Transforming poultry production in Southeast Asia

May 04, 2016

Since the widespread outbreaks of avian influenza in China and Southeast Asia in the early 2000s, government policies intended to reduce the risk of future outbreaks have led to thousands of small-scale poultry farmers moving to designated poultry production areas. But these relocation efforts have been weakened by farmers’ distrust of government officials as well as other unforeseen environmental and socio-economic impacts. A team of IDRC-supported researchers is now working to improve the management of these poultry farms, and to reduce the risk of bird flu outbreaks while also supporting the livelihoods of farmers and their communities.

Responding to the threat of bird flu

Since 2003, government policies in China, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam have led to the restructuring of poultry production. In an attempt to reduce the risk of animal-human disease transmission, small-scale farmers moved into zones known as poultry production clusters. These areas were intended to reduce the risk of avian influenza outbreaks and regional spread, while supporting increased levels of poultry production through economies of scale. 

Disease prevention efforts questioned

IDRC-supported researchers took a closer look at these policies and found that the poultry production clusters have done little to change the way farms are run. In fact, they have had a negative impact on the health of the farmers, their livelihoods, their community relationships, and local environments. They have also been ineffective in reducing the risk of bird flu.

Following the early outbreaks of the avian flu, farmers were forced to cull their flocks with little or no compensation. The farmers then relocated to poultry production clusters with little support to help them set up new farms and settle into their new communities. 

Having already suffered economic losses due to both the culling of their birds and their relocation, farmers were reluctant to talk to local government officials. As a result, state veterinary officials had a poor understanding of the health of poultry flocks and the management of farms in these new clusters. This also resulted in farmers receiving little technical training or support from the government to improve the management of their farms. Poor farm management led to water and air pollution, and improper farm waste management, creating tensions between poultry farmers and their communities.

Mending relations between farmers and government officials

To improve poultry farm management and to help prevent future disease outbreaks, the research team worked with farmers and government officials to launch a series of interventions in China, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. The team tailored different strategies depending on the needs of the farmers, communities, and officials in each country. Some measures were aimed at improving relations between farmers and the authorities, which was achieved by organizing meetings and training workshops attended by both parties. Another tactic brought together livestock officials and farmers to develop systems to improve the biosecurity of poultry farms. 

This community-focused, bottom-up approach has led to a shift in attitudes among farmers and government officials. Poultry farmers are now more likely to share their concerns with officials and to collaborate with the authorities to improve health conditions and reduce their environmental footprint. 

The research is helping shape poultry production policies at the local and national level in China and Southeast Asia. The findings have also been shared internationally. Findings were presented to the Laos Department of Livestock and Fisheries, as well as to the United Nations Sub-Working Group on Diseases at the Human-Animal Interface.  

This project is supported through the Ecohealth Emerging Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (EcoEID), a larger umbrella of research and capacity-building projects in Southeast Asia which focus on preventing and mitigating emerging infectious diseases through locally relevant and sustainable approaches.

Read some of the project's most recent publications: