A forty percent plus increase in price of a food commodity may not seem like a lot at a time when the general inflation index is in mid-twenties. But consider this: between March and October 2022, petrol prices in the country have increased by just Rs75 per liter. In comparison, national average farm egg prices have escalated by Rs115 per dozen during the same period!

In fact, over the past 7 odd months, farm egg prices in Punjab have more than doubled, going from under Rs125 to Rs250 per dozen just last week. This is fascinating as it has come at a time when the broiler chicken (live) market is behaving particularly well, staying rangebound under Rs300 per kg nationally since June 2022.

To be fair, the domestic live broiler chicken market is probably one of the few food commodities that come close to behaving like a competitive market, albeit an imperfect one. It witnesses several seasonal slumps in consumer prices – when retail level prices crash overnight such as with the beginning of monsoon, Eid-ul-Adha, or very low temperatures during winters/flu season. Similarly, prices skyrocket during peak demand, whether in Ramzan or post Eid ul Fitr among others. Demand also adjusts remarkably quickly to supply side pressures, whether caused by rising feed prices or a surge in prices of day-old-chicks.

Historically, farm egg prices have behaved in a similar fashion as well. Table eggs price, for example, seasonally crashes during summer vacations, when school going age kids are at home. Or, during peak summer when consumers generally avoid eggs. In contrast, prices rise near calendar year end, especially with the onset of winters.

Although different pull and push factors drive the seasonal dips and peaks in demand of farm eggs and broiler chicken, there is one thing that prices of neither commodities usually do: rise and rise, endlessly. Except that’s what farm eggs prices seem to be doing, with their 34-week upward trending streak, especially in Punjab.

Some clue was found in this newspaper last week, with an appeal from Pakistan Poultry Association, claiming that soybean cargoes are stranded at ports for several weeks now, creating an artificial shortage of this essential poultry feed component in the country. Although PPA’s appeal foresees an acute shortage of both poultry eggs and meat in the country if the cargo isn’t released, broiler prices don’t seem to be indicating any turmoil so far.

However, the relentless rise in farm eggs prices is certainly alarming, given that they are probably the cheapest source of protein for the masses. This is especially significant given the maddening rise in prices of imported pulses and lentil, largely an outcome of the massive depreciation in currency value during 2022.

Whatever the cause of the skyrocketing farm egg prices, it warrants both investigation and immediate redressal by authorities. Pakistan is already in the throes of a grain shortfall, in some part due to forces of nature beyond the control of any government or administration. However, if this turns into a full-blown nutritional crisis in coming weeks, the federal government will have no one but itself to blame.