Cambodian villagers are hiding poultry from avian influenza inspectors because they have not been properly informed that the government has agreed to replace each bird it culls in its effort to contain the disease, officials said Tuesday.
“People are still afraid and hide their poultry because they do not understand,” said Kao Phal, director of the Agriculture Ministry’s Animal Health and Production Department.
“People aren’t aware of the replacement process,” he said, explaining that the government will give healthy birds to farmers who have sick birds.
Kimoto Tsukasa of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization agreed that villagers are not aware that their chickens will be replaced. “I admit that our public awareness campaign is not what it should be,” he said.
The Agriculture Ministry is discussing cash compensations for farmers with sick chickens. The government, however, does not currently favor the policy of giving cash, which was tried temporarily in 2004, Kao Phal said. “During the bird flu outbreak in 2004, farmers could not sell their poultry in the markets. So they put non-bird-flu chickens with bird-flu chickens so they could get [cash] compensation from the Ministry,” he said.
Kimoto Tsukasa said the FAO and other donors would support a cash compensation policy if Cambodia decided on it, adding that additional compensation could have the effect of encouraging farmers to initiate government bird-flu inspections.
“I personally favor compensation, since farmers are so poor…but I do not blindly support cash compensation,” he said. “It is up to the Cambodian government to decide.”
He added that the FAO had on occasion in recent years bought up stocks of suspect poultry—officially for research purposes—to help local farmers.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay wrote a letter to Health Minister Nuth Sokhom on Friday urging the government to adopt a compensation policy in light of reports that Kampot province villagers were caught hiding sick chickens from inspectors.
“People kill sick poultry and sell it in the market,” Son Chhay said by telephone. “They are afraid they will lose money,” he said.