A new strain of Avian Influenza virus, popularly known as bird flu, has entered Nigeria and spread to 26 states and the Federal Capital Territory, with over 3.5 million birds affected, the Federal Government has said.
According to the government, in a bid to prevent the entry of the disease into their respective countries, Nigeria’s neighbours have proposed a ban on poultry and poultry products from Nigeria.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, disclosed this in Abuja for Tuesday at a consultative meeting with commissioners for agriculture/livestock, states directors of veterinary services and major stakeholders in the poultry industry.
Ogbeh explained that the first outbreak of bird flu in Nigeria was reported in 2006 and spanned through 2008, but was controlled and eradicated through concerted efforts facilitated by the availability of resources from a World Bank-sponsored project and support from the country’s development partners.
The minister said, “Almost a decade later, precisely in December 2014, the disease reoccurred in a commercial poultry farm and a live bird market in Kano and Lagos states, respectively. The current status of the disease in the country is quite alarming; it has now affected 26 states and the FCT, with over 3.5 million birds culled so far.
“Recently, a new strain of the bird flu virus (H5N8) was reported in Kano. The new strain is believed to be very pathogenic and more devastating to poultry species and, therefore, it may further add to the burden of the H5N1 strain that is currently circulating in the country.
“The disease is transboundary in nature and also trade-limiting; some of our neighbouring countries have proposed to ban poultry and poultry products from Nigeria. This may undesirably lead to an egg glut in the country.”
Ogbeh stated that there were already huge and unacceptable losses in the poultry industry and the nation as a whole, and urged the agriculture commissioners of the various states to retrace their steps in order to provide safe food for Nigerians as well as ensure national self-sufficiency in food production.
He noted that aside from paucity of funds, other challenges that led to the outbreak of the disease included lack of compliance with on-farm quarantine measures and movement restriction; violation of biosafety measures leading to rapid spread of the disease; and clustering of poultry farmers with limited adherence to hygienic measures.
Others, according to the minister, are reluctance of poultry farmers to register with the state directors of veterinary services for easy monitoring and regulation; and unregulated activities of egg and manure merchants.
To help address the challenges, Ogbeh said the Federal Government had provided disease containment materials, reviewed the national emergency preparedness plan on Avian Influenza, enhanced the laboratory diagnostics capacity at the National Veterinary Research Institute in Plateau State, and created awareness and advocacy on the disease.
He stated that other measures put in place to address the situation were the allocation of quality grains to the Poultry Farmers Association to support its members across the country, and the payment of N707.67m to 276 farmers as compensation.
“The Federal Government is determined to continue to work with state governments, PAN and other stakeholders in the poultry industry to come up with sustainable measures to prevent, control and eradicate this disease from our country within the shortest time possible. This is the major reason for our meeting here today,” Ogbeh said.
Participants at the meeting urged the Federal Government to complete the payment of compensation to farmers who lost millions of naira as a result of the previous outbreak of bird flu in Nigeria.
This, they said, would encourage the farmers to make public any further development of bird flu in their respective areas before the disease would spread to other locations.
Responding, Ogbeh said, “We acknowledge our inability to act promptly in the past to be ahead of the disease and to complete payment of compensation to affected farmers. This was due to constraint of funds as a result of the prevailing economic downturn.”
“But I want to assure you that we are looking for money and we will pay the compensation.”