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Nigeria: The Poor the Weakest Link As Bird Flu Bites

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  • Nigeria: The Poor the Weakest Link As Bird Flu Bites

    Nigeria: The Poor the Weakest Link As Bird Flu Bites
    UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
    February 27, 2007
    Posted to the web February 27, 2007

    For Sogbe Adekunle, a 14-year-old street boy in Nigeria's biggest city of Lagos, the recent surge of the avian flu virus through the country's poultry has provided a rare opportunity for chicken meals.

    Daily, as traders in his Onipanu district threw away dead birds at a dump near a popular chicken market, Sogbe waited with others to retrieve the carcasses.

    "We knew the birds were sick but it was our first chance to eat chicken in a very long while," said Sogbe, whose main work is helping chicken buyers at the market kill and prepare their birds for cooking.

    As the H5N1 bird flu virus continues to spread in Nigeria - it has turned up in at least 19 of the country's 36 states - the poor are not only more exposed to its risks but also suffer a nutritional toll.

    Many traders complain of a double squeeze whereby they are forced to sell their poultry stocks cheaply whenever bird flu fears rise and pay very high prices to restock when the fears subside.

    "In the medium- and long-term the price of poultry rises beyond the reach of most Nigerians," said Wale Oladosun who runs a poultry farm on the outskirts of Lagos.

    Many poultry farmers are also worried about the future of their livelihoods, with the costs of staying in business rising continuously, said Muhammadu Sambawa, manager of Sambawa Farms in northern Nigeria where the first cases of the H5N1 virus in sub-Saharan Africa were discovered. For instance, broiler chickens which lay eggs have become scarce and very expensive to restock.

    "Any poultry farmer who wants to get new broilers now faces a big tug of war," said Sambawa.

    The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that about 700,000 birds have either been culled or died from bird flu since the virus was first detected in Nigeria in February 2006.

    For the more than 60 percent of the Nigerian population who live on less than US$1 daily and could not normally afford poultry diets, the outbreak of bird flu presents new dangers, according to nutritionist Dumebi Okolo.

    In some of the poultry markets in Lagos dead birds are being sold at huge discounts and are being bought by many poor people who want a taste of chicken, Okolo said.

    "With the level of poverty that exists many poor people in their struggle to survive are indifferent to the dangers of bird flu," Okolo said.

    Nigerian health and agricultural officials acknowledge that they face a difficult challenge in tackling bird flu but insist they are doing all they can to curtail the spread.

    Officials said livestock movement within the country and exports to other nations were banned in accordance with FAO recommendations after the first cases were reported last year. But they say enforcement may not have been very effective.

    "There is still a ban on movement of birds from infected to non-infected areas," said an official of the livestock department who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.

    "We're worried about the drop in poultry consumption and the implications for both the economy and nutrition."

    Many poultry traders acknowledge that birds are still being moved around the country and even across the borders into neighbouring countries contrary to official regulations. Nigeria borders Benin, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

    In many remote rural areas people are yet to hear about the dangers of avian flu and still move their birds unimpeded by veterinary officials, said poultry farmer Oladosun.

    "Sometimes smugglers take advantage of the loopholes and move birds across the borders," he said.

    Nigeria recorded its first human death from avian flu - the first in sub-Saharan Africa - in February.

    Since then, the government said it has stepped up surveillance efforts to help stem the spread of the disease.