In a recent article entitled “Playing Chicken with Poultry Industry” published in the STAR, the writer expressed his or her frustration with the government’s approach to the industry. While I agree with the frustration expressed by the writer, I think the government, present and past should not shoulder all the blame for what is currently taking place within the poultry industry.
Also the writer stated that 20 percent of the market share has been allocated to the farmers and producers which sounds perfect. However, the importers of chicken parts are only purchasing in total under 11 percent of what is produced and grown here in St Lucia. The farmers and producers have 100,000s of pounds of unsold chicken sitting in refrigeration units. The question is why and how has that situation occurred?
Before I continue, let me share with you, dear reader, some information that will help you to better appreciate what the possibilities are for a thriving and self sustaining industry. Our poultry industry can help us reduce our food import bill, provide a new revenue stream for our present farmers and help reduce our growing unemployment figures.
According to government estimates, importers bring into the country from the USA approximately 7,000 tons of non-premium grade chicken parts annually. Our farmers sell approximately .7 tons of premium grade chicken to the importers and distributors. Therefore, we consume 17.4 million pounds of chicken per year or 102.7 lbs per capita. According to the U.S. 2000 Census website, Hong Kong consumes 147.8lbs of chicken; USA is second with 107lbs and Israel 96.36lbs. This means if we were part of the US 2000 Census we would be third in the world for the eating of that sweet white meat.
We always hear the common refrain that we need to secure a market before our farmers can take part in a particular activity. Well, in St Lucia, we have the market, we are big time chicken eaters! We are also told that the price per pound of our homegrown premium grade chicken is too costly. My argument and that of the key stakeholders in the industry is if they are allowed to produce and sell their products at optimum production levels the economies of scale will bring the price down.
According to the key players within the homegrown poultry industry, the farmers and producers can produce approximately 1.2 million chickens per year. This equates to around 5.4million lbs or 2450 tons of chicken, a market share of only 32 percent.
As you can see, the writer has every reason to be unhappy and frustrated with the state of our homegrown poultry industry. The importers need to step up and become better corporate citizens and find a way to encourage the local
From my understanding, our producers are taking steps to form an alliance or business accommodation to solidify and speak with one voice on the industry. In addition, our government can help the producers with their goal of improving standards and increasing production levels. But more importantly, we as citizens must play our part in buying and demanding the outlets sell the better grade premium chicken being produced right here in St Lucia.
We are in a classic “Chicken or the Egg” debate, but whatever happens it is crucial that the main players do all they can to follow in the footsteps of our Caribbean sister nations such as Barbados, Trinidad and Jamaica where this industry is concerned.
Let us stop making American Multinational companies rich off our desire and love for chicken.