Updated: Wednesday, April 12, 2006 at 1322 hours IST
Mumbai, April 12: Nine poultry farmers in India have killed themselves and more are facing a grim future after bird flu slashed demand for chicken meat, an industry group said on Wednesday.
India has culled hundreds of thousands of birds to contain several outbreaks of the H5N1 avian flu virus in poultry since February, but the disease has continued to resurface, mostly in Maharashtra.
The scare has decimated the country’s $7.8 billion poultry industry, which says losses in the past two months have reached $2.2 billion.
"Nine farmers across India have committed suicide after their businesses suffered huge losses," O P Singh, member of the National Egg Coordination Committee (NECC), said.
The suicides have been reported during the past 15 days from West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, the latter state being the epicentre of bird flu outbreaks in the country.
The committee said there were 123,000 poultry farmers in India and about 70 per cent of them were in a ‘dire situation’.
"Most small poultry owners start their business by selling off land and jewellery. And when they can’t recover their costs, they are left with no choice," Singh said.
The government and the poultry industry have been running awareness campaigns to encourage people to eat chicken and eggs, but there has been little response from the public.
The poultry industry says the wholesale price of chicken had fallen to about Rs 4 a kg. Before bird flu, wholesale prices were about Rs 20 a kg.
"Sales are down by half, which is a slight improvement, but really it’s still very grim," said Bharat Tandon, chairman of the Compound Livestock Feed Manufacturers’ Association of India, one of the main lobby groups.
"We just pray there are no fresh outbreaks (of bird flu) and the media understands the need to not play this up," he said.
Indian authorities have announced financial assistance for the farmers whose birds are being culled, but industry officials say the compensation is not enough.
"What about those whose birds are not being culled but who aren’t able to sell their stocks?" asked Singh.
The RBI has announced some relief for the poultry industry, including allowing a one-time reduction of 4 percentage points on bank loans and a moratorium of one year on loan repayments.