Bird flu: Government, stakeholders strategise to combat disease

bird-fluThis doesn’t appear to be the best of time for poultry farmers, with the array of challenges plaguing the industry.From the soaring price of livestock feeds, which led to drastic drop in the profit margin; low patronage as a result of recession, forcing many to fold up; to the outbreak of a new strain of Avian influenza on birds that has just hit the industry, it appears their distress is endless.

The towering price of Maize and Soya beans-essential ingredients for the production of poultry and livestock feeds was attributed to the rising cost of feeds, with millers incurring huge losses on daily basis.

For instance, Layers Mash, which sold for N2, 650 few months back is now N3, 650, likewise Growers Mash earlier sold for N2, 800 is now N3, 450, forcing many to adopt the 1-0-1 or 1-0-0 formula.

 
As at August 2015, maize was sold at N30, 000 per metric tonne. It moved to N35, 000 in January 2016 and has rose to N255, 000 plus in the last quarter of 2016, a development that caused farmers sleepless nights, and also prompted desperate search for maize’s substitute by various stakeholders.

It was at a time when they are getting adapted to the situation on ground that they were dealt a deadly blow with the resurgence of the bird flu, which has allegedly forced many into serious debts.

Between 2015 and 2017, the disease has spread to 26 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), with not less than 3.5m birds curled, as a result of the virus. A lot of poultry farmers are out of business, some farmers in Plateau State reportedly died because of the huge losses incurred.

The bird flu virus was first reported in Nigeria in 2006, within two years the disease was completely eradicated and no one heard of it until 2015, when it was reported in live bird market in Lagos and some farms in Kano.

For now, the accusing finger is directly pointed at government, for failed efforts to curtail the spread of the virus since its resurgence in January 2015. Stakeholders, who have continued to express worry over government’s failure, accused policy makers of only paying lip service to its eradication.

The former President of Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association of Nigeria (NVMA), Dr. Edgar Amos Sunday, told The Guardian that the disease has persisted because government is not paying compensation, the reason why farmers are shying away from reporting the outbreak on their farms. “Farmers are not encouraged to report the disease because they know their farms would be destroyed and government would not pay compensation.”

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, who admitted government’s culpability during a stakeholders meeting recently in Abuja, said government was not able to be ahead of the disease and compensate affected farmers because of fund constraint.

He noted that such payments, earmarked as contingency funds for disaster management, were usually struck out by the budget office during presentation.

“Each time we present our budgets to the Budget Office, contingency funds for disaster management in the sector are usually struck out, so we are left at the mercies of development partners like the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Bank to pay compensation to affected poultry farmers. In 2015, the sum of 708m was paid to affected farmers; we would look for money to ensure that all compensations are paid to the farmers.”

He assured that government would work with relevant stakeholders in the industry to fashion out sustainable measures to prevent, control and eradicate the disease from the country within the shortest possible time.

Though the former NVMA president corroborated Ogbeh’s promise, he however, urged them to intensify efforts at ensuring they engage more personnel in active surveillance so that the disease is detected on time, and to also ensure that immediately the virus is detected on a farm, the entire birds are depopulated and government immediately pays compensation.

He added that government should also ensure that poultry farmers maintain biosecurity on their farms, a step he described as necessary measures to ensure that the disease does not come into farms. “Farmers must ensure that new birds are not introduced into the farm without knowing the sources, moreso, visitors, except veterinarians should not be allowed into the farms. Visitors should only be allowed after they have engaged in biosecurity measure such as dipping their foot in the solution mixture.”

The veterinary expert further stressed the need for government to have a robust reporting mechanism so that as soon as the virus is detected and reported, its officials immediately move in to confirm the virus and depopulate the farm after which compensation is paid. He said by so doing the virus can be quickly eradicated, saying it has been done in the past; and the same thing can be done now.

He lamented that veterinarians in the country are not actively engaged and number of veterinarians in government service are grossly inadequate to tackle the menace. However, he suggested that private veterinary doctors could be engaged to do the active surveillance as they were used in the past, which was very successful.

As a way of addressing the challenges bedeviling the sector, the minister said government in collaboration with major stakeholders in the poultry industry have provided reasonable quantities of disease containment materials, which includes disinfectants, Personnel Protective Equipment (PPEs), Plastic transport crates, sprayers, Syringes and needles, disposable gloves, colman boxes, Vacutainer tubes, sample bottles and swabs, to all states of the federation and the FCT.

Ogbeh said government has also reviewed the national Emergency Preparedness Plan (EPP) on avian influenza to address identified gaps in the implementation of disease control and preventive measures, adding that they have also enhanced the laboratory diagnostics results, created awareness and advocacy on the disease.

The Minister however, suggested that an insurance scheme be developed for the industry and a sustainable participatory and cost sharing compensation programme, such as restructuring compensation to only poultry farmers with flock sizes of 3,000 birds and below. But farmers with higher flock sizes would be encouraged to take up insurance scheme to protect their investment.

He also proposed that birds that are curled be compensated 75 per cent of their value with cost sharing between federal and state government at 50 and 25 per cent respectively, and at the current market value of the birds.

He also proposed effective regulation of the poultry industry along the entire value chain, adherence to good biosecurity measures and hygienic practices, stressing the full activation of the content of the Emergency Preparedness Plan document at all levels to regulate the poultry industry, enforce movement control and create awareness on the disease.

The Managing Director of the Nigerian Agricultural Insurance commission (NAIC), Mr. Binji Haliru said the commission might not have been able to handle insurance services for all the farmers across the 36 states, but it was able to pay N80m to some affected poultry farmers in Plateau State.

Binji pointed out that the commission was set up by the Federal Government to handle agriculture risks associated with natural disaster, pest and diseases, among other things and not to handle farmers who lost their farms to insurgency or Fulani Herdsmen crisis.

The Kaduna State Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr. Manzo Maigari, stressed the need to commercialise NAIC to effectively manage the payment of compensation to affected farmers and also ensure that agricultural disasters are fully covered.

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