National

Coronavirus clips wings of Akita's famed Hinai chicken breeders

KYODO

Akita Prefecture residents have been stepping up efforts to boost sales of high-quality local chicken as breeders struggle to keep their businesses afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

The falling sales of Hinai chicken, an Akita specialty, is a reflection of fewer consumers dining out in Akita and the rest of the country since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a nationwide state of emergency last month to curb a further increase in infections.

Akita Prefecture has only had a fraction of the cases seen in Japan’s virus hotspots like Tokyo and Osaka, but the sales slump is so severe that a breeder in Odate, a major production site for Hinai chicken, said he cannot see how the situation will improve.

“I’m just worried,” said Koji Takahashi, 60, who breeds 10,000 chickens a year.

Hinai chicken is said to be one of three delicious breeds of Japanese poultry, along with Satsuma chicken from Kagoshima Prefecture and Nagoya Cochin from Aichi Prefecture.

Breeders say it is difficult to sell the product at a reduced price because the feeding period for Hinai chickens lasts about 150 days — four times longer than that of other chickens bred for meat.

Breeders have no choice but to cut production because three major distributors had a total stock of about 80 tons of the chicken at the end of March, four times higher than a year earlier.

The Akita Prefectural Government has earmarked ¥55.19 million in a supplementary budget for fiscal 2020 to help increase consumption of Hinai chicken.

The outlay will increase the use of the chicken in school lunches, as well as meals in company cafeterias and facilities for the elderly.

“(Hinai chicken) might vanish unless we take action,” an Akita official said.

Beyond the fiscal measure, the private sector has also played a part in soliciting funds to preserve Hinai chicken.

An Akita tourism promotion group achieved its goal of collecting ¥1 million in just two days after launching a crowdfunding project for Hinai chicken in April.

With donors receiving gifts containing chicken meat in exchange for each ¥10,000 contributed, the initiative has raised more than ¥5 million so far, according to the project’s website.

A group of local businesspeople launched a delivery service for roast chicken in Odate last month.

Including chicken shipped outside the prefecture, they sold a total of 495 chickens priced at ¥5,000 each over five operating days.

Speaking at a meeting in mid-April, Hinai chicken breeders and Akita government officials affirmed close coordination in overcoming the challenges posed by the coronavirus.

“We have a history that our seniors have built with their hard work,” Takahashi said. “We cannot bring it to an end at this point.”

With his April 7 declaration of a state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka and five other prefectures over the pneumonia-causing virus, Abe allowed the seven prefectural governors to urge residents to stay at home and instruct businesses, schools and facilities to suspend operations.

Abe expanded the declaration to the rest of the country on April 16. The declaration has since been extended until the end of May.

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