Pakistan’s livestock sector has contributed 11.22 percent in the national GDP and showed a growth of 4 percent during 2018-19. The increase in imports volume and growth in livestock sector were attributed to growth in wholesale and retail sectors. In addition to foreign exchange earnings through export, this sector has also been providing 35-40 percent of the income to more than 8 million rural families. The poultry is the second largest industry of Pakistan with an investment of more than Rs700 billion (2018-19). This sector, directly or indirectly, is providing employment to more than 1.5 million people. Poultry sector has also shown 8-10 percent growth rate per annum during the past few years. At present, this sector utilises over Rs190 billion worth of agriculture produce and by-products in poultry feeds. The poultry industry is supplying more than 40 percent of the total meat consumed in the country. In short, both livestock and poultry sectors are bridging the gap through supplying high quality nutritious source of protein to the masses.
In the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, people across the globe are facing a huge impact on their daily life. The impact as financial crisis is the biggest one not only for a daily wager but also for those running big enterprises. The indicators of both Bulls Power and Bears Power are showing downtrend. The present pandemic is severely affecting both livestock & poultry sectors of the country. The containment measures, particularly the restrictions on transport, badly affected the supply chain during initial period of lockdown. However, later, the relaxation on movement of vehicles carrying agriculture goods/inputs got the supply chain moving to some extent.
During early days of lockdown, the livestock and poultry farmers faced a lot of pressure owing to supply chain and market disruptions. Due to non-availability of cold storage and lack of cold chain facilities, the dairy farmers were not able to store milk for a long time. The farmers were forced to either dispose-off extra milk at low prices or to waste it. The loss can be imagined as more than 95 percent of the total milk in country is sold (non-taxable) as fresh/loose milk.
In case of poultry, a sharp decline in farm gate prices of live chicken was noted (Rs80-90/kg against cost of production of Rs125/kg). This was because of lockdown, containment measures, and low consumption of finished broiler. The low prices set back the placement of day-old broiler chicks that resulted in turmoil at hatcheries, where price of day-old broiler chick dropped to Rs5 against its cost of production of Rs28-30. The ultimate outcome was stoppage of hatcheries’ operations and in some cases sale of breeder birds.
This devastating scenario requires financial support from the government in terms of rebate on taxes, withdrawal/abolishment of duties, subsidies, more time for utility bills payments, cash support for labourer wages etc, and some relief has been (will be) given by the government to both livestock and poultry industries.
This is not “the all”, we have to consider for these sectors of the economy. The relief might be helpful for a push-start but would not heal the sector in real sense. The industry might be benefitted but farmers won’t be. The lesson learned from COVID-19 crisis should be considered to uplift these sectors by helping farmers and not only the industry. During the past few years the development in these sectors expelled the small farmers out of the queue. Therefore, in post-COVID-19 era such policies or measures are required that may help in sustainable development of these sectors and during any crisis the government may not be awaited to provide safe exit or bailout packages. The following measures have been suggested for the wellbeing of farming community in particular and giving a boost to livestock and industry in general.
Production not numbers
The data on milk available for human consumption (from 1990 to 2019) indicates a four-time increase. Likewise, an increase in per capita milk consumption has also been noted as 100 liters in 2017 against 70 liter in 1990. At the same time an increase in import of milk and milk products has also been observed. One may be shocked to know that Rs. 20 b was spent on the import of milk and milk products in 2017-18 as compared to Rs. 1.4 billion in 1990-91. Few years back, these surprising figures also attracted the attention of court of law. Being ranked in top five of top milk producing countries, we are still importing, isn’t it shocking? This is only due to poor production of native animals. In more than 50 percent of the cases about 3-4 Pakistani dairy animals’ milk yield is equal to one animal kept in developed countries.
This further puts an extra burden on animal feed resources and management practices, thus making dairying a less profitable and non-sustainable enterprise. The available data indicated that animals with an average minimum milk yield of 25 liter per day could be economical in future dairying. It is direly needed that Livestock Policy Punjab and Punjab Livestock Breeding Policy (2015) should be implemented in true letter and spirit. The genetic improvement of indigenous dairy animals in terms of per unit productivity can be made through provision of certified semen from quality animals. Though it is not easy for the small farmers to cull low producers, the idea is to have some exchange programme and step by step replacement through government interventions or farmers’ own cooperatives.
Another way to improve productivity is to adopt technology or high-tech equipment in farming operations like milking machines, sensors, mechanised feeding systems, fogging & showering system etc, in livestock sector. At present, hi-tech equipment are usually imported at large-scale. The COVID-19 lesson is to get developed at home level. This would open avenues for agricultural engineering sector for local manufacturing of hi-tech equipment. The establishment of farmers’ communities would ease farmers in purchasing such equipment.
Farmers’ cooperatives & e-marketing
It is an old time saying that “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. This is the time to make lemonade. The containment measures and social distancing is an opportunity to establish direct links with consumers, rather than relying on middle parties. It could be difficult for a single farmer to do so. That’s why establishment of farmers’ cooperatives/communities/ associations at village/UC levels would be an option.
These communities/cooperatives would be able to establish either their own networks with consumers or with government organisations. Further, using e-platform (even through an Android app) of marketing can be used to reach consumers in a safe way. The government can act as mediator between farmers’ communities and consumer through such App. This can help the government to establish a traceable system of farm produce delivery. The consumers can have the benefits of safe and healthy produce at their doorstep without the need of middlemen or the fear of adulteration. The Idara-e-Kissan cooperative is an old example that can be revived with new ideas. The universities can play a great role through growers’ trainings & networking and development of e-marketing channels. The universities can also provide produce testing facilities and even go for co-branding the farmers’ produce. Under public–private partnership, the universities might be a good sale point of farmer’s produce.
Produce and off-take database
The real-time data of COVID-19 cases is available 24 hours to everyone. However, such live e-data of farm produce, ever shrinking feed resources, produce off-take etc, is lacking in the country. An E-management system is a good option that can be linked with other e-agriculture services. These databases would help all around the industry to make decisions about local purchase/import of stocks well in time.
Over and underproduction management
Over-production has long been affecting poultry profitability. The state driven quota system at some administrative units (like tehsil/district) for dairy and poultry farm produce and off-take agreements would be another option to manage prices and sustain production. These measures would enable farmers’ to be in line and build up their confidence in farming. Though living in an era of free trade, quota system might be difficult to adopt. However, for the sake of opening export options, price sustainability, and avoiding market crash, it could be a good option.
These few suggestions would definitely have a positive impact on sustainable and manageable livestock and poultry production in the country, if adopted as a starting point. However, a comprehensive post-COVID-19 plan of action can be framed out through consultative meetings/workshops with all stakeholder of these sectors.
The writer is an educationist