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Chicken farmers in Malaysia not raising output until end of export ban is confirmed

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Malaysian chicken farmers said they are not ramping up production for export to Singapore until they get more clarity on when the existing export ban would be lifted.

Speaking to The Straits Times on the condition of anonymity, they added that they are afraid the ban would be extended again, leaving them with a surplus and losses.

This means that Singapore may not immediately be able to get a full supply of fresh chicken from Malaysia when the prohibition is eventually lifted.

Malaysia banned exports on June 1 due to a shortage in domestic supply. The ban was supposed to be lifted in July, but it was delayed to August and then moved to October, with no clear end date in sight.

"We've been kept in the dark, and have no idea what is going to happen and when," said one farmer, who caters mostly for overseas sales. "Some of us have lost faith in these promises from the government, and many of us are already thinking of how to move our operations to Indonesia."

The Singapore Food Agency gave approval for Indonesia to export frozen, chilled and processed chicken to Singapore in June.

Indonesia has since been looking at setting up farms in Batam to export fresh chicken to Singapore.

Malaysian farms are required to get approval from the country's Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industries before resuming export to Singapore.

Farmers raised production in anticipation of the lifting of the ban in July and August. But their hopes were dashed, and the surplus was sold at a loss.

Mr Lau Ka Leng, secretary of the Johor Poultry Breeders Association, said farmers looking to resume export are now more cautious.

"This time round, they are waiting for a more definite date before doing anything."

There are 115 chicken farms in Malaysia that are approved by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) to export live chickens to the Republic. Of these, 91 are in Johor.

Mr Lau said the cost price for 1kg of chicken was about RM6.50 (S$2), while the selling price was RM5.80.

He explained that farmers have been able to survive because the deficit was made up for by grants from the government. But the farms geared mainly for exports did not get the grants.

Mr Lau said the current situation would likely result in Singapore getting a full supply of fresh chicken only about a month after the ban is lifted, as it takes about 30 days for a chicken to grow to full size.

"The supply in Malaysia is now 116 per cent of the domestic demand," he said. "The export market to Singapore would take up only 5 per cent, so we actually have enough chicken to go around."

But while there is a surplus, many of the farms are not approved by the SFA, and would not be able to export to Singapore when the ban is lifted.

Mr Lau hopes the government will engage the chicken industry more closely.

"As long as the (Malaysian) government gives us a definite date for exports to resume, we can work together, also with the Singapore Government, to restore the supply," he said.

But many of the other farmers told ST they are less optimistic.

One said they are afraid the market share in Singapore has already been lost. "If this goes on, Singaporeans will find other sources of fresh chicken or stick with frozen chicken," he added.

"I'm also afraid the politicians will politicise this issue and make us out to be the bad people in the upcoming elections."