NIGERIA: People compete with chickens for food

Wednesday, April 16, 2008
The demand for grain to feed chickens in some 350 industrial poultry farms in Kano State has strained human food security, officials say.

“The [poultry] farmers are competing for grains against other consumers,” said Shehu Bawa, a veterinarian who consults for the UN children’s agency (UNICEF). For poultry farmers, “It’s a survival issue because if they do not feed their birds they will die and their businesses will crumble”.

As a result, grain traders say they are struggling to meet the demand for grains. “The demand is so high that we are trying to lay our hands on grains from anywhere we can,” the head of the grains merchants association in Kano’s Dawanau market, the largest grains market in West Africa, Muhammad Abdullahi Koya, told IRIN.

In normal years, grain from northern Nigeria is often exported to neighbouring countries, particularly nearby Niger, but traders say the reverse has been the case since September 2007.

“Food exports to neighbouring countries have slowed,” Koya said. “On the contrary, our merchants cross into Niger to buy grains from farmers because it is cheaper there,” he said.

He said that purchasing in Niger is cheaper because farmers there are in desperate need of cash. “[Nigerian grains merchants] take advantage of the cash squeeze,” Koya said.

Meanwhile humans and chickens make demand in northern Nigeria higher. Chicken feed generally consists of 32 percent maize, and 20 percent groundnut and soya cakes 20 percent, both of which are also eaten by humans.

Poultry farmers are also competing with each other for grain, Koya said. “The farmers have outdone each other in purchasing grains, particularly maize in the last two months,” although he said poor crop yields were the main reason for high food prices.

“Poultry farmers’ demand even at full capacity has never been a factor in determining food prices,” he said.

Whatever the reasons, consumers are suffering. A worker in Kano, Adamu Usman, told IRIN that the current cost of grain is “unbelievable”. “In just a few months, prices have more than doubled,” he said. “It is becoming more and more difficult for me to feed my seven children as well as my wife and I.”

He said that maize is a staple for his family and they would normally go through a 50kg bag each month. “But this month I can only afford to buy half a bag because now it costs 5,400 Naira (US$47) a bag which is too much for me to deduct from my 10,000 Naira a month salary.”

Both people and chickens also consume groundnut cake which has risen from $119 a tonne to $305 in the last six months, Auwalu Haruna, spokesman for Kano Poultry Farmers Association told IRIN. Even the price of wheat offal, which is not consumed by humans, has jumped from $6 six months ago to $17 today, he said.

Price hikes increase demand

Contrary to normal economic logic, the high grain costs may increase rather than decrease demand for grain as well as decrease demand for poultry, said Bawa of UNICEF. “[With lower purchasing power] consumers use the money they would normally use for buying eggs and chicken to purchase grains which is more important to them.”

Thus poultry farmers are suffering doubly with high cost of inputs and low sales, he said.

In the last year many farmers have finally replenish the hundreds of thousands of chickens culled because of avian influenza outbreaks over the last two years. Now, with feed so expensive, the farmers are struggling to keep their chickens alive.

Source: IRIN