Why this year's flu epidemic may be the worst one yet - TBP

Every winter, the elderly line up at their local drug store and people start walking around cities with face masks—all hoping to avoid getting this year’s strain of the flu. But much like many other diseases, the flu hits people in undeveloped countries, who have minimal access to quality healthcare, harder than it hits those in the United States. This summer, poultry farmers in West Africa are hit particularly bad as the flu epidemic spreads between their livestock.

“[Poultry farming] was our main activity for revenue,” said Naba Guigma, a poultry farmer from Burkina Faso’s Boulkiemde province, a region hit particularly hard by this strain, told IRIN. “Now I have no more poultry. The henhouse is empty.”

Millions of other farmers find themselves in the same situation as Guigma, as the sector has been steadily growing in West Africa since 2005. In Cote d’Ivoire alone, jobs in poultry farming have increased by 70% between 2006 and 2015, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This kind of job growth means that this epidemic does not only affect individual farmers but damages the entire regional economy.

The strain was confirmed to be H5N1, a particularly deadly strain of the bird flu or H1N1 that circled Africa, America and beyond in 2008 and 2009. First identified in January in Nigeria, this poultry flu has since shown up in Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Niger. Before January, what is commonly known as “bird flu” had not been seen in the region since the epidemic in 2008.

This strain of the disease is particularly dangerous because it can kill the chickens before it is recognized. Guigma initially thought his chickens and guinea fowl were sick with the Newcastle virus, a routine poultry disease. Just two weeks after Guigma first noticed the signs of disease, all of his 120 birds—worth up to $515—died, leaving Guigma without any source of income and with higher prices for poultry in his region.

“At this point, we don’t know very much about these viruses,” said CDC officer Alicia Fry at a press conference with the International Business Times in April. However, given that the virus kills animals in a radius of a contaminated copse and the main way of dealing with exposed animals is killing them on compensating their owners, the future does not look bright for these poultry farmers.

“Nothing about influenza is predictable—including where the next pandemic might emerge and which virus might be responsible,” the United Nations health agency told International Business Times in March. According to the World Health Organization, if this flu is not well-monitored, it could be worse than the 2009 swine flu outbreak that killed over 284,000.

– Eva Lilienfeld

Sources: IB Times 1, IB Times 2, Irin News
Photo: Newshunt

In 1996, representatives from more than 185 countries came together to address lack of food security at the World Food Summit. During that time, the summit came to the conclusion that, “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life,” food security would be a global reality.

Thus, as the World Health Organization clarifies, food security necessitates three things:

1. Production

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, there is plenty of food to fulfill the nutritional needs of every single person living today. However, food is often wasted and unable to reach the hands of the hungry through current distribution channels.

2. Distribution

Thus distribution is by far the greatest explanation for why we still have hunger and malnourishment today.

For consumers and farmers trying to sell their produce, market access is often unobtainable because of time, danger or cost. In fact, an estimated 16 percent of rural persons in the developing world lack easy access to markets to sell their produce.

Furthermore, while enough food is produced globally to feed every living person, not everyone can afford the prices, which further exacerbates food insecurity.

To combat distribution problems, investments in high-quality infrastructure, such as roads or railroads to provide better access to centralized markets, are vital. Because many governments don’t have the capital to spend on large-scale infrastructure, private investments or grants provided by the International Monetary Fund could pay for, or at least offset, the cost of infrastructure.

Food subsidies are another option for governments with impoverished and food-insecure populations. Subsidizing the cost of food can help the poor afford it while ensuring farmers have enough incentive to bring their food to markets in the first place.

3. Education

Educating farmers about more efficient techniques for crop production would help global food production and reduce waste. The farmers that would benefit most from improved crop production techniques are often those who cannot make enough money from their crops to pay for their own needs or feed their families.

Research conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment found that “60 percent of nitrogen and nearly 50 percent of phosphorus applications exceed what crops need to grow.” The report also noted that over 30 percent of food is wasted worldwide, indicating farmers have a lot to learn on maximizing crop output while minimizing environmental impact.

