Frequent outbreaks of avian flu have critically hit the poultry industry and the livelihood of hundreds of farmers. Five outbreaks have been reported in the last three to four months months alone. Experts demand diagnostic studies to control the infection.
“Contact with migratory birds is the likely trigger for the current outbreak. It is high time to conduct diagnostic studies and identify sustainable measures for reducing the recurrence of infection,” says T.P. Sethumadhavan, former director, Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, and Professor, University of Trans-Disciplinary Health Sciences, Bengaluru.
“Duck farming is one of the traditional farming systems in the State, especially in the Kuttanad area. Investigations are required on whether contamination occurs through soil and water. We need to check whether there is any change in salinity and pH of water and soil over the period. How sustainable measures can be followed to control the endemic nature of infection? Whether the farmers are giving sufficient rest periods before introducing the new flocks?”
Multidisciplinary diagnostic studies based on soil, water, air and cultivation practices are required. Moreover, it should also be studied whether possible options for ethno-veterinary practices to boost the immunity of duck population are required, Dr. Sethumadhavan pointed out.
Kerala’s wetlands, which habitats more than 80% of duck population, are under threat due to outbreaks of bird flu. Many of these wetlands come under Ramsar sites with rich biodiversity. (Ramsar site is a wetland site of international importance, especially those providing waterfowl habitat). The Kuttanad area, a Ramsar site, is under constant threat of Avian influenza.
Recent outbreak started from Haripad and spread to nearby areas. Parts of Allappuzha, Pathanamthitta and Kottayam districts coming under Kuttanad belt are prone to the spread of infection.
“There is no effective vaccination against bird flu. It spreads mainly through migratory birds. But unscientific transportation and trade of poultry birds also contribute to the spread of the disease to a great extent,” says B. Ajithbabu, Deputy Director, Department of Animal Husbandry.
“Though there are strict rules and regulations in transporting birds, they have been violated frequently. Apart from border check-posts, birds have been reaching the State through many routes. Farmers need to wait for at least a six months in case of an infection. The site should be declared disease-free before starting the fresh batch,” he noted.
“The Kuttanad area has its own native breeds of ducks, such as Chara and Chempally. Duck farmers and entrepreneurs in these regions are rearing large flocks of ducks both under scientific intensive management systems and nomadic systems. Sudden outbreaks affect the livelihood of hundreds of farmers, labourers and their families as well. The Government of Kerala, while implementing the modified Kuttanad package, must take into consideration the emerging and constant issues arising out of bird flu,” says Dr. Sethumadhavan.
Outbreaks affect serious threat to rural economy. It started affecting the market potential of duck meat, egg and broiler chicken meat. Even though years back the Department of Animal Husbandry proposed a national duck research institute in Allappuzha, nothing materialised.