Egyptian research says desert poultry farming ‘may help reduce bird flu risks’

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Photo - Team Jassler's

Egypt’s Desert Research Centre (DRC) has urged the government to help establish poultry farms in the desert regions after a successful pilot project showed encouraging signs of a reduction in avian flu transmission to humans.

The project, which ran from December 2011 to February this year, consisted of five small units in the Egyptian desert where researchers adopted procedures that helped avoid the transmission of infection. The scientists also introduced indigenous desert plants into poultry diets, and evaluated varieties of poultry capable of resisting hot temperatures and drought.

“With the emergence of the avian flu virus in Egypt four years ago, the idea of moving poultry farms out of residential areas was raised, as having farms adjacent or close to housing was one of the main reasons why the virus was… being easily passed from poultry to humans,” Ismail Abdul Jalil, a former DRC president and leader of the research team that implemented the project, told SciDev.Net in an interview.

During a meeting in May, the research centre announced the findings and called upon the Egypt’s Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation to lend support to implementing the project on a wider level, within smallholder farms.

The project, funded by a $600,000 grant from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), mapped desert groundwater availability  which is essential as a source of drinking water for poultry farms. The maps also showed each region’s indigenous desert plants, which farmers could use to feed poultry, Abdul Jalil added.

“Although the cost of setting up poultry farms in desert lands is 10% more than in populated areas, the production costs could be less,” Ra’afat Khedr, president of the DRC, said. “This is because providing poultry with food represents 70% of the price of breeding chickens, so by depending partially on desert plants, the price of poultry-rearing in arid regions could decrease,” he added.

Furthermore, the pilot project showed that egg production was not affected by new nutrition and diets.”

The DRC president also pointed out that the project performed a comprehensive survey of poultry breeds that are able to withstand desert and semi-desert conditions, including stress and heat, in order “to list the varieties which are most productive under these hard conditions”.

However, the report has received a lukewarm response from other quarters in the country.

Abdel El-Hakim Saad, professor of poultry nutrition at the Animal Production Research Institute, warned that underground water is not always of a high-enough quality for poultry breeding and would require purification, adding to further costs.

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