Researcher in veterinary public health and food safetyUniversity of Peradeniya
The livestock sector contributes 0.6% of Sri Lanka’s gross domestic product (GDP) and poultry accounts for 50% of livestock GDP. Contribution of the livestock sector to GDP from the agriculture sector has shown considerable growth in recent years and the potential of poultry production in particular to contribute further to Sri Lanka’s export revenue is seen as high.
Currently, poultry production is the only well-established animal husbandry sector in the country, which is self-sufficient in poultry products. Broiler hatching eggs and broiler meat are being exported to the Middle East and Maldives, and the industry aims to improve the quality of its products and target the European Union market.
However, though the quantity of poultry production has increased greatly, there is a need to improve the efficiency of poultry production and the quality of the products if the Sri Lankan egg and meat industry is to meet international quality standards and export revenue from the sector be realised.
Before the 1950s, chicken meat was relatively expensive and considered a delicacy by Sri Lankan consumers. However, with the development of the poultry sector, the price of chicken products has decreased in comparison to other animal-origin food sources.
As a result, the per capita availability of chicken has increased from 5kg in 2011 to 10kg in 2018, and the per capita availability of eggs reached 131 in 2018 compared to 81 in 2011. (Note that considerable quantities of chicken meat produced in Sri Lanka will be consumed by tourists or go for export and so official statistics refer to per capita availability rather than per capita consumption.)
Vertically integrated commercial companies play a significant role in the poultry industry. These set-ups own their grandparent stocks, parent stocks and commercial broiler operations, with processing plants and feed mills which enable them to have more financial and operational independence in the market.
However, small-scale, semi-intensive, free-range and extensive backyard systems also make a substantial contribution to livelihoods in rural communities and to household food security.
Land for livestock and agriculture is both limited by geography and expensive in Sri Lanka. Poultry farming has therefore always used intensification to increase the density of commercial poultry, with accompanying disease risk.
At the same time, backyard poultry and free-range chickens in villages are reared, with government programmes supporting these activities in low-income communities. Poor biosecurity and disease protection measures result in backyard and village chicken populations habouring poultry pathogens such as Newcastle disease virus and infectious bursal disease virus. These poultry pathogens, along with zoonotic pathogens and the emergence of antimicrobial resistance, represent a further threat to commercial poultry farming systems.
The Sri Lankan government has banned the importation and usage of antibiotic growth promoters for livestock production. There is a need though to conduct ongoing surveillance and monitoring of zoonotic and infectious diseases in poultry, as well as to adhere to stringent regulatory measures in importing grandparent and parent birds to prevent entry of zoonotic and infectious diseases.