Figures highlight the breakneck speed at which the chicken industry in China is expanding – from 3bn birds in 2007 to 7bn by 2017.

Speaking at the Agra Informa World Poultry 2008 Conference in London, Mark Han, chairman DaChan Food Asia said China was far from self-sufficient, hence the high level of imports. But the rate at which imports of grandparent broiler stock was rising indicated that it was doing something about it – up 60% in 2007 on 2004.

By 2015 the number of 100,000 or more bird controlled-environment buildings was expected to double from 500 in 2005.

“Farms in China are often too small and not profitable, with much price fluctuation. There is also a lack of rural investment and bank financing,” said Mr Han, whose firm produces in a year 2.7m tonnes of feed, processes 200m chickens, runs 100 restaurants and has special deals with KFC and McDonald’s in China and 7-Eleven in Japan.

Jose Augusto Lima de Sa, director of international markets at Sadia, had a lengthy list of reasons why China’s expansion plans might not materialise. It didn’t have enough water, it didn’t grow soya beans or corn (maize) and too much of the country was desert, at 25%.

Asia and Africa represented 73% of total world population, but had only 47% of total world water availability. The Americas, on the other hand, represented only 14% of total population and held 41% of total water availability.

Much of Asia no longer had enough space while Brazil held morethan 80% of available land, excluding the rainforests, which had not been touched in expanding the poultry industry, he said. No trees had to die to build Brazil’s poultry sector.

Russia’s long and rocky road to self-sufficiency could also end in disappointment judging by a presentation by Naum Babaev of Russian producer group Raevka. Production was plagued by performance levels well short of EU standards because of imperfect technology, incompetent consolidation, too few trained professionals and a shortage of investment, he claimed.