in a 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 haemorrhagic septicaemia for both cattle and buffalos has not been undertaken in any of the states during the pandemic. This might lead to a huge difficulty in controlling disease outbreaks in the near future. Furthermore, 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 sector into normalcy, both the Central and State governments have suggested several strategies — declaring supply of animal products under essential services, ensuring hassle-free interstate transport of livestock, facilitating 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 analysing it through organisations for arriving at the quantitative figures.
Note: The article was originally published here.