Access to a vaccine for Newcastle Disease (ND) has transformed the lives of communities in the Mayurbhanj district of Odisha state.
Local inhabitants, who have traditionally bred poultry, would often experience the death of their flock during an outbreak of ND. The deadly disease has been known to kill entire flocks when an outbreak occurs.
A vaccine against ND was introduced in this district with the help of the Bhodal Milk Producers Cooperative Society (BMPCS), an Odisha based NGO, which in turn was supported by the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed). The vaccine has played a key role in saving the birds and has contributed to increased income and intake of protein in families.
Forty-six-year-old Jitray Marandi from Pandupal village is a farmer. He also rears livestock and gathers Mahua flowers, which are not only a food item for the locals but are also used for brewing country spirit, locally called Mahuli. He first heard of the vaccine about two years ago from Govardhan Naik, the local vaccinator and rural health worker. Having witnessed the death of his chickens year after year, he was keen to try anything that would stop the outbreaks.
Marandi’s decision to try the new vaccine paid off. His chickens went almost unscathed after administering the vaccine. Over the past year his flock has grown to an impressive 100 chickens. Out of the 100, his family consumed thirty, while another thirty have been sold off providing much needed income. “I will use forty birds for breeding over the next year,” he said.
Poultry are very important to these communities who have reared them for generations, and are still rearing them. Not only are they a regular fixture in their diet, but they are also a means of income. Moreover, the chickens are also used as offerings in important religious rituals. It is not uncommon to see visitors bringing their own chickens and presenting them to the hosts as gifts.
“My family has traditionally kept poultry, but they were always very few. The Ranikhet disease [local name for ND] wouldn’t allow the flock to grow,” says 60-year-old farmer, Gopal Hembram.
Before the arrival of the vaccine for ND, they had no idea that their poultry could be protected medically.
“We only got to know of this from Govardhan and the awareness videos we were shown,” Mr Hembram said.
Since the introduction of the vaccine two years ago there has been no major outbreak. The flock size has increased from between a paltry two to six to 60.
Adoption of the vaccine has also been very good, as the selling price of a single chicken is enough to cover the cost of vaccinating the entire flock. The money is used to meet various family needs including funding the education of their children and buying crucial agricultural inputs for their fields.
The farmers get their chickens vaccinated four times a year, paying eight Indian Rupees (or less than 13 US cents) per bird annually. The chickens are also primed for vaccination by deworming for which they pay another eight Indian Rupees annually. Once a chicken is grown, it can be sold for a maximum of 600 Indian Rupees (US $ 9). This is a significant economic investment for the farmers.
Speaking in the local Santhal dialect, Gopal’s wife Chhita (50) observes: “If you take care of your poultry, give them proper food and management, the chickens will take care of you.” She also advises others to vaccinate their birds.
When the project was launched, BMPCS facilitated a discussion among stakeholders and helped them to take a bold decision to charge the farmers a basic fee, instead of handing out the vaccines for free. Initially the sales from the retail shops were low, but later the sales grew considerably. The decision has yielded good results as the farmers soon understood the benefits of vaccination.
The farmers are keen to continue with vaccination even if the current project ends. This essentially points to the development of a sustainable market for ND vaccine in the district.
This has also motivated several young people like Sukanti (17) to aspire to be vaccinators. “I have just finished school. I think I can be a good vaccinator and earn well,” she says. She is from a farming family with backyard poultry and hence has understood the importance of ND vaccination.
Piyush Mishra, Programme Manager, BMPCS, notes: “If Sukanti and a few more girls take up vaccination, they can serve neighbouring villages and teach the villagers techniques for housing and feeding poultry as well.”
Improved income and nutrition of backyard poultry farmers have helped a large number of the population in an otherwise stressed farming situation. The region, like most other regions in India, has seen successive seasons of drought. Vaccinations against ND has boosted their poultry rearing and the vaccine now has a sustained demand in the local market place.
By Deepak Bhadana and edited by Prasenjit De of Alternatives on behalf of GALVmed.