Posts Tagged ‘Birds’

Sep12

Industrial poultry production and reemerging avian flu

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By Emily Gilbert

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), there are alarming signs that a new mutant strain of the avian flu, or H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, is spreading in Asia and beyond. H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is a potentially devastating virus, associated with a high mortality rate and high economic losses.   HPAI viruses can jump species barriers and infect humans, becoming a potential source of a future pandemic.

A chicken being vaccinated against the H5N1 virus (Photo credit: CRDF)

Although wild birds and small-scale poultry production have been blamed for the spread of avian flu, recent research conducted by Tour du Valat, a Mediterranean wetland conservation research center, has found that when the avian flu virus infects poultry, not wild bird species, it mutates into the highly pathogenic strains of the flu .  These findings are supported by separate research on outbreaks in Nigeria and Thailand, which found that human agricultural activity and industrial poultry production, or factory farming, are major sources of the global spread of the avian flu.

After a 2002 bird flu outbreak in Chile, a study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases  identified poultry as the primary species in which the more highly pathogenic strains evolved.  A separate study produced in part by the Joint Influenza Research Centre at Hong Kong University found that, “transmission within poultry is the major mechanism for sustaining H5N1 virus endemicity in this region.”  Interestingly, in the Southeast Asian countries where most of the bird flu outbreaks are concentrated, including Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, poultry production grew eightfold over the last three decades, from around 300,000 metric tonnes of meat produced in 1971 to 2,440,000 metric tonnes in 2001. In China where the H5N1 virus has also spread, poultry production tripled during the 1990s, with 15 billion ducks, geese and chickens raised in 2004.

(more…)

Jul13

Keeping the Rice from Going to the Birds

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This is the final in a two-part series about our visit with Matty Demont of the Africa Rice Center in Saint Louis, Senegal.

Rice farmers in Senegal have a lot of challenges. Drought, insects, and lack of tools or inputs all decrease incomes and yields. But one of their biggest problems comes from the trees surrounding rice fields—birds. But it’s not the rice that attracts the birds, at first; it’s the weeds that inundate fields after heavy rains that bring the birds to the fields. The birds use the weeds as shelter, eat the seeds of weeds, and perch on weeds to eat rice. According to Matty Demont, a researcher at the Africa Rice Center, the decrease in rice yields as a result of birds varies from year to year. Most years, there’s an 11 to 15 percent reduction in yield, but in 2006—when the rains were particularly heavy—farmers in Saint Louis lost 30 to 50 percent of their rice to birds.

Sending kids into the field to scare the birds is a traditional method of saving crops but it causes children to miss school. (Photo: Bernard Pollack)

And while avicides, or chemicals that kill the birds, are “good in the short-run to help farmers,” says Demont, he also acknowledges that they’re not the most environmentally sustainable or humane way to take care of the problem. But the traditional method of keeping birds out—sending children into the fields to scare them away—isn’t sustainable either because it causes kids to miss school.

That’s why the Africa Rice Center is working with farmers and researchers to help develop a set of more environmentally friendly recommendations that also protect rice crops. Studying rainfall patterns to predict when bird populations will be more populous, implementing crop insurance programs that protect farmers from lost yields, planting wheat around rice fields—and giving the birds something else to eat other than rice—can all be effective strategies.

For more on the Africa Rice Center’s work in Western Africa, see Encouraging Consumption of Local Rice by Improving Local Quality and Processing.

May27

Innovation of the Week: Using Livestock to Rebuild and Preserve Communities

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Anikole cattle is disappearing from Central and Eastern Africa (Photo Credit: ILRI)

For pastoralist communities like the well-known Maasai in Kenya, livestock keeping is more than just an important source of food and income; it’s a way of life that has been a part of their culture and traditions for hundreds of years.

But, in the face of drought, loss of traditional grazing grounds, and pressure from governments and agribusiness to cross-breed native cattle breeds with exotic breeds, pastoralists are struggling to feed their families and hold on to their culture.

The key, however, to maintaining the pastoralist way of life, at least in Kenya, may also be the key to preserving the country’s livestock genetic biodiversity, as well as improving local food security.“Governments need to recognize,” says Jacob Wanyama, coordinator with the African LIFE Network in Kenya— an organization that works to improve the rights of pastoralist communities in Eastern Africa, “that pastoralists are the best keepers of genetic diversity.” (See also: The Keepers of Genetic Diversity)

Anikole cattle, for example, a breed indigenous to Eastern Africa, are not only “beautiful to look at,” says Wanyama, but they’re one of the “highest quality” breeds of cattle because they can survive in extremely harsh, dry conditions—something that’s more important than the size and milk production of the cattle, especially as climate change takes a bigger hold on Africa. And indigenous breeds don’t require expensive feed and inputs, such as antibiotics to keep them healthy.

More than just a consistent and reliable source of food, Anikole cattle also help preserve the pastoralist culture and way of life. Though most pastoralists recognize that  many of their children might choose to go into the cities instead of continuing the nomadic herding lifestyle of pastoralists, the preservation of Anikole cattle and other indigenous breeds will allow those that choose to stay to feed and support their families and community for years to come. (See also: Maintaining Links to Tradition in a Changing World)

And, similarly, in Mozambique, the International Rural Poultry Center of the Kyeema Foundation and International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics are promoting livestock as more than just a means to improve food security.

The two organizations are partnering to work with farmers—most of them women—to raise chickens on their farms. Because women are often the primary caregivers for family members with HIV/AIDS, they need easy, low-cost sources of both food and income. Unlike many crops, raising free-range birds can require few outside inputs and very little maintenance from farmers. Birds can forage for insects and eat kitchen scraps, instead of expensive grains. They provide not only meat and eggs for household use and income, but also pest control and manure for fertilizer. (See also: Prescribing Improved Nutrition to Combat HIV/AIDS in Africa)

In Rwanda, Heifer International is helping farmers use livestock to rebuild their homes and improve their income after the devastating genocide that occurred 15 years ago.  Heifer began working in Rwanda in 2000, introducing a South African dairy breed, known for its high milk production, because, according to Dr. Karamuzi, “no stock of good [dairy cow] genes” was left in the country after the genocide.

And he says that these animals help prove “that even poor farmers can take care of high producing cows.” Heifer has certain conditions for receiving cows—including that farmers build a pen and dedicate part of their land to growing pasture—which made people skeptical, especially when they were used to letting animals roam freely to graze on grass. But as people began seeing the results of Heifer’s training, they become less suspicious and more interested in working with the group.

And these animals don’t only provide milk—which can be an important source of protein for the hungry—and income to families. They also provide manure, which provides not only fertilizer for crops, but also is now helping provide biogas for cooking to households raising cows in the country as part of a the National Biogas Program. And they give families a sense of security as they, and the entire country, continue to recover and rebuild. (See also: Healing With Livestock in Rwanda)

To read more about how smallscale livestock can improve food security and preserve and rebuild communities, see: Teacher Turned Farmer. . .Turned Teacher, Got Biogas?, Conserving Endangered Animal Genetic Resources in Kenya.