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Bird Flu: Kerala Poultry Farmers Demand Better Compensation, Advanced Lab

Bird Flu: Kerala Poultry Farmers Demand Better Compensation, Advanced Lab

Chickens in a truck at a poultry market in Mumbai, June 1, 2015. Photo: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui/Files.

Kozhikode: Even as several states are trying to cope with the latest bird flu outbreak, duck farmers in Kerala – one of few states in the country where the disease has directly affected the poultry sector – are demanding better compensation and a regional laboratory to detect such epidemics early.

The state’s duck farmers have already incurred significant losses due to the outbreak.

In fact, the state government declared the outbreak to be a ‘state disaster’ after several thousand ducks succumbed. More than 69,000 poultry birds have been culled since.

According to the US Centres for Disease Control, “avian influenza A viruses are very contagious among birds and some of these viruses can sicken and even kill certain domesticated bird species including chickens, ducks and turkeys.”

In most states thus far, the disease has mainly affected migratory birds like wild geese, crows and peacock.

In Kerala, Haryana, Maharashtra and Punjab, however, there have been reports of the epidemic affecting poultry. In Haryana alone, 437,000 poultry birds have died. It’s possible for ducks to be infected without showing any outward signs of illness.

On January 6, the Kerala government announced compensation for duck farmers to the tune of Rs 200 each for ducks older than two months and Rs 100 each for younger ones.

But for many farmers, like Rajasekharan, the district president of the Duck Farmers’ Association in Alappuzha, this isn’t enough.

According to them, the present compensation amount was fixed in 2014. In that year the region experienced a similar outbreak, following which farm groups, MLAs and ministers had a consultation to determine the amount.

Samuel, a 69-year-old duck farmer in Alappuzha, in the seven years since, the feed price and labour costs have increased significantly, leaving the government’s offer inadequate in his view.

He has already lost 8,670 ducks thus far – 5,264 to the disease plus 2,806 more that had to be culled. He estimates his total loss as a result to amount to Rs 10 lakh.

According to Rajasekharan, the revised emolument should be 250 rupees for ducks older than two months and 150 rupees for younger ducks, plus a subsidy for duck feed.

Aside from this, the government’s decision to restrict compensation for dead birds alone hasn’t gone down well. Rajasekharan said those famers whose birds hadn’t died or hadn’t been culled won’t be able to see eggs or bird-meat in the near future.

Delayed detection problem

The farmers are looking for other kinds of changes as well. For example, Samuel said he wasn’t able to prepare as much as he would have liked against the outbreak because it couldn’t be detected on time.

He said he and the local veterinary authorities had to wait for results to come back “from Bhopal” – referring to the National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases (NIHSAD) there.

Rajasekharan agreed, saying farmers and local authorities couldn’t identify the disease on time because there was no well-equipped laboratory with similar capabilities in the region.

Like other states, Kerala depends on NIHSAD reports to confirm the presence or absence of various avian diseases. So the reports are often many days too late.

It was the same story with the latest outbreak. By the time NIHSAD confirmed it was avian influenza, the virus had killed hundreds of poultry birds in the state and left thousands more at risk.

Some senior veterinary officials in Kerala, like Dr Baby Joseph, the chief disease investigation officer in the state’s animal husbandry department, supported this demand.

“It usually takes 48 hours once we bring the samples to the lab,” Dr Joseph told The Wire Science. “Additional time is required for travelling to and from Bhopal.”

However, senior officials in the department, like its director Dr K.M. Dileep, have refuted the delay, although he didn’t explain further. State minister for animal husbandry K. Raju couldn’t be contacted for his comments on the poultry farmers’ complaints.

Muhammed Sabith is an independent journalist in Kozhikode, Kerala.

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