KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysian government's move to stabilise the supply of chicken has eased the domestic shortage, but has not spelled an end to consumers' woes as prices continue their spike.
Chicken rice seller Nasruna Rahmat, 47, said she is paying RM2 (63 Singapore cents) per kg more now, compared with in April when she paid RM8.10 per kg.
"Yes, supply is back to normal, but the bulk price has gone up to RM10.10 per kg now," she told The Straits Times.
"We have no choice but to readjust our (chicken rice) price to RM6.50 per serving, it was previously RM6. We received so much flak for this but we don't have a choice."
Earlier this month, the Malaysian government announced it was setting up a stockpile of whole chickens as one of the short-term measures in tackling food supply shortages and price hikes.
The first shipment, a container containing 21 tonnes of chicken, arrived on Saturday (June 18), while the next batch is set to arrive on Monday.
Malaysia consumes almost 3,800 metric tonnes of chicken a day.
Imported livestock feed - whose prices have increased by some 70 per cent since the war in Ukraine started - is the main factor driving up local chicken production costs, especially with the heavily weakened ringgit. This led to some farmers stopping production in the past months, impacting supply that, in turn, drove chicken prices up.
The government said it will simplify import procedures on four commodities - soya bean, wheat, corn and livestock feed - by deferring permit fees and creating a priority lane for these goods until the supply and price of chicken return to normal.
The authorities will expedite the processing of applications for import licences for livestock feed, by providing interim approvals from July 1 - cutting down a 30- to 90-day process to seven days. This move is expected to benefit 380 importers of livestock feed.
A special exemption will also be given for the recruitment of foreign workers in the chicken-breeding industry amid a labour shortage, to help them scale up production.
While creating a stockpile may help ensure a steady supply of chicken, some hawkers believe they would still have to pay a "ridiculous amount" for chicken.
Ms Nasruna, who runs a stall at a highway rest stop in Seremban selling cooked dishes served with rice and chicken rice, said she has been warned by her supplier that chicken prices will continue to increase in the near future due to import costs.
"A lot of businesses had to close down when the price hiked up too much, so suppliers lost out, too. This creates a great impact on small business operators like me who rely on these suppliers - this can lead to the price going higher and higher with time," she said.
Malaysia's chicken supply first started shrinking in February, forcing the government to impose an export ban on whole chickens in June, until production and prices stabilise.
As domestic supply showed signs of improvement, the ban was partially lifted on June 14, with Singapore poultry producers and importers allowed to bring in live kampung chickens from across the Causeway.
However, the fluctuation in prices has left many industry players out of business and consumers in dilemma.
Hawker Asmidar Ilyas said: "I'm very glad that we (sellers) no longer have to deal with shortages; we no longer have to close our shops because we have no chicken to serve to our customers.
"But the import costs borne by our suppliers have resulted in the prices being very unstable. I don't know if I should feel glad because either way, it seems like we're still losing."
Housewife Jocelin Lim said: "These days, I don't really buy chicken since it's too expensive, so my family is adding more protein into our diet from other sources like tempeh, tofu and chickpeas.
"Still not cheap, but it helps with our grocery budget."
The government will cease giving subsidies to chicken breeders from July 1 with the lifting of a price cap it had imposed in February. Instead, it will channel aid directly to the public to mitigate the hike in chicken prices.
Details of the aid have not been announced, but former Treasury secretary-general Mohd Sheriff Kassim has called for income-based subsidies "to put money directly into the hands of those who need help the most".