Potential impact of COVID-19 on poultry industry


Ever since the outbreak of coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19, in Wuhan China in December 2019, the global economy has never been the same. The novel coronavirus has caused so many deaths around the world, with Europe currently being the epicentre of the disease. The World Health Organisation (WHO) as of 30th of March 2020 gave global reported cases at 735,210 with total deaths of 34,808. In Ghana, the total confirmed cases were 152 with 5 deaths on the same date.

Even though the disease was discovered in China, within a spate of three months it became a global pandemic. To contain the disease, governments have had to adopt containment measures including lockdown of cities and cancellation of major local and international events just to curtail spread of the disease. Both International and local transport systems have been disrupted.

What is known at the moment about the disease is that it is spread through human to human contact. Luckily, no known cases have been reported to have been transmitted through animals – though some sources believe they were transmitted through pangolins.

With a global inundation of the virus, economists are already concerned about the effects it will have on the global economy. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has predicted a scenario wherein “global growth could be cut in half, to about 1.5% in 2020”.

On the local front, the pandemic is already manifesting a devastating impact on the Ghanaian economy. As stated by Mr. Ken Ofori Atta (Minister of Finance) in his presentation to parliament on March 28, 2020: “Trade volumes and values are reducing as a result of the pandemic, and reduction in imports will slow down production in Ghana. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth for Ghana’s petroleum revenues and other tax revenues are to slow down due to outbreak of the virus”. He reported that the country will lose GH¢9,505billion – which will be about 2.5% of Ghana’s revised GDP.

With economists worried about the economy, just as the epidemiologists are worried about further spread of the disease, agriculturalists are concerned about food security and nutrition. Drawing on our experiences from past pandemics – for example, food prices hiked up as a result of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and the Avian Influenza (AI) in some parts of the world, especially in Asia.

However, there are no major signs that COVID-19 is currently causing food shortages or hikes in prices; yet there are signs that it might affect nutrition, particularly the poultry industry. In china for instance, the poultry industry has witnessed some stress due to a short supply of feed. At the same time, misinformation from social media in India has caused low demand for poultry products, thus affecting farmers miserably. The India issue came about when 18,000 chickens were culled in Hunan Province of China due to H5N1 flu outbreak at the time of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Apparently, due to poor information dissemination, there was a wild rumour that chickens could transmit the disease to humans, and that necessitated the culling. This rumour went as far as India in the social media. Consequently, demand for both broilers and eggs went down – leading to a great loss for farmers. In effect, outbreak of the disease will surely have a negative effect on the poultry industry, whether in the short- or long-term.

In Ghana, livestock production constitutes 14% of agricultural contribution to GDP. In fact, the agricultural sector was expected to grow by 7.3% in 2019, driven by the crops and livestock subsectors under government’s flagship programmes. The agricultural sector contributed 19.7% to GDP in 2018 with a growth rate of 4.8%, and livestock contribution to GDP in the same period was 3% (GSS, 2019).  According to MoFA, for now, Ghana imports over 240,000mt of meat (chicken, beef and others) to support local production. Out of the total import, broiler meat constitutes 80%. This costs the nation over US$375m annually. About 400,000mt of meat is the estimated national demand size, but only 180,000mt is produced locally (MoFA, 2020).

In the poultry industry of Ghana, a farm size of over 50,000 birds is categorised as a large-scale farm, while a medium-scale is between 10,000 and 50,000 birds. Below 10,000 birds is a small-scale producer. There are 29 large-scale poultry farms in Ghana: 13 in Ashanti Region, 12 in Brong Ahafo Region and 4 in Greater Accra Region according to the Ghana Poultry Project. Medium- and small-scale farmers constitute 80% of Ghana’s total poultry farmers, while the remaining 20% is made of large-scale farmers.

The poultry industry has been identified as a source of protein and livelihood for many Ghanaians. Protein plays a very important role in overall development of the human body, and can be found cheaply in chicken. For instance, the amount of protein in chicken is very high and this helps in muscle development. Chicken is a lean meat with high nutritional value, which means it does not have much fat. Eating chicken regularly will help one stay healthy and lose weight.

