THE Poultry Association of Zambia says the sector has experienced an overwhelming demand for day old chicks which have now become scarce due to the disruption in the supply chain that was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an interview, association executive manager Dominic Chanda said the high demand for chicks can also be attributed to the huge number of people who ventured into poultry farming as they were working from home after the pandemic hit and an increase in the price of other protein sources.

“So what has happened is that it’s just this over-demand because you know when COVID-19 came and people just started working from home and they could only find chicken keeping as the only alternative. Also, alternative sources of protein, the prices went up, we had shortages, not even shortage but we had undersupply of red meat into Lusaka and along the line of rail because of the outbreak of the foot and mouth. We also had an outbreak of the African swine fever which wiped out pork from the market. And because of the closure of china, we could not import the 80,000 to 100,000 metric tonnes of fish that we import on a yearly basis,” Chanda explained.

“So given those scenarios, you discover that the prices of beef went up from K67 per kg to the current price of K120 per kg, pork also went up from about K47 per kg to the current price of K108 per kg, we saw also fish actually also went up and as a result, the only cheap source of protein was chicken and demand for chicken has become so high, hence people came in to start keeping chickens. And that’s what we have actually observed, so we have new entrants in the market, we also have the old ones coupled with the effects of COVID-19.”

Chanda explained that the lack of chicks was caused by failure to import pullets from Europe but noted that despite increasing 20 percent more than last year in the same period, the market was still lacking.

“Firstly, it’s not a shortage, it’s just an over-demand that has happened during this period of time and the problem is not only a Zambian problem, it’s a global problem and these are emanating from the issues of COVID-19. When COVID-19 came into effect a number of countries closed up their operations. We saw China, I think, closing up for three months, Europe closed up for six months, they haven’t even opened up fully and they are still closing up. So we get most of the grand pullets stock from Europe. And because there was a time when we could not import these products which come by plane because the aviation industry was also closed up. It seemed to have that small gap in terms of the placement. However, if you like at the numbers that are being offloaded on the market in this particular period compared to the period last year, which is the first quarter, we have pushed in close to about 20 percent higher than what was produced in the first quarter of last year,” he said.

He added that the availability of chicks will only be addressed in the medium to long term due to the cyclic nature of the industry.

“However, usually when we have a problem with placement of the grand pullets stock, it’s a process that takes between 22 to about 24 months. However I can assure you that most of the placements that were done are actually coming into maturity in the next two months might not be able to address the challenge of the day old supply because the numbers that have actually just come up. No one can explain why there has been such a demand but the issue is that in the medium to long term definitely we should be able to address it. This is not the industry that can be able to quickly address the high demand whenever it comes because it’s cyclical and everyone is just looking at it from a sceptical perspective; ‘will it be able to maintain, can I grow my investment, can I expand, if I expand, what happens next year because we go through that cycle?’ When the prices of feed go up, almost all farmers move out of the industry and hatcheries start killing their day old chicks. So that’s what is happening,” Chanda said.

And Chanda dispelled assertions that the lack of supply is due to increased exports, saying the export market was too small to change the dynamics in Zambia.

“Most of them will tell you to say maybe people are exporting, no, the export market is too small to change the dynamics in the country and you know there is this complementarity between chicks and feed. Currently there is a ban on export of feed and much or our chicks go into DRC. DRC does not produce feed, they depend on feed from Zambia. So if we cannot export feed, it’s definite that even the export of day old chicks will be affected because they don’t produce their own. So that is the connection between the two. So when you see the numbers that are going into DRC, they can’t change the dynamics in the domestic market,” said Chanda.