Farming poultry in deserts ‘may reduce bird flu risks’

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[CAIRO] Egypt’s Desert Research Center (DRC) has called on the government to support rolling out poultry farms in desert regions, following the success of a pilot project to reduce avian flu transmission to humans.

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

Ismail Abdul Jalil, a former DRC president and leader of the research team that implemented the project, told SciDev.Net: "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".

At a meeting last month (31 May) to announce the research findings, the DRC called upon Egypt’s Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation to lend support to implementing the project on a wider level, within smallholder farms.  

Funded by a US$600,000 grant from the US Agency for International Development, the project created maps showing the location of groundwater availability — essential as a source of drinking water for poultry farms — in Egyptian desert areas, according to Abdul Jalil. The maps also showed each region’s indigenous desert plants, which farmers could use to feed poultry.

Ra’afat Khedr, president of the DRC, told SciDev.Net: "Although the cost of setting up poultry farms in desert lands is ten per cent more than in populated areas, the production costs could be less. This is because providing poultry with food represents 70 per cent of the price of breeding them, so by depending partially on desert plants, the price of poultry-rearing in arid regions could decrease. Furthermore, the pilot project showed that egg production was not affected by new nutrition and diets."

Khedr pointed out that the project had undertaken a comprehensive survey of which poultry breeds were able to withstand desert and semi-desert conditions, such as stress and heat, in order "to list the varieties which are most productive under these hard conditions".

But 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.