Sunday, February 10, 2008

Birds of Bengal

Bengali consumption habits can mitigate the economic loss..

In fact, for long poultry farming has been a ubiquitous phenomenon in Bengal, particularly in the rural hinterlands. The first reason for this has been that poultry farming does not require high investments and along with it has a decent capital output ratio – both the parameters go along well with the poor farmer families that inhabit rural Bengal.

It is on account of the same reasons that even the state government from time to time had provided them aid to start a small poultry farm. The second and a more potent reason for the same is the typical food habits of Bengalis, who had always been known for their rigorous non-vegetarian consumption habit. It is for these reasons that small poultry farms around in the rural set-up have always been sustainable and more economically viable.

In the given scenario the current outbreak of the deadly virus not just sends health alarms across the state but along with that it also sends even more alarming signals of the impending collapse of Bengal’s rural economy. And it is more so as the districts (Birbhum, South Dinajpur, Murshidabad, Nadia, Bardhaman, Bankura, Malda, Hooghly, Cooch Behar, Purulia, Howrah, South 24 Parganas and West Midnapore) which are currently under the effect of the deadly virus are inhabited by majority of the poor households.

So it is not surprising when regular reports are filtering out that the poor farmers are reluctant to hand over the birds for culling, as for most of the rural households in these districts these birds remain the sole source of income. Their collective reluctance also makes sense as they understand that the amount that is being paid as compensation (Rs 500 for each family plus Rs 40 for a country chicken, Rs 30 for a broiler and Rs 10 for a chick) is too meagre and cannot be sustained for long.

Though there isn’t any doubt that in the current scenario both the government at the state and the centre are trying to employ their best and only option to mitigate the crisis. But then it is imperative to realise that the crisis does not extend to just health alone but has a deepening impact on the socio-economic status of the farmer families.

Had there been an insurance cover for these birds, the scenario would have been different. As then the insurance cover could have taken care of the compensation and governments both at the state and the centre could have invested the money (now spent in compensation) in provisioning some alternative source of sustainable income for the affected families.

In the absence of any such cover and in the given scenario the only saviour is that all compulsive non-vegetarian Bengalis (news is already trickling down that Bengalis are very happy with the outbreak of bird flu in Bengal as the price of chicken has come down to Rs 30 and that of eggs has fallen to Rs 10, a dozen!!), who, once the crisis is arrested, by the virtue of their consumption habits would invariably aid to restore the rural economy of Bengal.


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