Many university-sponsored programs already go out and educate farmers on this subject, but much more could be done to ensure farmers, particularly those in developing countries, have the knowledge to succeed at the highest level of food production.

The globe is already seeing increased food production from many countries in the developing world, especially in Africa. A March 2013 report by the World Bank predicted that the food and beverage markets in Africa would triple by 2030.

Unfortunately, food insecurity will remain an inevitability of global poverty if the core issues above are not addressed. Lawmakers in developing countries, members of the agribusiness sector and individuals affected by poverty all have a vested say in making the globe food-secure; time alone will not solve the problem.

– Joseph McAdams

Sources: World Health Organization, Food and Agricutlure Organization, MIT, University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment,, The World Bank
Photo: Natural Habitats

As of May 27, 1,029,779 Syrian refugees were registered and residing in Lebanon, creating a challenging situation in an already unstable country. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO,) a United Nations entity that has been active in Lebanon since 1977, is addressing an aspect of food security in agriculture through an on-going livestock vaccination campaign that addresses the needs of Northern Lebanon’s poor and rural farmers.

Since the on-set of the Syrian crisis, the influx of refugees has put a significant strain on the agricultural sector which is working to provide food security to both local people and refugee families.

In addition to the increase in demand for food and decrease in production due to the pressure from the refugee influx, many farmers in the Bekaa Valley in Northern Lebanon have not had adequate access to veterinary services or necessary animal medicine, feed and fertilizer for their livestock.

Bekaa Valley, one of the poorest areas in Lebanon where agriculture generates around 80 percent of local gross domestic product (GDP), hosts around 60 percent of the UNHCR registered refugees. Since most of the low-income families rely heavily on livestock for food security, an outbreak in disease would not only risk the health of the livestock and people, but also their livelihood.

Due to the conflict and the 250-300 cattle and goats crossing from Syria into Lebanon each day, the FAO began a nationwide vaccination campaign targeting Transboundary Animal Diseases (TADs) such as foot & mouth disease, lumpy skin disease and ovine rinderpest. Beginning last summer and running through August 2014, it has been largely successful, reaching 70 percent of the livestock in Lebanon so far.

The program not only works to increase the number of sheep, goats and cattle vaccinated against important diseases, but also provides resources to ensure that livestock is adequately nourished and make sure farmers in communities that are hosting large refugee populations are still able to make a living.

As the on-going refugee crisis in Lebanon threatens to draw 170,000 more people into poverty by the end of 2014, it is important that investments continue to be made to promote agricultural growth, one of the most effective ways in reducing poverty. The FAO’s vaccination campaign is one step in securing the livelihoods of rural farmers in Northern Lebanon against potentially devastating livestock diseases.

– Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: Daily Star, IRIN News, United Nations, UNHCR 1, UNHCR 2
Photo: Wallsave

imageFAO Allocates Funding to Combat Locust Crop Destruction in Sudan
As though part of some biblical plague of the ancient world, the recent swarms of invading locusts have wreaked havoc on the crops of many North African countries. In an effort to both stem the flow of the relentless Lucusta migratoria and prevent future flare-ups, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has donated 1 million dollars to help fight the locust crop destruction in Sudan.

The funds, which resulted from joint cooperation of donors that included $400,000 from Saudi Arabia, $75,000 from the CRC’s emergency trust, and $500,000 from the FAO, will serve as a much needed shot in the arm in the ongoing war against the locust crop destruction in Sudan. The locusts, which began their migration back in February, initially did little damage to the Sudanese agricultural industry. However, the previous swarms laid eggs across much of the county, and like a ticking time bomb are expected to hatch risking further locust crop destruction in Sudan, which could decimate their spring and summer harvests.

The recent allocation of funds from the FAO is great news in the continuing effort of preventing further locust crop destruction in Sudan. Furthermore, through the combined funding of several generous donors, along with the agricultural expertise of the FAO, countries such as Sudan that have been dealing with the ravages of the locust swarms can now look forward to some much-needed relief.

– Brian Turner
Source African Brains
PhotoThe Desert Review