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Bird Flu is here again

ON Monday, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, revealed that over 3.5 million birds are currently infected by the  Avian influenza virus, also known as bird flu, in the country.

According to him, a new strain of the virus (H5N8), believed to be very pathogenic and more devastating to poultry species than the H5N1 currently circulating in the country, had been reported in Kano.

Speaking at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, during a consultative meeting with Commissioners of Agriculture, state Directors of Veterinary Services and major stakeholders in the poultry industry, Ogbeh said the disease had already affected 26 states and the FCT, adding that efforts to eradicate it were being hampered by paucity of funds.

In his view, other challenges, including non-compliance with quarantine measures and movement restrictions, violation of biosafety measures, clustering of poultry farmers with limited adherence to basic hygiene and bio-safety measures, reluctance of poultry farmers to register with state Directors of Veterinary Services for easy monitoring and the unregulated activities of egg and manure merchants, were mainly attitudinal, and the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN) could have done better in resolving them.

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It will be recalled that in January 15, 2015, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development announced  that there had been unusual mortality in two poultry farms and live birds markets in Lagos and Kano states, while Ogun, Delta, Rivers, Edo and Plateau states were also affected by the virus.

As of January 21, 2015, a total of 140,390 birds were associated with bird flu exposures with 22,573 (16 per cent) mortality recorded.  Currently, the return of bird flu has also led to severe losses for poultry farmers.

For instance, in December 2016, about 9,000 birds were killed in Kano alone since the disease resurfaced in the state, according to the state Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

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As we noted in our previous editorials, bird flu is not new in Nigeria and other parts of the world, as some countries in Asia witness it on an annual basis.

What is important, however, is to ensure a nationwide comprehensive surveillance, quarantine, depopulation and decontamination of all affected poultry farms. In February 2015, the Federal Government provided contigency funds to make lifelines available to poultry farmers who  suffered losses following the bird flu outbreak in the country.

It also proposed insurance cover to poultry farmers under the joint auspices of the Poultry Association of Nigeria, Agricultural Insurance Corporation and the Federal Government.

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The then Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, announced a compensation package of N145.145 million to 39 farmers in the 11 affected states where culling of birds had been done by the government.

We urge the Federal Government to that line now, and to shelve the alibi of lack of funds.  We also urge the states affected by bird flu  to embark on active disease search by surveillance agents, biosecurity monitoring and sensitisation in poultry farms and markets.

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