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September 19, 2010

Zimbabwe poultry producers cry ‘fowl’ over imports

by Fortious Nhambura

Chicken imports have flooded Zimbabwe barely a month after the lifting of a ban on such imports.

Local chicken farmers have said the cheap imports are pushing them out of business.At the same time, consumers say they realistically cannot be expected to pay almost double just to support local farmers.

When government banned imports of animal products in March, chicken prices shot to between US$4 and US$5 per kg. This saw 2kg packs of cutlets of local birds retailing for about US$7,30.The end of the ban has seen imports returning at a cost of about US$4 for the same pack. This means imports are selling for roughly US$2 per kg.

Many chicken lovers say the imports from South Africa, Brazil and Turkey are not as tasty as local produce but they cannot afford what the Zimbabwean farmer is giving them. This has left members of the Zimbabwe Poultry Association stuck with tonnes of chickens they cannot sell. Many have to repay finance facilities they accessed to produce the birds and the money is just not flowing in. 

So what makes local chickens so expensive?

Mr Solomon Zawe, the ZPA chairman, says it costs US$2, 85 to rear one chicken in Zimbabwe.
On the other hand, it costs just US$1 in Brazil.

“So even after the transport, the bird has a landing price of US$1, 90 when it gets to Zimbabwe. “They can then sell the chicken for between US$4 and US$5 and make a massive profit. That is possible because the chicken producers in other countries are heavily subsidised by the state.”

The US$1, 90 landing prices translates to 86 percent of the total production costs of rearing a single bird in Zimbabwe. 

A day-old broiler chick costs between US$1 and $1, 05 and requires about US$2, 50 to feed it to maturity. Dressing, packaging and transportation bring the cost to US$4, 15 for large-scale producers. The costs go up for small-scale farmers.

The 2009 Poultry and Products Annual Report says while Brazilian poultry companies do not release production cost information, the estimated average cost of broiler production was about 85 US cents per kg at the time.

And after all these comparisons and the realities of breeding in Zimbabwe, the ZPA blames some retailers for further pushing up costs.

Mr Zawe says: “The problem is that government does not control the marketing of poultry products and retailers end up putting huge mark-ups to chicken. The wholesale price of a 2kg packet of chicken is US$4, 15 . . . but it is sold for up to US$9 in shops.”

Mr Zawe believes that the great potential inherent in the industry is being stymied by imports. The ZPA says 10 000 birds could be lost monthly if local producers are not protected.

Day-old broiler chick production has increased from 700 000 per month in January 2009 to 3, 1 million in March this year. Egg production has also increased. Formal sector production has shot up from 275 000 dozens in January 2009 to 1, 5 million in June 2010.

Prominent chicken farmer Mr Jonathan Kadzura believes government should look at enabling producers rather than just having mechanisms focused on consumption levels alone. “There is a whole industry to protect.”

Mr Zawe says comparing local producers to their foreign counterparts is not fair because the operating environments are different.

“We encourage government to come up with a mechanism that allows imports and discourages dumping of products. This will inspire confidence in the whole agriculture sector. Farmers in Brazil and South Africa survive in a different climate and should never be compared to us. Pitting the local producer with importers will be unfair competition as local producers have to use non-GMO feed additives.”

These are all very convincing arguments and many people sincerely do sympathise with poultry producers. But at the end of the day, money talks, and people do not have much in their pockets.

As Mr Nyasha Matsinde of Glen Norah B says: “We buy what we can afford.”

The Herald

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