China faces poultry shortages amid epidemic, prompting a rise in imports
Published: Feb 26, 2020 03:03 PM

Villagers feed chickens at a village of Dapo Township under Rong'an County in Liuzhou, south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Oct. 16, 2019. In recent years, the local authorities of Rong'an County has been developing the free-range chicken farming as an important means to help lift impoverished households out of poverty. The government provides subsidies, free training and technical guidance for villagers. (Xinhua/Huang Xiaobang)

The outbreak of COVID-19, which has battered China's poultry industry, might lead to a shortage of supply and prompt the country to gear up imports from countries including the US in 2020, industry insiders said.

As the country has been going all-out to contain the contagious disease over the past month, Central China's Hubei's Province, epicenter of the new coronavirus which is also an important base of China's poultry production, is being locked down. Local chicken farmers are desperate to find feed, and hundreds of thousands of chicks were culled due to transportation barriers. 

"A slew of policies from the central government have partly eased our logistics problems - products can be sent out instead of being piled up in the warehouse," a member of the staff at the poultry association of Hubei, who asked to be anonymous, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

However, the member, who also owns a breeding chicken farm in Wuhan, said the province's chicken sector is partially paralyzed as local factories are not allowed to resume production before March 10. 

"Workers are prohibited from going back to their jobs, packaging materials are in severe shortage and poultry anti-epidemic personnel are not allowed to conduct anti-epidemic work on the farms," he explained.

The disruptions in Hubei might greatly dampen the whole country's supply, and  according to the person, laying hens in Hubei Province account for almost one-tenth of the country's total.

"Our production in Hubei - which accounts for one-third of our production — is totally suspended now," an employee at Ningxia 930 Ecological Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Co, a leading Chinese husbandry firm, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

The company, based in Northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, estimated a loss of around 20 million yuan ($2.84 million) due to the assault of the virus impact.

Moreover, the impact is not only limited to Hubei, the employee said. The firm's factories outside Hubei had not restored production yet, and a full recovery might be around April or May.

"The first quarter is quite important for the chicken industry, since production in the first quarter accounts for about 30 percent of China's full-year production," the employee said, noting that a rise in poultry prices and supply shortages could attract more farmers to real the birds. 

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs warned earlier that COVID-19 might dent the market supply of poultry and eggs in the second and third quarters of this year.

Due to the impact of the African swine fever, poultry has been the most important substitute for pork. Poultry production had been increasing, and it was expected to grow further this year, but it seems that it's not that easy, Wang Zuli, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

China's poultry meat production grew by 12 percent last year to 22.39 million tons.

"It's more likely that China will increase imports to fill the supply gap over the rest of the year," Wang said, adding that some South American countries are expected to become the largest beneficiaries.

China approved the import of all poultry products from the US in February including breeding birds, in addition to poultry meat being approved late last year, which may pave the way for more poultry imports this year, analysts predicted.