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Egypt to resume poultry exports after 14-year struggle with bird flu

Certain Egyptian poultry facilities have finally won accreditation as bird flu-free.
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY INES BEL AIBA: An Egyptian poultry vendor weighs chicken for a customer at his shop in Damietta, 195 km north of Cairo, 05 December 2008. In the Nile Delta town, where Egypt's latest fatal bird flu victim Hanem Atwa Ibrahim lived, inhabitants fear the authorities more than the virus. Most of the inhabitants of the Ezbet el-Lahm district pay scant attention to the government's campaign against the H5N1 virus which, after a summer respite, killed four people, all women, in the space of

CAIRO — Egypt’s Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation al-Sayed el-Quseir announced June 14 that the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has lifted the ban on poultry exports from Egypt. Certain facilities shown to be free of the bird flu will be allowed to resume poultry exports.

The outbreak of avian influenza (H5N1) in 2006 had dealt a heavy blow to the Egyptian poultry exports, causing massive losses. Almost two decades after, the country appears to have partially contained the epidemic and achieved self-sufficiency by producing around 1.4 billion birds and around 13 billion eggs per year. Investments in the sector exceed 90 billion Egyptian pounds (about $6 billion).

Mona Mehrez, former deputy minister of agriculture for animal resources and fisheries and poultry, explained that the ban on poultry exports due to avian influenza had pummeled the Egyptian sector. Exports were halted to many African, Arab and Asian countries. Egypt took several medical and preventive measures to stop the epidemic, develop poultry production and achieve self-sufficiency in response.

In an exclusive phone interview with Al-Monitor, she said the political leadership has shown great interest in this labor-intensive industry, which employs more than 2.5 million Egyptian.

“There was a political will to confront the epidemic and revive this industry,” she affirmed. “There has been continuous follow-up with poultry producers to achieve animal safety since 2008. Samples have been taken monthly for analysis to ensure the implementation of precautionary measures. There was also great coordination with the General Federation of Poultry producers to provide breeders with financial support. Also, to contain the epidemic, two laboratories were established in Upper Egypt, four in Lower Egypt and one in central Egypt. Breeders took on a critical role in the efforts to eradicate avian influenza.”

She added that 14 Egyptian poultry facilities have been accredited as bird flu-free after samples were sent to the OIE.

Mehrez noted that the recent accreditation is a great opportunity for breeders to increase investments and export their products to African, Asian and Arab markets. Such expansion would support the national economy with hard currency and increase job opportunities in this labor-intensive industry. “This is a golden opportunity; several other Egyptian [poultry] facilities may be accredited by the OIE to export their product by coordinating with the Agriculture Ministry and implementing the safety measures.”

The head of the Poultry Division at Egypt's Federation of Chambers of Commerce, Abd al-Aziz al-Sayed, agreed with Mehrez. “Egypt has achieved self-sufficiency in poultry and eggs and can export up to 700 million birds annually and nearly one million tons of poultry products. This … is of great benefit to the Egyptian economy struggling with the effects of the coronavirus outbreak.”

Sayed told Al-Monitor that his division is coordinating with the Agriculture Ministry to support breeders and poultry facilities in order to get the OIE accreditation and start exporting their products. He asserted that the ministry provides breeders with all forms of support and seeks to solve all of their problems and difficulties.

He argued that export will not affect the local market nor the prices, because Egyptian producers can increase supply to meet local demand.

Meanwhile, economics professor at Ain Shams University Yomn al-Hamaki told Al-Monitor by phone that good planning to face the adverse effects caused by the bird flu in 2006 can be credited for the success. “Farms were established in closed desert locations along with appropriate vaccination. This is probably what encouraged OIE to approve poultry exports from Egypt.”

She added that Egypt’s poultry sector is very promising, which huge investment opportunities of nearly 100 billion Egyptian pounds (about $6.2 billion).

Hamaki urged the state to keep supporting poultry producers and meet all their needs at reasonable prices so as to increase their competitiveness abroad and consequently boost the national economy.

Magdy Malak, the undersecretary of the Egyptian parliament's Agriculture Committee, expects investments in the poultry industry to increase by 25% to 30%. He told Al-Monitor that lifting the export ban on Egypt allows poultry producers to increase production and go beyond local sufficiency to meet export demands from neighboring countries. “Lifting the ban encourages producers to take advantage of the infrastructure developed by Egypt to up the number of bird flu-free poultry facilities.”

He noted that the recovery of the poultry industry will have a positive impact on the national economy, increasing the GDP in the country. “The state will show no delay in providing producers with support, whether financial support via the Central Bank of Egypt offering soft loans through banks with a 5% interest rate for small enterprises or through any other form of support aimed to maximize production.”

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