Counting our chickens

Agricultural GDP is underestimated due to inaccurate non-cereal data.

It started with a mundane question: what is the chicken population in India? There are glaring inconsistencies in the available data. The National Sample Survey Organisation's (NSSO's) surveys show a 20 per cent annual growth of chicken consumption between 2005 and 2010. But according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the production of chicken meat only rose 10 per cent a year during the same period. The FAO figure was still higher than the 7 per cent reported by the animal husbandry department — whose data feeds into the GDP calculations. So we have three different reported growth rates for chicken meat production, and no idea which is correct.

We are not counting chickens to bore you to sleep. Poultry farming, in addition to providing an affordable source of nutrition, could be creating close to a million jobs a year. The arithmetic is surprisingly simple: as per the GDP data, India consumed about Rs 30,400 crore worth of chicken in 2010. If demand was rising at 12 per cent a year, and chicken prices have risen by about 14 per cent every year, the consumption this financial year should be Rs 80,000 crore. This implies there will be Rs 17,000 crore of additional sales just this year. So, across the value chain — that is, feed producers, hatcheries and poultry farmers — more than a million additional people can earn around Rs 250 per working day. If the growth rate of demand were higher, at say 15 to 20 per cent a year, 1.5 to 2 million new jobs would have been created at the same income per day. These growth rates do matter.

Take buffaloes, for example. India exported 1.1 million tonnes of buffalo meat last year to become the largest beef exporter in the world. Buffalo meat exports are expected to grow another 20 per cent this year, which will translate into nearly 13 million buffaloes. This is where the buffalo arithmetic started to confound us. According to the 2007 livestock census, India had 105 million buffaloes, of which 85 million were female and bull calves (either too young to breed or lactating or expecting). One wonders where the buffalo meat came from. If the 2 per cent annual buffalo population growth rate as given in the national accounts was correct, by now we should have run out of them.

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