Lhakpa Quendren | Sarpang

A decade ago, the prospect of poultry farming drew many farmers to Sarpang, including Santosh Subba. His ambitions of achievement, however, were shortly dashed.

Santosh, a young poultry farmer from Shompangkha Gewog, embarked on his poultry farming venture in 2015 after returning home from the Middle East, where he had worked after graduating from India in 2011. However, in just two months, the number of chickens on his farm dwindled from around 4,000 to a mere 1,200. Today, Santosh finds himself preparing for the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

“If I achieve good results, I will have to abandon the business. We feel hopeless continuing the farm, and nearly everyone here is disheartened,” Santosh said, pointing to a lack of policy support for poultry farmers.

According to Santosh, at least five young poultry farmers from Shompangkha alone have chosen to leave for Australia. “Some left to pursue higher education, while others departed as dependents. They abandoned the business after their farms were impacted by contaminated feed. Some had to sell their land to repay loans.”

What was once a thriving industry now faces numerous challenges, with many poultry farms shutting down and farmers on the brink of giving up due to the import of eggs from India.

Some farmers are currently awaiting chicks from Tamil Nadu in India, as the National Poultry Development Centre (NPDC) in Sarpang recently halted its supply for three months due to an outbreak of Infectious Bursal Disease (IBD), which resulted in the death of thousands of birds in the area.

Thakhur Prashad Homagain, chairperson of the Sarpang Layer Cooperative from Shompangkha, said that the number of registered members dropped from 108 to 65 approximately four months ago. “However, many of them are nonoperational, while others have shifted from commercial farming to self-consumption.”

Thakhur Prashad initiated his farm in 2014 but closed it four months ago due to substantial losses. “I used to have around 11,000 chickens, but now there are only 100 left. We are helpless,” he said.

“We invested all our savings and took out significant loans from banks to start poultry businesses. With no business prospects, our young farmers have been left with no option but to go abroad,” he added.

Thakhur Prashad said that he had sold 6 acres of land to repay loans and debts incurred from his poultry farm. “Yet, I haven’t cleared everything. I spent 4.5 million on constructing three farms on 1 acre of land. I will never consider reopening the farm.”

Frustrated poultry farmers are calling on the government to address feed price regulations in the market to reduce the cost of eggs. They argue that the high cost of feed drives up the price of local eggs, while imported eggs from India are cheaper due to lower feed prices.

“When the price for a 50 kg bag of feed in India was Nu 1,400, the price in Bhutan was Nu 2,275,” said another farmer.

Mohan Rai from Gakiling Gewog closed his farm two years ago, saying that poultry farming proved to be a challenging business. “I had around 7,000 chickens and incurred a loss of Nu 2.5 million.”

“The labor shortage is also a contributing factor. Poultry farms are not allowed to hire Indian labourers, and Bhutanese employees do not stay for long. They leave the farm unexpectedly, making it even more difficult,” he said.

However, for the remaining poultry farmers, it is currently a profitable period. The current egg prices in Sarpang range from Nu 2,200 to Nu 2,500 per carton.

Padam Lal Khatri in Lharing weekly transports 50 to 80 cartons of eggs to Thimphu each week and earns over Nu 25,000 in profit. “I am unable to meet the demand from my clients. The price has increased as we are recovering from the losses incurred due to higher feed prices. The price may continue to rise for one or two months.”