Kerala

Avian flu | Alappuzha duck farmers a worried lot

Bird flu incidence in northern districts keeps many on the edge

The outbreak of bird flu in northern districts has created a sense of apprehension among duck farmers in Kuttanad.

Kuttanad was badly hit by avian influenza (H5N1) in 2014-15 and (H5N8) in 2016-17. The pain of poultry flocks devastated by bird flu, subsequent mass culling, and huge financial loss suffered is still fresh in the minds of farmers in the region.

Varghese Baby, of Thalavady, recalls that he lost more than 9,000 ducks in 2014 and another 6,750 in 2016. “In 2014, around 2,000 ducks in my farm died and another 7,000 were culled. Though the government paid compensation for the culled birds — ₹100 for ducks that were less than two months old and ₹200 for those older than two months — it was not enough to compensate for the overall loss suffered by farmers like me. Besides, I didn’t receive a single penny as compensation for 2,000 dead ducks as authorities failed to acknowledge it. The same happened in 2016 too, as the government only provided compensation for 5,500 ducks,” he says.

Despite setbacks, Varghese continues to rear ducks to make a living. But not every other farmer. Samuel, a traditional duck farmer from Pallippad, says that he stopped rearing ducks after suffering huge losses and receiving property attachment notice from the bank. Several farmers in the region have downsized the number of ducklings being bred every season, since bird flu outbreaks.

Over 10 lakh ducks culled

Following the outbreak in 2014, some three lakh ducks were culled in Kuttanad. More than seven lakh ducks were culled as part of containment operation in Alappuzha and Kottayam districts in 2016.

It resulted in poor demand for ‘Kuttanadan’ duck, which has a pride of place on dining tables, in the following months and created lasting damage to medium and small farmers. The majority of them conduct farming twice a year, especially with an eye on Christmas and Easter festivities.

According to the Duck Farmers Association, the number of farmers has dwindled from 2,000 to 1,500 in recent years.

“The bird flu, 2018 floods, and recurring bouts of bacterial infections have forced many duck farmers to look for new pastures,” says, B. Rajasekharan, district president of the association.

Duck farmers say the government is showing little interest in their well-being. They have been demanding a mobile laboratory for testing, insurance scheme, storing of necessary vaccines, and so on.

Around 6,000 ducks perished at Thalavady and nearby areas in recent days. The cause of death has been ascertained as bacterial infection with no threat to humans.

Farmers warned

Meanwhile, the Animal Husbandry Department has warned the farmers against transporting ducks from one place to another for rearing in view of bird flu in Kozhikode and Malappuram. “We have put the farmers on alert and are closely monitoring the situation,” says, Mary James, Alappuzha District Animal Husbandry Officer.

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 9:23:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/alappuzha-duck-farmers-a-worried-lot/article31070823.ece

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