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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 January, 2004, 07:36 GMT
Thai poultry farmers grieve losses

By Tony Cheng
BBC's East Asia Today, Bangkok

The farmers in the market town of Song Pi Nong, in Thailand's central Suphan Buri province, have spent the past few days watching their livelihoods literally disappearing into the ground.

Soldiers and volunteers moved from farm to farm, collecting chickens from their coops, bagging them alive in empty feed sacks, and then throwing them into lime-covered pits to be buried.

For many of the small stakeholders in this part of Thailand, chicken farming is their only means of earning a living.

Workers put chickens into a plastic before burying them in central Thailand
Farmers are having to bury their carefully-reared chickens alive
The coops sit in rows, suspended over ponds that hold fish and shrimp. The livestock below feeds on the waste of those above. Nothing is wasted and the margins are thin.

Songchai Kitiwongwatanachai is one such farmer.

He kept 20,000 birds on his farm, and his thin, weathered face show signs of a life spent squeezing a meagre living out of his smallholding.

On Saturday, within the space of two hours, he saw his life's work disappear into a large hole.

"Its too late," he said, talking about the government's response. Everything has already gone."

"As soon as 500 died, we had to bury the other 20,000 alive. When the disease hit us on 1 January, the birds died very quickly. I didn't know what it was but I knew it was very serious. But we were never told what to do."

What Songchai is concerned about now is how he will be compensated for the loss of his chickens.

In the 30 years I've worked as a farmer I never saw anything like this
Satat, Song Pi Nong

"It's all very well for the government to talk about 40 baht (US$1) per chicken in compensation, but that is only enough to live on, to get food to eat. Our whole farms have disappeared and now we have nothing left. Will they pay for us to restock? We need to wait and see what the government has to offer, but I haven't seen any money yet," he said.

Other farmers are less forgiving. A middle-aged man who will only give his first name as Satat said that the response was too slow.

"When the outbreak started there was no information from the government, no announcement that there was an outbreak," he said.

"We didn't know what to do, and in the 30 years I've worked as a farmer I never saw anything like this. In this district there are only a few families who have received compensation, but nearly everyone has lost their chickens. We have big loans to pay."

A duck farmer was distraught because, even though her birds have shown no sign of bird flu, they will be killed nonetheless.

"I'm not happy at all. I think they should have given us some medicine or vaccine. My ducks were all ready to be sold, and now I've lost everything because they will be buried tomorrow," she said.

"I'm sure that the government won't give me the same money I would have got if I'd sold them."

These stories are being told throughout the poultry belt of central Thailand.

Despite the culls currently taking place, it appears that the government is desperately trying to catch up with a problem that is now almost beyond their control.

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