In most cities and towns of Ghana, consumers prefer chicken to conventional meat sold in the market by butchers because of the way they are processed, usually under unhygienic conditions. Over the past decades, local poultry production and poultry importation has increased due to an increase in demand. A survey conducted by USAID indicates that more than 2 million locally produced chickens are eaten annually.

According to Ghana Poultry Online, this increase in consumption is due to “reduction in poverty, increasing level of education, changes in labour-force participation and a growing urban middle-class with a rising consumption expectations”. Again, consumers have become much more aware of chicken’s nutritional value, hence the rise in demand for it.

The poultry industry plays a great role in the socio-economic development of Ghana. An increase in development of the sector can help with poverty alleviation as well as improve the nutritional status of most Ghanaians.

The industry is also a source of employment for thousands of Ghanaians who hitherto would have been burdens on society. In terms of livelihood, the poultry industry can be categorised into two: those who are engaged in the production value-chain such as poultry farmers, feed producers, vaccine and drugs sellers, poultry equipment dealers, veterinarians, and farm hands. They are the direct beneficiaries of the industry.

The second category is those involved in processing the products finally as food. They are usually at the latter stages of the value-chain and include food vendors, tea-sellers/egg-fryers, wakye sellers, restaurants, hotels and many others. They are indirect beneficiaries of the poultry industry. The livelihood of all these groups (which number cannot be estimated) depends on how well the industry is flourishing.

In Ghana, and indeed in many countries, large commercial farmers employ farmhands to help in day-to-day management of their farms. For instance, Ms. Edith Wheatland, owner of Rockland Farms located at Ankamada – a community in the Sekyere Central district of the Ashanti Region – has over 60,000 birds with 35 farmhands. If all the 29 large-scale farms in Ghana were to employ 35 farmhands each (or more), 20% of the poultry industry players would be employing 1,015 people (or more) in Ghana.

As part of its support for development of the poultry industry, government in the 2020 budget statement mentioned that one of the objectives of the Rearing for Food and Jobs model of government flagship programmes was to “increase domestic production, reduce importation of livestock products, and contribute to improve livelihoods of actors in the livestock value chain”. Consequently, government planned to distribute among others “182,000 birds to 1,400 women farmers in 14 regions”.

The virus outbreak could delay some of these programmes or lay-off thousands of people who depend on the poultry industry for their livelihood. Currently, Accra, Tema and Kumasi are locked-down with minimal commercial activities. This, of course, is dangerous to development of the poultry industry. Restaurants, hotels, bars, wakye sellers, egg-fryers and many more are all closed with workers sent home. No one is purchasing broilers or eggs. Farmhands are limited in their movement and therefore cannot go to work. This development will eventually compel farmers to also lay-off workers and close their farms as well. The multiplier effect is that the poultry industry will sink.

Cancellations of flights and shipments to contain the virus have also been put in place. What this means to the industry is that day-old chicks cannot come in any more. Local hatcheries that depend on other countries for fertilised eggs; millers who import raw materials such as soybeans, rice-bran, yellow corn and many other ingredients cannot import them either; and dealers who import poultry equipment, drugs and vaccines will not be better in any way any time soon.

Their businesses will collapse and thousands of people will lose their livelihoods. Locally, the lockdown impacts heavily on transportation in the country. Goods cannot move from the south to the north. Farmers in the north cannot transport their poultry inputs (such as feed, equipment and day-old chicks) from Accra, Tema or Kumasi to the north where there are no lockdowns.

Even though the disease is currently not widespread, further spread into other regions can jeopardise food security and nutrition. The rains have just started in the north and farmers are rolling up their sleeves to move onto their farms. If the disease escalates and farmers are unable to cultivate maize and soybeans, the cost of production for poultry in the country will be unbearable. The timely distribution of agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertiliser remains unclear. If the production of staple food is affected, there will be little maize and soybeans in the market to be competed for by poultry farmers and human consumption, and this could lead to food shortages vis-a-vis price hikes.

Fortunately, for Ghana and other African countries, there are no rumours about the disease transmission into poultry. So, it is still safe to eat chicken and eggs. If that rumour should occur as happened in India, the poultry industry would be crippled for a long time. Demand for chicken and eggs would drop, forcing prices to also drop as well. Likewise, prices for major ingredients in the preparation of feed (maize and soybeans) will automatically drop; thus affecting crop farmers as well.

