The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has proposed a new bird flu compensation arrangement in which only smallholder farmers with less than 3,000 birds would be compensated if affected with avian influenza. But the director-general of Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), Dr Onallo S. Akpa, in this interview, thinks the policy would create a problem in the industry.
Because of paucity of funds, the Federal Government has designed a new avian influenza compensation strategy for Nigerian poultry farmers. As an association, what do you make of the new policy?
These are proposals that have been presented at various meetings. What this means in essence is that compensation will only be paid to small-scale farmers. And if compensation is paid to only small-scale farmers while medium and large-scale farmers are exempted, owners of large or middle- sized industrial farms may not report an outbreak of disease to the appropriate authority. This is because he or she knows that he will not be compensated. There might be disease on his farm but he may decide to hide it because of the volume of investment involved. This also implies that if there is a confirmed outbreak of avian influenza on a large-scale farm, the government will come in to depopulate the birds without compensating the farmer. That will be a serious problem.
The issue of vaccination, avian influenza outbreak and compensation is a universal policy, but maybe because of the paucity of funds government wants to take that decision. I don’t think Nigeria is so broke. What we should do is proper investigation and reinforcement. If you talk about bio-security ensure that they are enforced. If you say surveillance, ensure that it is done appropriately because the job of the government is to ensure that disease surveillance, both active and passive, is done at the appropriate time. As a country, we need to be very proactive because we know the virus is one million kilometers ahead of us.
At the moment, the issue is being ignored because some people think poultry farmers are smiling to the banks. But no poultry farmer is smiling to the bank because of what they are going through. At the end of the day, government will give regulators their money since they are not businessmen. Nobody is ready to actually do proper investigation and reinforcement. Nobody wants his birds to have the disease.
Government is arguing that large and middle-scale farmers should take insurance policy for their farms because compensation places a huge financial burden on them as witnessed in the last few years. What’s your take in this?
Can we force the government to pay compensation? We cannot. It is not our resources. But why can’t we have a common fund where people can contribute into so that when there are disease outbreaks you can bring substantial part of the money and the government adds to it, just like the insurance they are talking about? The Nigeria Agricultural Insurance Corporation will tell you that the act establishing them does not mandate them to ensure against avian influenza; or that because of the preponderance of mortality, they will tell you the premium you have to pay to ensure your farm against avian influenza.
What if I paid a premium of 5per cent, and in the next five to six years I don’t have avian influenza outbreak? That is a waste of money. It should be a national policy. They should look holistically at the policy. What is the function of the government? Do they know the contribution of the industry to the gross domestic product? Do they know the social and economic impact of the poultry industry on the Nigerian economy? These are what people do not want to discuss – the political, socio-economic and the food security importance of the poultry production in Nigeria.
We should look at it that all of us are involved in this project. Some people should not just see themselves as policymakers while others as technocrats and some as practitioners; and whatever affects the practitioner does not affect them.
How would you describe the compensation system in Nigeria today?
Nobody is clamouring for compensation. The value of a laying bird is an average of N6,000 to N7,000. And you say you would give me N700, depending on the stages of the birds if I had an avian influenza outbreak in my farm? We must look at it from the aspect of morality and patriotism; nobody wants his birds to die.
From the period of Jonathan to the Buhari government, the total compensation is N2.3 billion to N2.4 billion. And the value of losses to farmers is about N50 billion. Look at the disparity between the compensation and the actual economic value of the birds lost. However, compensation, no matter how small, is meant to give farmers hope to start up something again. Nobody wants to lose.
The issue of vaccination is also generating controversies. What is the position of farmers on this?
Just as I have said in various forums, the total objective of the farmer is to protect his investment. What the farmer wants is profit. No farmer, at any point in time, expects disease outbreak. Peradventure there are disease outbreaks he can use his resources to ensure that they are eradicated. His objective is to have a disease-free farm.
Vaccination against avian influenza has been a reoccurring issue. We attended various meetings at the regional level in Dakar, sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and there were schools of thought that said the only way to eradicate the disease was to introduce vaccination, specifically against avian influenza, but the position of government is that there should be no vaccination. What the government said they should embark on as a national policy is stamping out. Stamping out is a practice of where you have an outbreak and the government and veterinarians are called upon to determine if it is avian influenza – they cordon off the farm, depopulate the birds, exterminate it and close the farm for some time. Now, if that is done (and it can be effectively done) and compensations are paid to the farmers, it should be the best alternative.
Are you saying that farmers are against vaccination?
Farmers are not totally against vaccination. The avian influenza vaccination has become contentious, but a lot of vaccinations are done on the farms. Instead of the vaccination against avian influenza, government and practising veterinarians should be able to adopt a national policy that would mitigate and not exacerbate the outbreak.