Barbadians among the world’s highest per capita consumers of chicken may start paying less for frozen birds, stacked in freezers during the COVID-19 business shutdown, Minister of Agriculture Indar Weir has declared.
The decision to slash poultry prices came as the poultry industry faced significant losses over the last two months of the pandemic, he said.
Weir said: “With the loss of tourism, as well as the closure of restaurants, you can imagine the loss of consumption that would have taken place and equally the amount of replacement it would take in order to fulfil the capacity we have in the poultry industry.
“So they had to resort to storage, then they were running out of storage capacity because of the volume of poultry we have here. I met with poultry producers because I realise there are a lot of people involved and the level of investment at stake.
“The producers explained to me how they would manage this period and how they would try to get through this hoping everyone would get to the next stage, so we have agreed in principle to look at some initiatives within the first two-month measuring period I have identified.”
As part of the arrangement, the state-owned Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (BADMC) will suspend sales of imported chicken and turkey wings and make its storage facilities available to poultry farmers.
The Agriculture Minister said: “We agreed that we would do a monitoring and evaluation process, so we have suspended the sale of chicken and turkey wings. However, since this would take away cash from the BADMC, and during the COVID period, they would have lost sales since their airport store was closed.
“But since BADMC is state-owned, I have asked them to create some space to get rid of some of the excess capacity in the poultry industry.
“I am committing that by Friday this week the BADMC should have no reason at all to sell any form of poultry until our monitoring and evaluation says the industry has either returned to normalcy or that we find ourselves in a position where we have to find some other revenue stream for the BADMC.”
Key figures in the poultry industry have backed the move, keen to rid their frozen stock so they can restart their processing plants and farms and re-hire laid-off workers.
James Paul, Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society, said: “We have engaged on a wholesale marketing campaign for local poultry. We have engaged in specials, our members in some cases have dropped their prices, and we want to ensure that all players in the industry participate in the effort to ensure that despite the fact there will not be as much chicken wings, we will engage in a marketing campaign to convince Barbadians to support the local poultry industry even more.”
Barry Gale of Gale’s Hatcheries said that the measure will benefit small producers. “Smaller farmers who do not have ready access to their own cold storage fall victim to oversupply when they cannot get their chicken sold straight from the farm to the shelf,” he said. “They are suffering in this environment and because they do not always have access to market wisdom, they might not have known how much oversupply there was so we have restricted the number of chicks we are supplying to them.”
Chickmont Foods, one of the country’s largest poultry processors, said his company had to close one of its farms because of the pandemic. Managing Director Edward Albecker said: “We at Chickmont have laid off over 130 people, we have shut down Bright Hall Farm, which comprised six commercial pens in St. Lucy and we need to get this back into production.
“We have cut back on our placements, but we have been here before in terms of building stocks, and with the proper pricing structure and a proper advertising campaign people will be able to buy cheaper chicken from our depots.”