Poultry industry still reeling from bird flu

The poultry industry in Bangladesh has yet to rebound from an outbreak of bird flu in 2007 that closed two-thirds of the country’s 150,000 related businesses and left half of the five million people who earned their income from it unemployed.

“Because of the inaction of the government, the industry is now struggling to survive,” said Syed Abu Siddique, president of Bangladesh Poultry Industries Association. The government surveillance and compensation programme for affected farmers is not enough, he alleged.

“Farmers often do not get the compensation, or get it [late] and face hassles to get it, resulting [in them] often selling the sick chicken in the markets, which is spreading the disease… and also threatening the public health.”

Since 2008, farmers forced to kill their birds due to suspected H5N1 infections are paid anywhere from 49 US cents for baby chicks to more than US$2 for older birds.

S M Nazrul Islam, the director of government’s Avian Influenza Preparedness and Response Project and a senior official of Department of Livestock Services, told IRIN the government is carrying out the programmes as best it can. “We are doing strong surveillance, with our full effort to protect the industry, and every farmer gets the compensation if chickens on their farm are detected [with] bird flu.”

Bird flu is still a threat to health and business said Mat Yamage, senior technical coordinator and team leader at the Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Bangladesh. “Stronger action is needed now to protect Bangladesh’s critical poultry industry.”

About 2.3 million chickens have been culled as a result of 550 outbreaks since 2007. There were 171 outbreaks in 2011, with 21 so far in 2012. The most deadly year was 2008, with 226 outbreaks, according to the government’s Department of Livestock Services.

“In terms of the number of outbreaks the situation is improving, but we suspect many cases are unreported and the disease situation remains the same as it was the year before [2011],” Yamage said.

There have been no reported human deaths linked to bird flu, which was first detected in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, in March 2007. The first bird-to-human infection was reported in May 2008, and three cases were reported in March 2012.

Lives and livelihoods

Tipu Sultan, a poultry farmer in Manikgong District, 70km northwest of Dhaka, lost his business after only two years. “The beginning was not bad. I could manage living with the money I was earning from the poultry farm,” he told IRIN. But most of his 7,500 birds had to be culled during an outbreak in 2011, which shut down his farm.

In a country where 54 percent of children under the age of five lack life-saving nutrients, poultry products have long been considered one of the cheapest sources of protein.

But smaller domestic supplies have contributed to a price increase from 27 US cents for four eggs in August 2011 to 42 US cents a year later, while the price of chicken has gone up 13 percent to US$2 per kilogramme in the same period, according to the government.

Industry experts worry that the country may go from meeting egg and chicken demands domestically to relying on imports, as it already does for cereals.

Yamage said improving public awareness, and bio-security on small farms - the measures farmers take to protect their animals from disease, or prevent an infection from spreading if it does break out, including quarantining sick animals, decontaminating equipment, and killing rodents - could help restart the poultry industry in Bangladesh.

“In some big farms, the bio-security is good, but the… [small-scale] farms do not have strong bio-security,” said Yamage. “We recommend closing down shops [that sell chicken] a day in week for hygiene activities.”

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