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Kurdish Poultry Industry Picks Up Slowly

Poultry experts say the industry is slowly recovering in Sulaimaniyah, months after the government stemmed an outbreak of the deadly bird flu virus.
Locally-sourced poultry and eggs, which the government pulled from the market when the H5N1 strain of avian flu killed at least one person in January, have returned to the markets and shops in this northeastern Kurdish city.

Poultry farmers suffered heavy loss after sales stopped virtually overnight. While cases of the disease emerged in other parts of Iraq, the authorities in Sulaimaniyah have not reported any new bird flu scares since January.

But farmers producing poultry meat and eggs say the revival has not been easy, and that the industry lost millions of dollars because of the government's limited ability to cull birds.

"The market has suffered," said Sarwar Kareem, head of the Kurdistan Poultry Association. "It needs another year to recover because there isn't any guarantee that the disease can be dealt with."

While some in Sulaimaniyah are still hesitant to buy chicken and eggs for fear of another outbreak, farmers and traders report that sales are rising.

"Business is improving, but I think it will take a few more months before we reach the sales we had prior to the outbreak," said Salam Ahmad Ali, a poultry farmer in Bazyan in the south of Sulaimaniyah province.

There is only one slaughterhouse in Sulaimaniyah province, and it could not cope with the huge demand after the government ordered a cull that eventually extended to about half the one million chickens across the region, said the provincial veterinary department.

The government has earmarked more than three million US dollars as compensation for culled birds and has paid out about two-thirds of it, according to Ibrahim Khidr Ahmed, director of planning at the agriculture ministry.

Kurdish officials complain that promises of aid to deal with the avian flu outbreak, including 10 million dollars from international organisations and separate pledges from the government, have not come through.

Farmers whose birds died before they could be slaughtered under the government cull suffered the most financially, since they lost out on compensation.

Ali, a farmer who had 8,000 chickens when the outbreak happened, was told to wait to be assigned a time to take his birds for slaughter, but because his farm is 180 kilometres south of Sulaimaniyah, his turn never came. After waiting for a month, during which time 1,500 chickens had died, he sold the others illegally.

He reckons he lost about six million Iraqi dinars, 40,000 dollars, in all.

Kamil Faqe Mohammad owns six poultry farms in Sulaimaniyah province and sells the eggs they produce throughout Iraq. He says he lost about two million dollars due to the disease and because his birds were not culled by the government.

He has not received compensation, and is not expecting to get any.

“We have visited the agriculture ministry. They know about our losses, but because they didn't kill the chickens by themselves, they're not going to compensate us," he said.

Mohammad is now selling about 300,000 eggs daily, down from 360,000 before bird flu arrived.

The government continues to run public awareness campaigns encouraging people to be cautious when handling chickens. Mohammad Qadir Khoshnaw, the former minister of health in the Sulaimaniyah administration, said the government cannot guarantee that the virus will not return because is so difficult to control.

"There is the possibility that the disease could emerge at any moment," he said.

Wrya Hama Tahir is an IWPR trainee journalist in Sulaimaniyah.

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