From Gambo S. Nababa, Kano
Despite the contribution of poultry farming in addressing unemployment, the sector is being threatened by the high cost of feed and periodic bird flu outbreak which usually comes with consequences too difficult for the poultry farmers to bear.
Experts said that the bird flu, also called Avian Influenza (AI) or H5N1, is a virus that primarily infects birds, but can also infect humans. The virus is often contracted by contact with sick birds.
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As of two months ago, according to statistics from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development published by the Daily Trust, this year’s reported flu reached 391, with 388,046 deaths across 86 local governments in 28 states.
Kano is one of the states where the disease has affected many poultry farms and sent thousands of farm owners and poultry workers out of business. It was gathered that in the last five months, 70 suspected cases were reported in the state out of which 45 were confirmed positive.
According to the Director of Veterinary Services at the State Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Dr Bala Bello, 285,052 birds in 17 local government areas were infected. The virus infected exotic birds, ostriches, geese, chickens, pigeons and guinea fowls in the state.
“This year’s flu has extremely attacked my birds,” said Muhammad Ado Panisau, a poultry farmer with over 8,000 birds spread on two farms at different locations in the state.
He lamented that at the beginning of the outbreak, the flu killed all birds on one of the farms, leaving behind 3300 out of the total 8500 birds. “The mortality reached a stage where we had to abandon all medications and resorted to supplications to Almighty Allah to spare the remaining birds,” he said.
Ado, who manages Muhammad Ado Panisau Poultry Enterprises with more than 15 other employees, added that the flu had become a seasonal disease as he lost 2500 birds to last year’s outbreak without any compensation from both the federal and the state governments. But the state government said it provided some funds last year to alleviate the impact on the farmers.
On his part, Alhaji Yusuf Dalo, a poultry farmer who lost 2300 exotic birds to the flu, complained that only one farm around his area had survived the current outbreak and there are more than 50 poultry farms in the area.
Dalo, who also lost 2600 birds to the flu last year without any assistance, said “even the state government that always collects tax from us did not provide any support,” adding that if the federal government withdrew the compensation, it would be difficult to control the outbreak in the country.
The Chairman of Poultry Farmers Association of Nigeria, Kano State Chapter, Umar Kibiya Usman, said poultry farmers are suffering, adding that whenever there was an epidemic and the control was minimal, it expanded to many places.
“Many farms are shutting down, businesses are folding up and some farms can no longer operate because the disease has already entered the farms and when it goes in, it clears the whole flock. There are over 45 farms in our record that have been affected from last year to date with over a million birds and that translated to millions or billions of Naira because there is job loss. People can no longer sell eggs, those selling frozen chicken are getting out of business as the supply is going down and the prices are spiking up,” he said.
Efforts towards controlling the outbreak
The Head of the Federal Veterinary Services of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Kano Office, Dr Yahaya Tanko, said at the moment there is a World Bank project called Regional Disease Surveillance System Enhancement (REDISE). Part of the focus of the project is to control such diseases like avian influenza that have the potential to be zoonotic in nature.
Dr Tanko said through the project, disinfectant spraying machines, motorized sprayers were given to the state, adding that, “We also trained farmers and veterinarians at various levels. Farmers are trained on how to use the machine mostly on a weekly basis.”
The state director of veterinary services, Dr Bello also said the state government provided some funds last year and chemicals were procured to control the spread of the disease.
“We assigned our men to live birds’ markets to disinfect everything around markets. Agrovet marketers are also assisting us by organizing symposiums to educate the farmers on the need to strictly adhere or put in place biosecurity measures in their farms,” Dr Bello said.
On its part, the state poultry farmers’ association said they organized seminars for poultry farmers on biosecurity. The chairman of the association said they had three seminars this year in collaboration with some feed millers and in conjunction with the state veterinary section, and they also visited affected farms that reported the outbreak.
“We have taken statistics and that have been submitted to the federal ministry of agriculture which is looking for a way to compensate the farmers and which we hope would happen because if that is not done, that would mean the end of some people in the business.”
The chairman also advised the farmers not to do it all themselves, saying, “Don’t be the owner of the farm, the doctor, the feed miller, because you want to maximize profit. No, allow professionals to help you run your business so that at the end of the day, it will be a win-win situation.”
However, live bird marketers and some poultry farmers are being accused of conniving to further spread the outbreak by selling the infected birds.
The state director of veterinary services, Dr Bello said, “We liaised with marketers at Sabon Gari, Janguza, Tarauni and many other markets to report any farmer that takes a large number of birds at once to the markets because the birds are likely to be infected but the marketers are not cooperating. They connived and sold infected birds and thereby further spread the outbreak.”
However, the Secretary of Live Birds’ Marketers at Sabon Gari Market, Muhammad Ya’u, said they could neither accept nor deny the allegation of selling infected birds in the markets.
He said the government depopulated birds on many farms in the past and some farmers were compensated while others did not get anything. “That is why now, once there is a sign of any disease, some poultry farmers in connivance with some bad ones amongst us, sell their birds rather than reporting to the government.”
Ya’u said a seminar was organized to educate them on the danger of trading the infected birds and that was why whenever they see signs of any disease, they report to the officials in the state.
Dr Tanko said bird flu had killed people in some countries, especially in Asia and even Egypt and there has been a positive case of avian influenza in some human beings in Nigeria, adding that it was not yet alarming, it had not reached the level that it could cause concern.
He said, “We collaborate with NCDC and Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital. Whenever we are going for control, we go as a team – the human medics and us. They take samples of the farmers and we take samples of the birds. In the course of all these samplings, anyone that is positive is noted. Our greatest fear is for the virus to mutate and become a human infection. Once it does, we are in trouble. It is going to be like COVID.”
‘Pay compensation to save the industry’
Daily Trust Saturday had reported that the present policy on bird flu compensation only considers resource-poor farmers with flock sizes of not more than 3000 birds at a cost-sharing formula of 50 per cent federal government and 25 per cent each for state government and affected farmers based on the prevailing market price of depopulated birds or destroyed items.
However, our correspondent gathered that the state government is yet to accept or understand the 25 per cent compensation expected from it based on the sharing formula.
The poultry farmers’ association chairman, Usman, said “If there is a disease like this and the government is not ready to pay compensation, people will decide not to report the cases. Government should at least verify the rightful people to be paid compensation, pay them so that at the end of the day, people will be reporting cases since they know somebody is there for them.”
On his part, Dr Tanko, Head of the Federal Veterinary Services in Kano, agreed that one of the major components that brought control of the disease spread was the payment of compensation.
He said “I think the minister was working towards that. Initially, the plan for compensation was thought of as some few states got their outbreak early last year. When the payment was about to commence, other states started to come up with their own claims.”
“A harmonized system of payment is now adopted and because of the harmonization, those that had problems earlier on are now suffering. We are also not happy because that is not the way to do it. The best is to compensate according to the outbreak and I think that is the policy the ministry is trying to adopt,” he said.