The Covid-19 pandemic impacted the poultry industry in the UAE in 2020, but now, we’re seeing signs of stability and recovery. Industry experts believe that by working together and embracing new opportunities, it could emerge far stronger.
According to a USDA GAINS report, in 2021, the UAE’s poultry production is forecast at 56,000 metric tons, a 12 per cent increase above the 2020 estimate due to higher demand for UAE chicken meat products and increasing government support. This year, the consumption is forecast to remain stable at 408,000 metric tons as the overall economy recovers from the crisis.
The focus is to ensure long-term UAE food security by increasing volume of local products...
“In the UAE, primary focus of the poultry industry through 2020 was to stabilise the supply chain of fresh meat and eggs due to the constant challenges of Covid-19 in 2020, carried to 2021,” says Willem van Walt Meijer, CEO, Al Ain Farms. “Further focus is to ensure long-term UAE food security by increasing volumes of locally produced products and supply, and leading to higher self-sufficiency. During the pandemic in-house consumption spiked due to more home cooking, both in meat and eggs.”
Poultry producers were impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic in the first quarter of 2020 as the production, which is highly reliant on immigrant labour, became disrupted as travel bans were imposed. However, in latter half of last year, UAE producers could benefit from a temporary increase in demand driven by lockdowns that forced families to remain home instead of travelling. “Poultry producers in the UAE could capture this temporary demand increase,” says Jeanette Kristensen Alhaider, General Manager, Al Rawdah. “At the moment, the poultry industry is focused on producing healthier chicken by improving feed and living conditions for livestock. On the external front, the industry battles high competition for imported products, especially from countries where the price of production is lower.”
As the import of frozen meats continues to dominate the larger portion of the meat and chicken category, a lot of the challenges and fears were brought in by the early onset of the pandemic. “This created a positive shift in consumer demand for locally produced fresh chicken and eggs,” says van Walt Meijer. “This was the space that our company, Al Ain Farms, has also benefited from by being operationally ready to produce a high-quality, locally raised chicken and eggs without any antibiotics, and no added hormones and to allow for no interruption of supply to meet the increased demand to the market.”
The challenges also opened opportunities in the poultry sector, accelerating awareness of the need for larger food security for the country and lesser reliance on import markets. “At the same time there is the need to better regulate the source and origin of products sold, due to multiple issues that can arise from violations of biosecurity and transferable diseases,” says van Walt Meijer. Kristensen Alhaider, says: “Some of the larger scale restaurants now find it more safe and manageable to deal with local producers than imported chicken, which poses good opportunities for local producers.”
Innovative solutions were also needed in all aspects of poultry farming to produce food necessary to meet demand. “The UAE still has a big opportunity to convert from frozen imports to fresh, locally produced chicken,” says van Walt Meijer. “In terms of supply of fresh chicken, no major challenges come to play when serving the local market, as it is a matter of optimisation and increasing production capacities, which local industry is capable of.”
He explains that further investments can be looked at with regard to the category overall, including frozen meat, where suitable land needs to be obtained for expansion. “A shift to modern production practice is required to drive efficiency and quality while removal and or reduction of usage of antibiotic across the chicken’s life cycle would be a first step towards that conversion.”
Al Ain Farms has highly automated operations, and while the pandemic peaked, it increased capacities to produce larger volumes of meat and eggs. “We ensured UAE food security through a period when international supply chains were severely interrupted,”says van Walt Meijer.
Al Rawdah Farms was also focussed on automation for a long time, but the company is currently moving even further in this direction. “We are using robots in certain functions to eliminate human contact,” says Kristensen Alhaider.