Barbados’ annual consumption of poultry meat has been estimated at around 15 million kg. Local production of poultry meat for 2010 was estimated at 14.1 million kg which demonstrates our potential to supply the demand. In fact the President of the Barbados Egg and Poultry Producers Association (BEPPA), Wendell Clarke, was quoted in 2009 as saying that local poultry producers are more than ready and willing to satisfy all the needs of the local market “We can definitely satisfy all the needs of the local market,” he asserted. “We have the capacity to do it. We have actually done it before. We can supply more than what the local market needs.” The activity in the sector is evidenced by the fact that over 9 million baby chicks were sold by the local hatcheries in 2010.
However, there are still imports of poultry meat. It is government’s policy to allow a specified quantity of imports so that lower income persons have the option to buy turkey backs, wings and necks, but the local industry claims that this causes their growers to cut back their production. In light of the rising price of turkey parts in the international market, a constant check is being kept on this situation. In 2010 imports were valued at BB$ 2.9 million. In addition, BB$ 1 million was spent on imported offal of ducks, geese and guinea fowls. In my opinion, this importation of exotic birds is unnecessary. As far as I am aware, in recent years there were at least two farms producing exotic meats who were not well supported by local consumers. There is also the opportunity for agro-processors to produce the pates and other products used by the hotel industry. It cannot be overemphasized that we need to support our own. Although it may be argued by some that imported inputs are used in the industry, it does use local inputs as well and also provides employment for a large number of persons.
Of course there is also tremendous potential for increased exports. While I am sure it is not well known that Barbados exports poultry products, mainly via cruise ships, but also to some countries in the region. Senator Haynesley Benn, the then Minister of Agriculture, noted in 2009 that since 1993 up to the present, poultry exports have seen steady increases. According to him, “Trade data revealed 113 kilogrammes of poultry meat were exported during 1993, however, during 2008, 212.8 thousand kilogrammes of poultry meat were exported.” Local companies have also been approached by companies in the EU to buy substantial quantities of local poultry products but EU has a number of requirements which must be met , one of which is that the Chief Veterinary Officer, rather than the Chief Medical Officer be designated the competent authority to oversee such exports. Since the necessary legislation is not in place this opportunity cannot be pursued. The standard of local laboratories must also be upgraded and acceptable inspection regulations and systems must be put in place. The project which would have initiated these changes started, to my knowledge, at least 5 years ago so it is disappointing, to say the least, that we have only now reached the stage of business and strategic plans, identifying and applying for Town Planning permission for the upgraded lab. Bearing in mind the importance of earning foreign exchange, the powers that be would be well advised to pursue this matter with urgency.
Although the sector appears to be fairly well organized, with a system of contract growing of broilers in place, and players have shown a willingness to invest in modern technology so as to improve efficiency, it is not without its challenges, not least of which are feed and energy costs. Government has given some price support and as Senator Benn noted,
“We propose to establish a Poultry Board to regulate the industry as well as develop a framework for a Poultry Insurance Scheme. We also plan to expand our poultry products by including smoked chicken and turkey in order to facilitate the expansion of poultry production in Barbados.”
While the Board sounds good in principle, the exact role would have to be defined and the structure would have to be acceptable and beneficial to all stakeholders. Following the recent seminar on agricultural insurance, it is hoped that a suitable insurance scheme can be designed for the poultry industry.
The egg situation
With respect to eggs, there is one breeding unit in Barbados, but the majority of the hatching eggs used in the industry are imported at an annual cost of BB$ 6.4 million (2010). Local production of eggs for 2010 was 2.2 million kg, and there was also a small quantity imported that year. In addition, preserved dried eggs valued at BB$ 0.3 million were imported in 2010. In my opinion, investigations should be carried out with a view to replacing this preserved product by local eggs, thus saving foreign exchange.
The poultry industry is therefore in a good position to provide significant import substitution and exports, thus saving and earning foreign exchange. The local industry has also played an active role in modifying the taste of the local consumer from frozen to fresh chilled chicken, which redounds to the benefit of the sector. Efforts by the local Poultry Association to increase the consumption of chicken through the various media are also to be lauded, since this will contribute to the expansion of the industry. Finally, the use of more locally grown feed ingredients needs detailed research and development initiatives and more intensive discussions between all involved, so that a solution which is equitable to all can be reached.