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Bird Flu Spreads in Nigeria as Wary Farmers Keep Infected Fowl

Posted by Bloomberg on 2006/02/27 | Views: 582 |

Bird Flu Spreads in Nigeria as Wary Farmers Keep Infected Fowl

Bird flu is spreading unreported in parts of Nigeria as farmers, mistrustful of the government's promise of compensation, are reluctant to inform authorities about outbreaks, a poultry producer group said.

Bird flu is spreading unreported in parts of Nigeria as farmers, mistrustful of the government's promise of compensation, are reluctant to inform authorities about outbreaks, a poultry producer group said.

Officials are culling diseased fowl and healthy flocks on neighboring farms to contain the virus that has spread to at least nine of Nigeria's 36 states since January. Some farmers aren't disclosing infected birds because killing them would remove their only source of income and because they are skeptical of getting government aid, said Auwalu Haruna, secretary of the Poultry Association of Nigeria.

``They say why do you trust these guys? Up to now, what have they done?'' Haruna said in a Feb. 25 interview in the northern city of Kano. ``The key to curbing this problem is for people to know their livelihoods are safe. If that's not done, people won't report.''

International aid organizations are counting on compensation payments being made this week to spur more culling in Africa's most-populous nation. Officials say the money is needed to help to stem the trade of infected poultry, an increasing concern after an initial outbreak was confirmed in domestic fowl in neighboring Niger today.

The spreading H5N1 strain of avian influenza in birds increases the risk of human infection and creates more opportunity for the virus to mutate into a pandemic form capable of killing millions of people.

Nigeria poses the most serious bird-flu concern because of the density of its domestic poultry and human populations, said Joseph Domenech, chief veterinary officer with the UN's Food & Agriculture Organization, in a Feb. 24 phone interview from Rome.

Difficult to Kill

Nigeria, which borders on Benin, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, has the equivalent of one fowl for each of its 140 million people. About 60 percent of the country's poultry are raised in backyards.

``It's very difficult to kill all the animals'' infected by the virus, Domenech said.

``People are afraid'' to report diseased birds without a guarantee of compensation, said Abdulsalami Nasidi, head of Nigeria's national health task force charged with coordinating efforts to halt the spread of the virus. ``They don't believe the government will do it. Once it's started, the reporting will happen,'' Nasidi said in a Feb. 24 interview in the capital Abuja.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, himself one of the country's largest poultry producers, announced in mid February a ``relief package to cushion expected losses by poultry farmers as a result of the compulsory extermination of birds infected by the flu virus.''

`Very Small' Compensation

The compensation amounts to 250 naira ($1.94) per chicken, 2,500 for each turkey and 20,000 naira for an ostrich destroyed in the avian-flu fight.

``It's very small,'' said Abdullahi Saidu, whose 28,000 chickens died in an outbreak a month ago in Kano state. ``A chicken costs about 1,000 naira. With that 250 per chicken, you cannot restock the farm. You can only stock maybe one quarter.''

Kano, the center of Nigeria's avian-flu outbreaks, is a major trading hub for people on the southwestern fringe of the Sahara Desert, including southern Niger, where an outbreak was confirmed by the World Organization for Animal Health today. The virus was found in domestic ducks in Magaria, one of the final towns in Niger on the trading route to Kano.

No Income

Saidu, 40, said he spent 15 years building his business, which he estimated was worth about 50 million naira ($388,000) before the avian flu attack. He's not had an income for a month and wonders how he will feed his four children and the 65 people who work for him.

``If the government assists us and gives us some grants, we can come back to business,'' he said. ``If they don't, we don't know how long God will keep us alive.''

The government is reviewing documentation to be satisfied that compensation payments will only be given to those who are eligible, said Bamidele Dada, Minister of State for Agriculture.

``We know that at this time of the year, normally we have all kinds of factors which can contribute to bird mortality -- Newcastle disease, heat stress and so on,'' he said in a Feb. 24 interview in Abuja. ``That is why the documentation, backed up by the analysis of our teams, is also being taken into account.''

Kidnapping, Riots

Government action is complicated by other concerns, including the militants who attacked oil facilities run by Royal Dutch Shell Plc's venture and kidnapped nine foreign oil workers. The Nigerian government also was distracted by violent demonstrations over cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad in which at least 16 people were killed earlier this month.

``You have a government that's thinking about riots, about the Niger Delta, about HIV/AIDS,'' said Victoria Kwakwa, a leading economist with the World Bank in Abuja. ``It's not going to be easy.''

Nigerian poultry farmers will receive their first batch of imported bird flu vaccine this week, giving them an additional weapon to prevent the virus's spread. One million doses of vaccine from Israel will arrive in the West African nation on March 1, according to the poultry association.

Minister's Farm

Delays in providing assistance to affected farmers risk dragging more people into poverty, Kwakwa said. The National Bureau of Statistics estimates 54 percent of Nigerians can't afford a food basket that would give them 2,900 calories a day.

``The consequences for individual farmers and for poverty are significant because you have smallholders for whom this is their major source of revenue,'' she said in a Feb. 24 interview. ``Time is of the essence. You need to do it quickly, because people's livelihoods are affected.''

Africa's first avian-flu outbreak was reported on Feb. 7 after about 45,000 birds died on a poultry farm owned by Sports Minister Saidu Balarabe Sambawa in Kaduna state.

``We, the farmers, believe that if this problem was identified on another person's farm, not a minister's farm, as you speak to me now, nothing would have been done,'' said Haruna of the poultry association. ``Generally in Africa, governments think they are doing their people a favor to do anything for them. They only respond to what is affecting them personally.''

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Comments (3)

Okfold(Sobe, Edo, Nigeria)says...

I want the meaning of female owan name Ekeke (Edo state)

Toluwalase Samuel Olufemi(Ijebu, Ogun, Nigeria)says...

Authority belongs to God, once He decrees it is final and binding

Ikponmwosa Osamede(Edo, Nigeria)says...

Your meaning of Osamede is wrong. Osamede means God has given me a crown