United Broiler Raisers Association said demand for chicken has dropped significantly amid the pandemic. — REUTERS/ERIK DE CASTRO

By Revin Mikhael D. Ochave, Reporter

LOCAL POULTRY production is expected to plunge by as much as 40% this year as demand weakened due to the coronavirus pandemic, the United Broiler Raisers Association (UBRA) said on Wednesday.

UBRA President Elias Jose M. Inciong said in a mobile phone message the industry has seen a drastic drop in demand from institutional buyers such as hotels and restaurants, whose operations remain limited due to various lockdown restrictions around the country.

Hotels, restaurants and institutions account for  30% of the market. Mr. Inciong said there appears to be no signs of recovery with hundreds of local fastfood outlets having closed permanently and more are expected to follow.

However, Mr. Inciong said despite lower production, poultry supply is more than enough heading into the holidays.

Sobra ang supply. Pero mababa ang demand. (There is oversupply. But demand is weak.) Prices for poultry have been very volatile,” Mr. Inciong said.

“The average farmgate price of poultry recently reached P91 per kilogram. But in less than a week, farmgate prices have gone down by an average of P14 per kilogram and now ranges from P77 to P79,” he added.

Mr. Inciong said poultry imports have increased by 32% as of the end of September despite travel restrictions.

Citing data from the Bureau of Animal Industry, UBRA said the importation of chicken cuts as of September amounted to 31.78 million kilos. Imports of chicken leg quarters reached 54.5 million kilos, while imports of mechanically deboned meat of chicken reached 208.21 million kilos as of September.

Sought for comment, Bureau of Animal Industry Director Ronnie D. Domingo said that after strict lockdown measures were lifted, the government has tried to push excess poultry inventory in traditional and new local markets.

“The increasing pork prices have also influenced consumers to buy chicken instead,” Mr. Domingo said in a mobile phone message.

At a virtual briefing on Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar confirmed there is enough poultry supply in the country.

“If we compare data from the inventory last year to this year during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a huge chunk of poultry products that were not sold, and resulted in 260% more inventory in chicken compared with a year ago,” Mr. Dar said.

He said he hopes that excess supply would be used as more restaurants resume operations, adding that chicken would serve as an alternative source of protein amid the projected deficit in pork supply.

“This is a good sign that our poultry industry is recovering. The projected lack of pork supply can be answered by excess chicken products,” Mr. Dar said.

The Department of Agriculture projected a local pork supply deficit of 231,030 metric tons (MT), equivalent to 45 days’ consumption, by yearend. Chicken supply is projected to have a surplus of 464,236 MT, good for 103 days’ worth of consumption.

Bruce J. Tolentino, former Agriculture undersecretary and current Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Monetary Board member, said poultry raisers are correct in being worried about demand for their products.

“The tendency of people is to look for cheaper food. Even establishments such as hotels and restaurants, for them to cope with their production costs given the COVID-19 pandemic, they will search for cheap inputs,” he said in a mobile phone message.

However, Mr. Tolentino said local companies have to compete and should not expect the government to restrict the entry of imported products.

“How about the Filipino consumers? Will we burden the consumers by preventing them from getting access to cheaper food? The objective of the producers should be to improve their efficiency and capacity so that they compete with imported products,” Mr. Tolentino said.