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    Poultry health critical to global food security

    Discussions at the 19th Congress of the World Veterinary Poultry Association (WVPA 2015 Cape Town) has been fruitful and centred around topics such as poultry diseases and welfare as well as ways to boost poultry production both on a subsistence scale as well as for the commercial or small-scale producer by ensuring healthy flocks. The spotlight has been on the role of poultry health professionals on continents such as Africa and their importance in boosting global poultry production of a commercial nature or that of the subsistence or small-scale producer.
    KRiemer via
    KRiemer via pixabay

    The Congress unpacked the latest developments in avian welfare, health management and disease diagnosis. Key players from the global poultry health scientific community, including poultry veterinarians, poultry health scientists and other individuals from specialised branches connected with poultry health have ranked among the over 1,250 delegates. They return to their respective countries with, among others, the following key 'take home' messages:

    Unlocking the true potential of small-scale poultry production

    Communities must be empowered with knowledge to sustainably raise chickens and eggs to feed themselves, notably those from rural villages. Poultry production offers a relatively easy way to put food on the table and can potentially create employment for oneself and others, whether a small-scale or commercial poultry producer. The proximity of a veterinarian highly trained in poultry disease is of enormous importance and benefit to small-scale poultry farmers, especially those situated in rural villages where all too often poultry production could comprise that community's primary, even sole, source of protein nutrition.

    In a presentation at the Congress by Dr Rosa Costa of the KYEEMA Foundation in Mozambique, it is estimated that in excess of 80 percent of the planet's poultry is kept in small numbers. At approximately six percent of world production, there is much scope for unlocking the true potential of small-scale poultry production across the globe. Small-scale poultry production is a vital income and nutrition source to low-income households, notably in villages in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the South Pacific.

    The role of women

    Costa's research indicates that the raising of poultry in rural villages is often a role under the control of women who, in turn, actively participate in improving the nutrition of their household. By extension, they tangibly improve socio-economic conditions within their community. Through decreasing mortality in chickens as well as improving long-term storage of eggs, women can serve eggs to their children as well as meat and eggs on local markets in exchange for a greater variety of food sources.

    Vaccination against Newcastle disease

    The vaccination of so-called "backyard chickens" in Africa against the highly contagious Newcastle disease has reduced mortalities by up to 80 percent. In Africa alone, Costa has estimated that 131 million US dollars is the figure attached to the vaccination of 10 percent of the 1,5 billion birds across Africa in the period 2003 to 2010.

    Enhanced poultry production can overcome poverty

    Well designed, participative development programmes that enhance livestock (poultry) production can overcome poverty and enhance significant economic and social benefits among rural population. Rural communities that rely on rain-fed crops often go through severe hunger periods just prior to the major harvesting season when their stored grains have been exhausted. These significant peaks and troughs in household food availability are reduced when there is diversity in family farming activities.

    By improving village poultry health and welfare, families have greater access to poultry meat and eggs which are a source of high quality protein, highly- bio-available micronutrients and income. Poultry manure can also contribute to increased soil fertility for the production of indigenous vegetables at the household level, further diversifying the range of foods eaten. Women play in improving village poultry, crop and vegetable integration to strengthen household nutrition in an ecologically sustainable manner.

    Risk of zoonotic disease

    The risk of zoonotic disease is relatively low and poultry's benefit as a food source is high. As South Africa's largest agricultural sector, poultry represents the country's primary source of protein.

    Increased global demand for meat

    Global demand for meat is expected to increase enormously within the next decade, with the planet's population set to increase by 34 percent to in excess of nine billion and 98 percent of the population situated in developing countries. Production must be doubled and on the same amount of land. Farm Assurance Schemes need to be in place to bolster consumer confidence. This is according to Dr Stephen Lister of Crowshall Veterinary Services.

    The poultry veterinarian

    Poultry is consumed across virtually all nations, cultures and religions. Poultry veterinarians and animal scientists unite with human physicians and medical scientists in a bid to attain optimal health for the people, animals and environment of our planet. This One Health approach has resulted in a shift in perception such that poultry veterinarians are no longer merely perceived as 'chicken doctors' but as firmly ensconced at the interface of a multi-disciplinary team true to One Health ideals. WVPA President, Dr Nigel Horrox notes that poultry veterinarians are increasingly viewed as a trusted, independent source for professional and technical advice on health, biosecurity, vaccination, nutrition, product control, incubation, zoonotic pathogen control and bird welfare.

    The poultry veterinarian is in high demand across the globe and has the knowledge to help an ever increasing number of small-scale poultry farmers to shift from a state of subsistence production to production for job creation and profit purposes. This, in turn, alleviates malnutrition and hunger in a great many communities. Hunger remains the number one problem in the developing world, with deaths from lack of food exceeding the combined figures for deaths from war, malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/Aids. Some 805 million inhabitants of our planet go hungry every day.

    The FLAWSS approach

    "Back to basics" is the approach advocated for poultry producers by Congress Local Organising chairperson Dr Hannes Swart. "We refer to the acronym FLAWSS, that is: Feed. Light. Air. Water. Space. Sanitation. Antibiotic resistance is of concern to poultry producers and the prudent use of antibiotics is crucial," he notes. "There are more than 2,300 serotypes of salmonella, of which a small number are of concern to human health. The poultry industry continually seeks to minimise salmonella risks through reduction measures". Swart explains that while avian influenza has had an enormous effect on the local ostrich industry, it has not affected the local chicken industry.

    Fit for human consumption

    Research scientists in the poultry sector are humanitarians at the same time that they contribute towards the advancement of knowledge about poultry disease prevention measures, including zoonotic diseases, that is, diseases that can be passed to humans. Delegates are helping ensure a sustainable, 'fit for human consumption' supply of poultry meat and eggs for the global population that adheres to strict monitoring and welfare guidelines for healthy poultry that is humanely slaughtered. Rigid food safety measures must always be in place to minimise risks of the likes of salmonella contamination.

    The Congress has been organised by the South African branch of the World Veterinary Poultry Association and the South African Veterinary Association (SAVA). The WVPA has embraced, during recent years, the additional presence of numerous nations among its members. New branches, welcomed to the association during this congress, stem from countries such as India, Iraq, Nigeria, and Kenya as well as an increased presence of numerous other African and Eastern countries, along with countries in South America.

    The Congress website can be viewed at

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