Chicken is popular on most Egyptian tables due to its affordable price when compared to meat. Meat could cost from LE170 to LE200 per kg, while a kg of chicken still costs between LE39 and LE43. According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) in 2018, 10.1 kg of poultry is produced per capita in Egypt.
According to State Information Service (SIS) statistics in April 2022, the total volume of poultry production in Egypt is about 1.4 billion birds, including some 320 million chickens. Egypt produces about 14 billion eggs.
The volume of investments in the poultry industry in Egypt is about LE100 billion, and it employs about three million workers. There are some 38,000 poultry facilities in Egypt, including farms, feed factories, slaughterhouses, and outlets for selling veterinary medicines and vaccines, according to SIS statistics.
Egypt also became bird flu free, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), which has agreed to officially register the country as free from bird flu, opening up prospects for the export of poultry.
Nevertheless, there are many problems facing the poultry industry in Egypt.
At the beginning of this month, tons of feed imports were being held in local ports with importers not able to find the dollars needed to pay for them.
Feed prices witnessed unprecedented increases in July after the price of a ton jumped to LE12,000 ($614) due to the Russian-Ukrainian war, but then fell again with the decrease in the price of many food commodities and grains. However, prices started to spike again earlier this month to reach LE13,600 ($696), having a direct effect on the poultry market in Egypt.
Cairo imports feed from the US, Brazil, and Ukraine, but the largest proportion is imported from the US.
The problem stems from the absence of local alternatives to imported feed. “There are not many home-grown alternatives to cover our needs as we import almost 80 per cent of our consumption of yellow corn and 80 per cent of wheat,” deputy head of the Chamber of Importers Ahmed Etabi said.
Former deputy chairman of the Poultry Producers Union (PPU) Mohamed Al-Shafei told Al-Hekaya (The Story) talk show recently that the shortage of feed was forcing poultry producers to kill some chicks, with around LE340 million worth of corn and soybeans accumulating at the ports.
Videos of chicks being culled by farmers because of the lack of feed went viral on local social media networks a couple of weeks ago.
“I think that the chick killings are too ruthless,” said Fatma, a Cairo resident, speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly. “The poultry merchants should have distributed their chicks to nearby farmers, which would have been much better than killing them.”
“Nobody is killing the chicks, but some people say that they are dying because of the lack of feed,” commented Etabi, adding that a chick costs LE7 to LE8 to raise. For Etabi, the solution is to produce more feed in Egypt.
In a move aimed at calming fears of a shortage of chicken and eggs due to the lack of feed, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli issued a statement last week saying that in addition to releasing substantial amounts of soybeans and corn imports stuck in the ports it would coordinate with the PPU on a weekly basis to decide the volume of feed needed to be released in the market.
The statement came after a meeting headed by Madbouli, who said that some LE85 million worth of soybeans and LE40 million of corn had been released.
The numbers of poultry are being increased to meet the growing needs of the industry and find a solution to increasing prices in the market.
HELPING MERCHANTS: Neamat Al-Tazi is chief operating officer at Abu Erdan, a cloud-based poultry management company that provides solutions to help poultry farmers increase their production.
It helps farmers to manage their farms and to reduce the amount of water, feed, and energy used.
“The idea of Abu Erdan, the ‘digital friend of the farmer’ as we call it, came six years ago when we started an information analysis and information systems company to help national and international companies make decisions. We then decided to design our own product that we could sell to others in other sectors and sought a field that had never used technology in its work before,” Al-Tazi said.
“We decided to work in the agricultural sector and then in poultry.” They studied the genetics of chickens and how to farm them depending on the traits of each type, including by improving feeding methods.
“Genetics companies issue catalogues about each strain of chicken, in which they determine the amount of feed they should be fed, the amount of water they should be given, and the temperature they should be kept at,” Al-Tazi said.
“This information helps us to tell a poultry farmer whether he is right or wrong while raising his chickens and detect a problem if one appears. We obtain this information through recording the actual use of feed per daily cycle and compare it to the standard use in the catalogue.”
“Our team is composed of computer science experts and veterinarians who go to the poultry farmers and train them.” There is a digital maturity assessment, meaning that how far a farm is ready to be digitally developed is assessed. This process takes one week to 10 days and a report is produced on efficiently increasing production.
Computers and advanced technology such as machine learning is used to improve poultry production and decrease waste, Al-Tazi noted.
Raising chickens is a complicated process and needs careful calculations in order to gain more revenues, and this is where Al-Tazi’s company steps in to help farmers grow their poultry businesses and reverse financial losses. “To produce a chicken, it is not just one phase, as the public might think,” she said. Instead, it involves many phases including baby chicken nurseries, egg hatching incubators, and fattening stages.
“Each stage is sub-divided into smaller processes in which waste could occur if they are not managed correctly. With our software, we monitor and compare the actual actions of the poultry grower to the standard ones and signal if anything goes wrong.”
“Seventy per cent of the cost of raising a chicken is made up of the feed, so when waste is decreased the actual cost also decreases. The same goes for the water, medicine, and vaccinations used.”
Improving these things also improves the rate of production and the quality of the poultry and saves on the energy used to heat or cool the places the chickens are raised in.
The company has cooperated with poultry experts from countries like New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, and the Netherlands, recording different breeding methods on their software. The programme takes an average of three weeks to apply and comes in Arabic, English, French, and German versions.
It has been working in Mansoura, Daqahliya, Ismailia, Cairo, and Minya in Egypt and also cooperating with poultry producers in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Plans are afoot to work with others in Morocco.
“Our software is mostly used by integrated companies that have more than one phase of production, though others who specialise in one phase also use it,” Al-Tazi said, noting that the company also provides consultancy services to governments to help them to improve their poultry industries.
“They give us information about their poultry breeders, and we are able through our software to predict production rates and forecast any problems. This helps the authorities to make decisions about probable decreases or increases in production.”
In Egypt, the company has signed an agreement with the PPU with a view to evaluating and then improving production. “First, we are going to survey the capacities of poultry producers and map their locations. Then, we will ask the poultry farmers to fill in their production information in a separate programme, giving the PPU a clear vision to make decisions.”
The information will only be available to the PPU, but there will also be a smaller application for individual poultry farmers.
“At the moment, Egypt imports corn and soya beans to feed its chickens. An alternative is oats, which are also imported. This is a main problem in the poultry sector,” Al-Tazi said, adding that other suggested alternatives do not have the same nutrients as the regular feed.
“The biggest problem we face is the lack of awareness among poultry producers about the importance of the digital transition and people using digital solutions to decrease waste and increase production.”
“To solve this problem, we are working with a soya-exporting company based in the US, the ministry of agriculture, and the Faculty of Agriculture at Cairo University to raise the awareness of poultry producers on using digital methods in raising poultry,” she concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 November, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.