Namakkal district in Tamil Nadu is perhaps one of the top egg and poultry producers in the country if not in South East Asia as a whole. It has long been hailed as the “Egg Capital” of the country. Its thriving poultry industry has been a major source of income for the local communities, contributing significantly to the district’s economy. However, in recent years, Namakkal has faced a daunting challenge that has crippled its egg production—the scarcity of water.  The district, like many other regions in Tamil Nadu, has been grappling with severe water scarcity. With erratic rainfall and depleting groundwater reserves, farmers have struggled to irrigate their fields and sustain their livestock. The poultry sector, a lifeline for the region, has not been spared the crippling effects of the water crisis.

Water shortage has curbed production since 2020. That year the production was cut by 15 per cent; in 2021 and 2022 the production was cut by 20 to 22 per cent. This year the industry is facing its worst water crisis, with production plummeting by 30 per cent. As a result the price of eggs has skyrocketed across the southern states with a 20 per cent hike.

The decline in Egg Production:
According to the data from the Namakkal Poultry Farmers’ Association, egg production in the district has witnessed a significant decline of over 30% in the past three years. In 2020, Namakkal produced approximately 3.5 billion eggs, a stark drop from the previous years. Water scarcity has directly impacted the health and productivity of the hens, leading to reduced egg-laying capacity.

“Due to the water scarcity, we have cut down the production — a large production line means more water needed to maintain the health of the layer hens. Each enclosure of 5,000 chickens needs at least 1000 litres of water every day and one can imagine for a city that has 1.3 billion chicks, what could be the volume of water,” an association functionary says.

Namakkal has faced a daunting challenge that has crippled its egg production—the scarcity of water

Govindan Nadar a poultry farmer in Namakkal, shares his distressing experience. “Water scarcity has pushed us to the brink. Our hens are not getting enough water to drink, and it directly affects their egg production. We used to collect an average of 10,000 eggs per day, but now it has plummeted to around 6,000. It’s a severe blow to our livelihoods.”

“We are forced to ration the water for the hens. They are not receiving adequate hydration, which affects their health and overall well-being. Moreover, the rising costs of alternative water sources, such as tankers, have further burdened us financially.” Mohammad Mustafa, an egg aggregator, told Inmathi.

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In terms of commercial value and the reach of the market, the Namakkal egg producers serve four states —Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Goa and parts of Telangana. Eggs from Namakkal are also exported to Sri Lanka and the Gulf countries. The total production is to the tune of 5-6 crore eggs on a typical day, and sometimes peaks at 8 crore per day closer to Christmas and the new year season. There are over 1100 poultry farms in Namakkal alone producing approximately a third of India’s total production. It is the country’s second-largest producer after Andhra Pradesh which produces 7-8 crore eggs every day.

Since early June 2022, the price of eggs has steadily increased. On June 1, it was Rs 4.80, by June 9 it touched Rs 5.05. In 2023 it increased to Rs 5.35 on June 1 and then touched Rs 5.50 on June 9. This rise is not limited to Tamil Nadu alone. The prices had a multiplier effect, in cities like Bangalore, Mangalore, Ernakulum, Kannur, the going rate per piece has risen from Rs. 5.50 to 5.75 to Rs. 5.90. The cost of a dozen eggs has zoomed past the Rs 75 mark to hover in the range of Rs. 79-80 in many cities.

Fighting back
Despite the adversity, the resilient farmers and the local community have joined hands to combat the water crisis. The Namakkal Poultry Farmers’ Association, in collaboration with NGOs and government agencies, has initiated several water conservation projects. These projects aim to harvest rainwater, promote efficient irrigation techniques, and raise awareness about responsible water usage among farmers.

Solar-powered pumps have gained popularity among poultry farmers, as they provide a reliable source of energy

One such initiative is the construction of small reservoirs and check dams to collect rainwater during the monsoon season. These reservoirs ensure a sustainable water supply for the hens and the farmlands during periods of scarcity. Additionally, farmers are encouraged to implement drip irrigation systems that deliver water directly to the roots of plants, minimizing wastage.

Govt, tech support
Recognizing the severity of the water crisis, the government has also stepped in support the farmers in Namakkal. Financial aid and subsidies are provided to implement water conservation measures and adopt modern farming techniques. Furthermore, technological advancements have emerged as game-changers in the battle against water scarcity.

Solar-powered pumps have gained popularity among poultry farmers, as they provide a reliable source of energy for pumping water from reservoirs and wells. These pumps reduce dependence on traditional electricity sources, resulting in cost savings and sustainable energy consumption. Some farmers have also embraced sensor-based irrigation systems, which monitor soil moisture levels and optimize water usage accordingly.

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Impact and Positive Developments:
The concerted efforts of the community are gradually yielding positive results. By implementing water conservation practices, some farmers have managed to mitigate the decline in egg production. The use of drip irrigation systems and the creation of small reservoirs have significantly improved water management on farms.

Though challenges persist, there is renewed hope in Namakkal district. The success stories of farmers who have implemented water-saving techniques have inspired others to follow suit. Training programs and workshops are being organized to educate farmers about efficient water usage and modern farming practices. This collective effort has not only revived the egg production sector but has also instilled a sense of resilience and unity among the farming community.

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