Bird Flu Outbreak May Hurt Small Farmers Most

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)


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