Newcastle disease and the elephant in the room
Korleri Thakur is a farmer with a jumbo-sized problem. Although her family has four acres of land and should be able to produce enough food to support the household, the local wild elephants often destroy her crops and sometimes even knock down the hut the family lives in. This makes farmers like Korleri whose villages are located in dense forest (good elephant habitat) highly dependent on livestock and poultry for their livelihoods.
Outbreak of poultry or livestock diseases are dreaded by farmers as these can wipe out months of hard work. Last year, an outbreak of Marudi (Newcastle disease) affected 25 of Korleri’s chickens: only five survived. This experience with poultry disease has, however, made her wiser: her poultry were fully vaccinated during the recent GALVmed-supported community animal health worker training – part of GALVmed’s Newcastle disease pilot programme.
Despite keeping chickens since she was a child, she was not previously aware that timely vaccinations would help save the birds. She is now willing to spend on vaccines and medicine for poultry because she can see it makes economic sense.
Talking about the chickens brings a smile to her face. From those five birds, she has managed to increase the flock to eight. Her poultry and goats contribute food and income to the household. The birds are of the local variety (desi) and scavenge for food all over the village. The fact that the birds do not need to be fed makes Korleri happy as it saves her a lot of effort and money.
Every once in a while a cockerel that survives and grows to maturity is sold for INR 300 (US,$6.5) – a welcome addition to the household income. The cash from her poultry sales is deposited in the Suvakatti (village bank) and she plans to use this to support her children’s education and build another room for her family. She is also very proud when she has guests and can serve them her own chicken for a special meal.
Korleri has a twinkle in her eye when she speaks of the future and a major reason for her optimism comes for her colourful flock of poultry. She is still superstitious by nature and is wary of anyone seeing her birds thinking “someone is casting an evil eye on my poultry”. More importantly, however, the community animal health worker is casting a benign eye over her livestock and has helped her to avoid Newcastle disease in her flock.
Korleri Thakur is from Bayakamotiya village, Mayurbhanj District, in Orissa State, India. She lives with her husband, their four children and her father-in-law.