Already, local production of poultry is just 40% of the total demand. The other 60% is imported from the USA, Brazil and the European Union. With the precarious nature of the industry and lack of strong support from government to guard the Ghanaian market, if the local poultry industry flops, the market will be flooded with cheap chicken from these three giants.

At the moment, it is unclear how long the epidemic will linger. It is too early to predict when it will even peak. While the disease is slowing down in China, other countries are beginning to report their first cases. The global confirmed cases as of 8th April 2020, were 1,353,361 with 79,235 deaths. In Ghana, the confirmed cases on the same date were 313 with 6 deaths. With this picture in mind, very pragmatic measures are needed to prevent a hiccup in the poultry industry which could lead to food and nutrition insecurity and a setback in the people’s livelihood.

The Ghana National Association of Poultry Farmers (GNAPF) has a daunting task to discharge. The association needs to spearhead and coordinate the concerns of its members. If the association has its members at heart, it must coordinate their concerns across the country and update government on happenings in the industry. It must serve as the voice of poultry farmers by making their problems known and proffering solutions to help mitigate their difficulties.

The association should collaborate with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Ministry of National Security, and the Ministry of Interior to secure clearance for members and farmhands; especially, to enable them move freely to work. As a matter of need, members and workers should however desist from abusing the clearance, and it should be used for its intended purpose only.

Members who are affected by the pandemic should be supported with a relief package to enable them resume business with little stress. The association should identify farmers most affected and champion the course of getting them relief packages. Currently, government has announced a GH¢600million support to medium- and small-scale businesses affected by the pandemic. The association must support its members to source this package.

The banks and other financial institutions of their own volition should encourage poultry farmers to come for interest-free loans to enable them revamp their businesses. They should also waive interest on loans for farmers already with loans for this year. The banks could also reschedule payment of loans by farmers for another year.

Another opportunity for the country to grab is the e-commerce and courier services. These companies can play a great role by delivering chicken and eggs to customers during this lockdown. This can be done tactically, in such a way that the couriers will leave the order at convenient places for customers to pick up so as to avoid contact. In fact, this delivery service would address logistical challenges in getting chicken and other food items. At the same time, this move would decrease the chances or likely events of infection when visiting crowded markets to purchase food items.

Government has a greater role to play in sustaining poultry production in Ghana during this trying time. In the first place, government should ensure adequate health care and resources to contain spread of the disease are available. Government also needs to provide fiscal stimulus to businesses, including poultry farmers, as well as provide social protection as a way of compensation to workers and families who are affected by the measures put in place to contain the disease.

Government needs to invest heavily in the poultry sector to ensure sustainability of the industry. Currently, a lot of farmers are getting their day-old chicks and feed from abroad. Government needs to invest in hatcheries and feed production, or partner other international companies in good standing to invest in these areas. This will save the country millions of dollars importing day-old chicks and feed. Similarly, government needs to invest in chicken-preparation to curb selling live birds in the market. This will reduce the demand for imported chicken, as they come prepared. Better still, government should subsidise the importation of major ingredients for the preparation of feed such as maize and soybeans.

Government should also listen to demands from the Ghana National Association of Poultry Farmers as well as other civil societies’ call for increasing import duties on chicken to 35%, the ECOWAS benchmark, instead of the currently 20% pertaining.

In addition to the GH¢600million package for businesses affected by containment measures, government needs to reduce interest rates on loans or give interest-free facilities to farmers, especially, to sustain the poultry industry. Through this facility, farmers can acquire modern equipment to enhance their production process.

Government, through its agencies such as Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) and Food and Drugs Board, should monitor the consumption of chicken in the country, and public perception about chicken consumption in particular. This is to forestall any rumour that chicken contains any disease. Adverts can be made in national dailies to appeal for people to continue eating chicken.

Finally, international financial institutions such as the World Bank and IMF should consider debt relief packages for developing countries as a way of supporting them to revamp their economies. This is essential to enable governments mobilise resources to tackle the economic and health impacts of the pandemic.

In conclusion, the number of confirmed cases of the disease keep rising as well as the number of deaths. Containing the pandemic remains the priority of government at the moment. However, one of the containment measures is not allowing the pandemic to affect important sectors of the economy, especially the poultry industry.

[email protected]

Leave a Reply