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AusAID – Fighting Newcastle Disease in East Africa
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AusAID – Fighting Newcastle Disease in East Africa

Like most people, I know that the Australian Government provides foreign aid to less developed countries. Normally I hear about one or two big projects through the news each year, but these stories are usually gone within the 24 hour news cycle.

I came across the article (written in 2003) about how AusAID has been financing the control of Newcastle Disease in East Africa. This is one of those good stories that rarely gets rewarded, and I think it deserves recognition. This article referred to the period 1985-2003, I’ll try an establish if this programme is ongoing.

Chicken Fever

Keeping chickens is a way of life for many communities around the world. In developing countries, chickens provide one of the most important sources of income and food.

For many women in Africa owning chickens can mean the difference between living in poverty and earning a basic income. They are the most accessible livestock for farmers of lesser means and are easier to look after than goats and cattle, which require herding.

But chickens have a deadly enemy Newcastle Disease. The disease can spread quickly and quietly, killing up to 80 per cent of village flocks each year.

Over the past 18 years the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), with funding from AusAID, has been supporting projects to control Newcastle Disease in chickens.

Two vaccines have now been developed that are highly successful in eliminating the virus.

More chickens mean more meat, more eggs, greater family assets, a source of income and ready cash in emergencies. Once farming families gain confidence in the vaccination process and believe that their chickens will not die, they begin to eat more poultry, meat and eggs.

This is especially important for pregnant women and children. Poultry can make a crucial difference in areas where childhood malnutrition is common. Malnutrition inhibits growth, increases the likelihood of illness and can affect mental development.

AusAID is now funding more trials and vaccination production campaigns in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia. Because so many adults have died of HIV/AIDS, many households in these countries are headed by children or grandparents. For them it’s not possible to raise goats and cattle because that would require more work – such as finding fodder – and being away from home. Given this, raising poultry is the best option.

Once Newcastle Disease is controlled in village chickens, some more fortunate farming families are able to sell their chickens to buy goats and, later, maybe cattle. In this way incomes increase and lives improve.

With the control of Newcastle Disease now possible, the humble chicken can play an important part in the fight against poverty.

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