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Sarawak caught in a chicken-egg dilemma?

Chicken meat appears to be still in supply, but wet markets and supermarkets are struggling with a shortage of eggs.

Nur Shazreena Ali
3 minute read
A sign at a mart in Sarawak informs customers that they are limited to one tray of eggs each.
A sign at a mart in Sarawak informs customers that they are limited to one tray of eggs each.

As the chicken industry in the peninsula works towards stabilising supplies on the back of an export ban to address domestic shortages, over in Sarawak, players are struggling with a slightly different issue: an apparent lack of eggs.

While demand for chicken meat went up during the recent festive season, supplies remain adequate throughout most of the state.

At wet markets and supermarkets in the capital city of Kuching, though, eggs have become a scarce commodity with some operators even imposing a limit on the amount of eggs customers can buy.

At CCK Freshmart in Medan Niaga Satok, there are no chicken eggs whatsoever left on the shelves.

While some are stockpiled at the back, these are being reserved for customers who made bookings ahead of time.

“Those eggs are for our customers who booked with us yesterday,” a worker named Rosli told MalaysiaNow.

“Now, customers have to make reservations to buy chicken eggs because we don’t have enough stock.”

Here, deliveries are made three times a week, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. If customers are late in reserving their orders, they must wait until fresh stock comes in the following week.

Pricey eggs

As supply dips, egg prices have risen. One tray of Grade A eggs which used to cost RM14 now goes for about RM17.50. Grade B eggs meanwhile are going for RM12.90 per tray.

At Upwell Supermarket, only Grade A eggs are available. These are being sold for between RM18.90 and RM19.90 per tray.

There is also a limit to how much customers can purchase at any given time: just one tray.

A worker told MalaysiaNow that the supermarket had to impose restrictions to ensure that there is enough to go around.

“Last week, the supply ran out quickly due to some customers, mostly those who make kek lapis,” she said, referring to the layer cake popular in the state.

“They buy up to five trays per person, and then the supply runs out.”

Adding that it is not easy to replenish egg supplies anymore, the worker said customers would sometimes have to wait a week for new stock to arrive.

No hens, no eggs

John Frederick, a chicken poultry breeder from Kuching, attributes the shortage of eggs to the high demand for chicken meat during the recent Hari Raya and Gawai Dayak celebrations.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said many breeders like himself had oversupplied their laying hens to the market in order to meet the demand for chicken meat.

“The reopening of the state border and the back-to-back festivities saw a huge demand in the wet market, especially for chicken,” he said.

“I had to reduce the flock size of my laying hens to meet the demand.”

This left a huge dent in his supply chain for the production of eggs.

“Fewer laying hens for breeding at the farm means fewer eggs are produced,” Frederick said.

To produce a consistent number of eggs, there must be more hens than roosters. At the moment, though, it is the other way around.

“We need more hens to reach a stable level of egg production,” Frederick said.

Once the new flocks of hens start laying, he added, the supply of eggs will stabilise.

“I expect egg production to go back to normal in July or August,” he said.

But even if supply stabilises, chicken breeders must still bear the soaring transportation costs for imported feed.

Such disruptions, combined, have affected the production of eggs in general, Frederick said.

“To produce eggs is not difficult, but the process takes time. It takes months of planning to organise a chicken hatch date, from the time the chicken emerges from its egg.

“The cycle must be managed effectively and efficiently so that the production will see a maximum output. But of course, there are many factors that influence egg production during the production cycle.”

He said the rising cost of feed had put pressure on local breeders, some of whom might have decided to scale down their operations.

“I think Malaysia needs to start cultivating its own corn now,” he added.