Bird Flu, just like Swine Flu, was been highlighted in the media because of its dangers to human life. As such, around 2005 when the avian influenza was spreading across Asia and into many countries in Africa, news of flocks being culled were greeted with approval and relief. Though the threat of H5N1 has receded, the impact of the pandemic around 5 years ago still resonated with small-scale farmers across Asian and Africa. To find out more I looked at a study on Vietnam conducted by Agrifood Consulting International.
The Avian Influenza strain H5N1 hit Vietnam in 2003, with outbreaks all the way until 2005. These outbreaks took a toll on human health, to be sure, but also on the livelihoods of more than 9 million farm households as well as other stakeholders in Vietnam’s poultry sector. Economic costs of the flu include costs associated with the disease itself and its containment, but also with the restructuring of the sector in response to the outbreaks.
Agriculture accounted for 20% of Vietnam’s GDP in 2004, with 22% of that being livestock. Poultry is the country’s second most important meat, and has, recently, been a growing sector. It is especially important to Vietnam’s poor. The low cost of raising poultry and the immediate cash that selling poultry products brings to families plays a role in poverty reduction. This is especially important for women, and among the 12 million farming households in Vietnam, about 70% keep poultry.
Even before H5N1, there have always been tremendous challenges for small-scale farmers when trying to produce for high-value markets. For example, as suppliers to supermarkets, small producers face problem meeting quality and volume requirements. Vietnam’s poor also will be hurt by the shift towards commercial forms of production because they will not be able to access high-value outlets like supermarkets.
Avian Influenza (AI) and ensuing regulations without a doubt led to a dampening of the market, but with some producers affected more than others. Since 2005 there has been a shift to large-scale production, with semi-commercial and traditional farmers being marginalized from markets they could previously access. This shift has also had a spill-over effect on small-scale traders, slaughterers and suppliers. Needless to say, the financial losses have been comparatively larger for small-scale producers than commercial stakeholders. The reason for this shift is that the risk to health is much higher for these small-scale productions than for large. The current restructuring of the sector is, unfortunately, not taking into consideration this shift and is not aimed at helping small-scale producers rebuild.