AFRICA - Africa once again battled this month to contain an outbreak of avian influenza H5N1 in poultry, with the disease spreading to Cameroon, reports Tawanda Karombo.
Ripple effects are now feared for the country’s neighbours although southern and East African countries remain safe despite producers there suffering cost stresses.
Cameroon detected the disease this month, and activity in the poultry value chain and support sectors such as processing has taken a pounding. Experts said the economic impact of the fresh outbreak has ballooned to as much as $20 million, a major drag on a crucial industry that had started to grow.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned that the outbreak of bird flu disease could spread southwards faster, prompting a call for roll out of emergency measures to contain its spread.
“We’re looking at a quickly spreading disease that has devastating effects on livelihoods in communities,” Abebe Haile Gabriel, the deputy regional head of FAO in Africa said.
Economists and trade experts have cautioned that if unchecked, the latest outbreak of the avian influenza will lead to trade restrictions on poultry between countries in the region. West African countries already suffer illegal imports that are brought into the region and have had to destroy tonnes of illegally imported and impounded frozen poultry products in the past.
“H5N1 causes major losses of nutritious food and threatens farmers’ livelihoods, particularly in resource poor environments where governments have difficulty providing financial compensation for losses. Trade restrictions often pose an additional hardship on already struggling economies,” Mr Gabriel continued.
Outbreaks of the disease have also been reported in Niger this month, with animal health experts cautioning that the disease is now problematic as it has become “nearly endemic” in west African regional countries such as Nigeria where it resurface now and again.
“A major concern is that the disease may become endemic in the entire region,” FAO said.
Investment to develop Ghana's poultry industry
Although Ghana is one of the west African nations that could see a worsening of its poultry industry from the latest outbreak of bird flu in the region, it has received financial support from the United States to boost the poultry industry.
Ghana will receive about $56 million from the USA under two crucial programs that are earmarked to raise and boost capacity for indigenous poultry producers in the country. The two programs that are being rolled out by the USA include the Ghana Poultry Project and Assisting Management in the Poultry and Layer Industries by Feed Improvement and Efficiency Strategies (AMPLIFIES).
“These projects are designed to improve the entrepreneurship of local Ghanaian producers throughout the full poultry value chain.
"Together, they are valued at $56 million and are expected to help bring needed transformation to the poultry value chain in Ghana - transformation that will stimulate economic growth and contribute to food security,” said Robert P. Jackson, the US Ambassador to Ghana.
Drought cuts feed supplies
Other poultry producing companies in Africa are however, facing steep rises in costs emanating from a sustained period of dry conditions that hammered the region. However, reports in the past few months show that there is also growing demand for poultry and eggs in regions such as southern Africa.
South African poultry poultry producer, Astral this month cautioned that feed costs are also rising as the region emerges from a period of drought that had cut production of most feed-stock inputs.
The higher production costs, which are also being faced in Zimbabwe and Zambia, could force Astral Foods to cut its output as a way of managing costs, it said. South African broiler and other poultry producers also have to do with surplus supplies, especially after the African country inked poultry import deals with Poland and the United States.
“The group is also forced to introduce further and more severe cutbacks in the poultry production chain. The impact of the planned production cutbacks will unfortunately negatively impact on the labor force due to the reduction in hours to be worked,” Astral said on July 20.
It also warned that “if no relief is forthcoming from the key contributors to the current devastating circumstances being experienced by the poultry industry, more permanent downsizing of production will have to be considered” for the sector, heightening fears of further job losses.
Tshokolo Nchocho, the chief executive officer of the Land and Agricultural Development Bank of South Africa, was quoted this month saying there are likely to be mergers and consolidations in the South African poultry industry owing to the problems most producers are facing.
“My prediction is that we are likely to see a lot more mergers and acquisitions happening at poultry, a lot of corporate activity. Feed costs account for 70 per cent of their operating profit, so when those go up, it’s a disaster,” he was quoted saying.ThePoultrySite News Desk