By JOSEVA TOKAIBAI
The discharge from poultry processing factories in Nasinu, Nausori and Tailevu and the resulting environment problems have caused nearby residents much suffering for many years.
Besides the smell, residents have complained about fly infestation and chicken waste dumped indiscriminately into the nearby waterways.
Some like Jone Soro, who has lived in the area for 15 years, is all too familiar with the morning stench emanating from the processing plants. He is one of many residents who live adjacent to these plants and have long complained about the risks to their health and livelihoods.
“Acts of negligence have a big impact on the wider community in terms of health risks associated with animal or manufacturing waste,” Soro said.
While the problem is well reported and known, it is not going away completely. Only last year, a major poultry company was cited for improperly discharging chicken waste on sites adjacent to its farms and in close proximity to residential areas.
The Environment Ministry’s permanent secretary Joshua Wycliffe had earlier confirmed to the national media that four infringement notices were served to poultry company Ram Sami & Sons (Fiji) Limited since April 2020 for breaching the Environment Management Act 2005 and regulations around the proper disposal of chicken waste.
“This is a very poor practice and very hazardous for health and well-being,” Mr Wycliffe had said in the article.
“There is evidence of the waste on site. If chicken waste is not properly treated, it opens up for organisms to grow, posing a threat of diseases and infections on humans.”
While an important economic activity and source of employment and income for many, poultry farms pose major environmental risks if they are not properly regulated, even in developed countries like the United States.
Even though the United States farms are on an industrial scale and the Fiji farms are comparatively small, there are some common threats. A 1991 study on the environmental impacts of on-farm poultry waste disposal in the USA found that ground water quality may be impacted due to the movement of water containing pollutants present in poultry waste.
The study found that surface runoff from the areas that were being polluted are most likely to enter the drainage system of the residences and also the irrigation system of backyard farms and gardens, posing a great risk to people’s health.
In May 2020, villagers in Tailevu raised concerns about a fly infestation they alleged were caused by a poultry farm and processing centre under Goodman Fielder International, a regional food company across Australia, New Zealand and Asia Pacific.
At the time, Minister for Waterways and Environment Dr Mahendra Reddy warned that hefty fines as high as $1 million could be imposed on poultry businesses that show no regard for the environment and human health.
“The negative externalities arising from their operations do not only impact the environment but also the health of the communities and families living within the proximity of these facilities,” he said in a statement last year.
“We are requesting that all companies should have a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that includes fly treatment. Poultry operators should have a well-developed Fly Control Program that would regularly monitor and mitigate economic and health threats.
“The Department will continue to monitor all poultry operations in Fiji to ensure the agreed SOPs are being adhered to.”
According to legal requirements, every livestock facility must hold a livestock waste permit for disposals or discharges of waste and pollutants from the Department of Environment; ensure that there are no direct discharges of animal waste into the environment, and ensure that odours and pests (including flies) are properly managed onsite.
Livestock facility should also ensure that manure (bird excrement), litter (bedding materials and wood shavings) are disposed of in an environmentally sound manner with the approval of the Department of Environment.
Furthermore, all liquid waste discharged by the facilities must meet the standards specified in the Environment Management Act 2005 and the Environment Management (Waste Disposal and Recycling) Regulations of the National Liquid Standards.
Studies on the poultry industry in Fiji are few and far in between but research conducted overseas indicate the risks as well as the need for Fiji to conduct its own investigations into the industry.
A 2013 journal article on poultry wastes management strategies and environmental implications on human health in Ogun State of Nigeria highlighted environmental contamination and human deaths relating to the transmission of poultry bird flu and improper disposal of waste in the community.
“The use of poultry waste for urban agriculture has become an issue because of its perceived benefits that include higher production output, which consequently ensures food security and poverty reduction among the under-privileged,” the journal report highlighted.
“Despite these benefits, the use of poultry wastes has been associated with environmental pollution and threat to human health. They do not provide a better substitute for industrial manure.”
In Fiji, one of the areas that apparently needs to be looked into is the threats and opportunities of the use of chicken manure in agriculture. This investigation could not find any data on the use of chicken manure in agriculture in Fiji, including how widespread it might be and the potential risks.
In signs that the dumping of waste is persistent, if not a growing problem in Fiji, the Environment Department is employing new tactics to catch offenders.
He said the department relied on the public for information, with most of the complaints filed by people in communities affected by the waste discharge.
Breaches of the Environment Management Act 2005 carry a fine of $1 million, life imprisonment or both.
The penalty is five times higher for corporate bodies.
Meanwhile, Mr Soro is urging communities to file complaints to the authorities with evidence of any environmental breaches to help curb these irresponsible practices.