Tit Sakhan’s husband Sanh Rann was devastated by the death of his wife, Cambodia’s first confirmed avian influenza fatality. He was also anxious about the complete loss of his stock of 50 chickens to disease.
“With the drought we could not harvest this year,” he said. “The chickens were the source of income for us to buy the things we need.”
While the risks to human health of avian influenza are great, the impact of an epidemic on Cambodia’s small household farms could be devastating. Health officials said that while Cambodia’s few commercial farms are secure, many poor families who depend on poultry to supplement their diets and income are still vulnerable.
Sorn San, director of the government’s Animal Health Investigation Center, said that the government would like to help small farms rehabilitate, but no funding exists to restock lost chickens.
“Maybe we can help the farms restock, but we cannot yet find funding,” he said. “Chickens are very expensive now.”
UN Food and Agriculture Organization administrator Bakhtal Boualan said last week that the French government donated $53,000 to restock small farms hit by bird flu, but little of the money has been distributed yet.
“The problem is that once bird flu is found, small farmers are reluctant to go into the poultry business again,” she said.
Sorn San said improving biosecurity and restocking are viable options but cash compensation is not.
“If we talk about compensation, then we have a big problem,” he said, citing difficulties faced in Thailand.
Thailand, according to media reports, has spent tens of millions of dollars compensating farmers. Its government officials have complained that poor monitoring has allowed farmers to receive money while still trying to sell sick chickens.
Suon Sothoeun, deputy director of Animal Health and Production, said that the potential economic impact of bird flu is one of the two main reasons the government is working hard to suppress it, the other being the impact to human health.
The focus now is on rapid action for small farmers.
“You can see that the outbreaks are just on the small farms. If you go to the commercial farm, they will not let you enter the premises. They now understand about biosecurity,” Suon Sothoeun said. “I think at the commercial farms we have no problem.”
Un Buntha, director of the Ministry of Commerce’s Domestic Trade department, said late last week that there is no large-scale chicken industry for bird flu to harm here.
“Cambodia has no export market for poultry because poultry production is deficient even for local consumers,” he said. “We have no export, but have more import of chicken, duck and eggs from Vietnam to fill local demand. Any disease won’t hurt the industry.”
At Cambodia’s largest egg-laying farm, the 30-hectare Soma Farm owned by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, precautions have been stepped up since the nation’s first bird flu death was confirmed.
Kong Thong, veterinarian at the 40,000-chicken Takeo establishment, said Sunday “now we are more careful and we spray disinfectant every week.”
(Additional reporting by Lor Chandara and Van Roeun)