Tuesday, May 12, 2009


During these days of globalization and liberalization of economy, how is that an egg in India cost to the consumer less than 5 cents (Rs 2.50) while same egg sells for more than 20 cents (Rs 10) in the markets of rich nations? After all same hen lays the egg, people have to work hard and certain minimum infrastructure is necessary to maintain poultry industry whether it is in UK, USA, Japan or India. Some leeway can be given for the low cost of labor, lower power cost, cheap raw materials and low purchasing power of the population in general for the prevailing low prices for egg in the country. Still how can the poultry industry, which does not enjoy the economy of scale in running the poultry farms as most of the farms are much smaller than what one can see in other countries, afford this give away?. There are a very few farms that can boast of a bird population of more than a lakh and most of them have only a few thousands at ant given time. Though reliable statistics cannot be a a strong point in this country, one may go along with estimates by different sources regarding the strength of the poultry industry. It is estimated that there are about 60000 large poultry farms in the country with more than 1000 birds per farm while another one lakh farms operate with bird strength of 50-1000 . Still poultry industry is a thriving activity employing 3 million people in production, distribution and retailing with another 15 million farmers producing the ingredients that go into poultry feed.

India is supposed to be the third largest producer of eggs in the world with a production estimated at 47 billion eggs an year working out to an average per capita annual consumption of 41 eggs where as the recommended intake is 180 eggs. The skewed consumption profile is reflected by very low consumption in rural areas, about 5-20 eggs per year while in urban and semi urban areas the intake is 42-170 eggs an year depending on the population of the cities. An egg weighs about 43 gm (small) to 71 gm (extra large) and is one of the richest sources of concentrated nutrients known to mankind. On an average one kilogram of egg provides 11.2 gm of carbohydrate, 126 gm of protein with very high biological value and 106 gm of fat besides meeting 51% of RDA for Vitamin B1, 33% for B2 and 28% for Pantothenate. True it also is a significant source of dietary cholesterol, about 426 mg/100 gm. Consuming about 6 eggs a week by a normal person is not known to precipitate diseases like CVD, Stroke and Diabetes as being commonly perceived but those with these diseases may have to restrict its intake to avoid aggravating the already existing compromised health conditions.

Out of 45 countries which produce eggs, India is rightly acclaimed as the cheapest egg producer where it costs just 50 cents a kg at the wholesalers' end compared to 145 cents in Argentina, 80 cents in USA, 102 cents in France, 86 cents in Holland, 108 cents in Japan, 136 cents in New Zealand, 108 cents in Taiwan and 117 cents in Bangladesh. Interestingly the feed cost which constitutes more than 75% of the cost of production is not the lowest in India. That honor goes to Zimbabwe where it is 18 cents per kg while in India feed cost is 44 cents per kg. China, which is the top producer of eggs in the world makes available to its poultry farmers feed at 27 cents a kg while the whole sale price of egg there is 94 cents per kg. In many developed countries feed costs are heavily subsidized to protect the margins of the producers and it is ironical that still the consumers there pay 400 % more to buy an egg compared to an Indian consumer. Similarly the cost of chicks in India is not the lowest as the producer has to pay 39 cents a chick while in Sri Lanka the corresponding figure is 29 cents a chick.

With egg production concentrated in the South, distribution poses tremendous logistical challenges and the infrastructure put in place by the poultry industry can deliver egg to every nook and corner of the country. The role of Governments in this endeavor is practically nil as specially trained drivers, well developed distributor-retailer net work and country wide communication system in place, all industry's own creation, have been able to sustain the industry weathering frequent hiccups from to time. The breakage during handling and transportation and spoilage during storage and retailing have been minimized. It is unfortunate that this industry has not been able to build any infrastructure for washing, grading, pretreatment of eggs for better shelf-life, regional assembling facilities with cold stores, local cold storage facilities and any significant processing platform for value added products from eggs. This has exposed the industry to a situation where it is vulnerable to wide price fluctuations caused by supply and demand stresses. Under these conditions the role of Indian poultry industry in providing to the consumers the cheapest egg in the world is indeed amazing and they deserve all kudos for their ingenuity, enterprise and hard work in making this possible.


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