CAIRO: As panic spreads about the arrival of bird flu, Egyptian poultry companies are scrambling to deal with the crisis.
The poultry business was already affected prior to the government s announcement of the first cases of the virus last week. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, consumption of poultry had declined by 60 percent last month as a result of rumors of the spread of the virus.
Poultry is a substantial business in Egypt, employing some 2 million people and with over LE 16 billion invested in the industry, according to Al-Alam Al-Youm newspaper.
The government also estimates that direct losses as a result of the virus will amount to approximately LE 1.7 billion to LE 2.7 billion. This estimate, however, understates the real impact of the crises, according to Magdy Sobhy, an economist with the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
Sobhy explains that the government s figures are based solely on the formal poultry sector. Several rural communities areas rear chickens for their own needs, which contributes to the livelihood of many individuals and is not included in formal estimates.
The government s strategy to support the poultry industry through the crisis is as yet unclear. However, Awaida Foad, president of the state-owned Principal Bank for Development and Agricultural Credit, told Al-Alam Al-Youm that his bank will suspend interest on debt to poultry farms as well as penalties on late payments and administrative fees.
In an attempt to control the spread of the virus, the Middle East News Agency reports that the Ministry of Agriculture has banned the transport of live poultry within the country for two weeks.
The Ministry of Environment, in coordination with the respective governorates, has also set up 53 locations for the sanitary destruction of livestock, Al-Akhbar newspaper reports.
Saudi Arabia also suggested yesterday that it will ban the import of poultry from Egypt. Our policy is to ban imports of birds and poultry from any country where cases of bird flu have been detected, an official of Saudi Arabia s Ministry of Agriculture said to Arab News. We have stopped importing from Asian countries with the exception of a few companies that have been proven to be disease-free.
Such bans, however, are unlikely to have a substantial impact on the domestic poultry industry. Sobhy explains that most poultry production is for domestic use, and that exports make up a limited proportion of output.