Rajendra Sonavane has been running a chicken shop for the past 20 years in Mumbai’s Lalbaug area, with four employees currently working for him. But with the coronavirus crisis on the horizon and the rumours surrounding it rife, he fears that he won’t be able to earn enough to pay his employees’ salaries. “During the bird flu days back in 2005-06, business had come down to 40%. Now, it has sunk to barely 10%. People are so scared that they are not ready to listen to any advisory which clarifies that non-vegetarian food does not cause the coronavirus disease,” said Rajendra while speaking to NewsClick. He also claimed that has lost almost Rs 2 lakh in the last one month due to rumours and fear across globe over COVID-19.
Maharashtra is one of the biggest contributors in this industry. As per the data available with the Animal Husbandry Department, there are close to five crore birds in the organised poultry across the state presently. The number stands at two crore for the unorganised sector. Around 50 lakh persons derive their livelihood—including poultry shop owners, meat sellers and transporters—from poultry business. Two to five lakh persons are also engaged with the industry which deals with the feed for the chickens. The rumour that coronavirus spreads through non-vegetarian food—especially chicken—is bound to have a detrimental effect on these people’s livelihoods.
The broiler hens are fully grown in about 35 days. They need to be sold in the next 10 days. Every fully grown bird needs investment of at least Rs 80 before it is sold. So, Rs 400 crore have already been invested to care for the five crore birds across the state. If we account for the past one and a half month, the losses can be pegged at about Rs 600 crore.
After the initial 35 days, value of the hens goes down. Also, the fully grown hens consume more feed. So, the cost of production rises. Generally, poultry owners maintain a cycle of one and a half month while growing and selling chickens. But because of the rumours and misinformation, this cycle of production has completely collapsed.
“There is no evidence showing that chicken carries coronavirus. This is a rumour. But it is killing us. People are scared and they are not ready to believe any clarification by the authorities,” said Anand Rupavate, a poultry owner from Ahmednagar.
Maharashtra government has appealed to the people not to spread misinformation about coronavirus and consumption of chicken. Animal Husbandry Department secretary has also filed complaints with the cyber cell reporting such rumours. Minister Sunil Kedar of the department told NewsClick that two IP address have been identified by the Maharashtra police. They are from Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. “Action will be taken against those spreading such information. People are largely unaware of the facts. But if some of them are purposely spreading misinformation, then they won’t be spared,” said Sunil Kedar.
The Poultry Farmers and Breeders Association of Maharashtra has made a number of demands addressing the state as well as the central government. They have asked for compensation along the line of bird flu in 2006—when Rs 20 per bird were given to the poultry owners. Also, the association is demanding relief to some extent in loans. “We need relief in the form of compensation as well as loans. Poultry business is a source of livelihood foe many including feed suppliers, transporters, producers, farmers, among others. So, damage to the poultry business will have repercussions for all of them. Government will have to help us, looking at the larger picture,” said Vasantkukar Setty, chairman of association.
Santosh Patil is a well-known hotel industrialist in Western Maharashtra. His hotels are known for non-vegetarian food items. “People have stopped ordering items of chicken. Nowadays, rates are so low that one kilogram chicken costs about Rs 40 to 50—down from Rs 120 to 130. But people are still not buying it. It is affecting poultry industry as well as our hotel industry also,” he said.
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