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Bird flu sparks culling fears

A duck vendor keeps track of sales in her book last year at Phnom Penh’s O’Russey market.
A duck vendor keeps track of sales in her book last year at Phnom Penh’s O’Russey market. Hong Menea

Bird flu sparks culling fears

Poultry farmers and traders are bracing for losses as authorities take measures aimed at containing two separate outbreaks of the H5N1 virus in northwestern Cambodia.

The latest outbreaks of H5N1, commonly known as bird flu, were first identified last week in duck flocks in Siem Reap and Battambang provinces. While primarily a health threat to ducks and chickens, authorities have begun efforts to ensure the deadly virus does not spread to people.

More than 3,300 infected ducks in Siem Reap province’s Puok district, and 900 infected ducks in Battambang province’s Banan district have died from the disease or were culled to prevent the spread of the virus, according to Tan Phannara, chief of the animal health office at the Ministry of Agriculture.

“We informed all villagers in the area to not eat any diseased ducks,” he said. “All infected ducks were killed and chemicals were sprayed to kill the disease in those areas. We are still investigating and inspecting the provinces further.”

As for the farmers who lost their livestock, Phannara said that the ministry does not offer any support or compensation.

And that has poultry farmer Kim Heng – who has a flock of 10,000 chickens on his farm in Kampong Speu province – deeply concerned.

“I’m scared of H5N1 because the last time there was an outbreak in our country all of our chickens and ducks were burned, leaving farmers with no way to survive,” he said. “The government didn’t have any policy to support us, and denied my request that it give me baby chickens to raise just so my business could survive.”

Heng said he had planned to expand his chicken farm but after hearing of the latest bird flu outbreak decided against it. In previous years, the presence of H5N1-infected birds elsewhere in the country made it extremely difficult to sell his chickens and eggs, even though his farm was not infected by the disease.

Chhith Roeurn, a wholesaler of chickens and ducks in Siem Reap province, said this month’s wedding season had created a high demand for poultry, but the spread of the H5N1 outbreak could cut deep into her business. She said farmers will have fewer birds to sell, while customers may be reluctant to buy.

“My income is entirely dependent on chickens and ducks,” Roeurn said. “If there’s a problem affecting them, then it means money troubles for me.”

Chham Sela, the owner of the Muscovy duck soup restaurant in Siem Reap province, said he is bracing for a sharp decline in sales.

His restaurant typically averages 700 kilos per month – but customers fearful of catching bird flu could stop coming to his establishment if the outbreak continues.

He also worries about the farmers who supply the poultry he serves.

“Most villagers have taken out loans to raise their ducks and chicken, so when their birds are sick or die, they will lose everything,” Sela said. “And then, who will help them with their debt?”

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