COMMENTARY

In Pohnpei, native fruit bolsters immune systems in wild birds and is used by locals to treat Avian Flu-like diseases
Could noni fruit allow US free-range poultry producers to prevent Avian Flu in their flocks—and treat it if it occurs?

Posted January 12, 2007

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NF


I am writing you to gather suggestions and advice about a discovery I made while living in the South Pacific for several years about a Polynesian way to prevent (and treat) bird flu in chickens and wild birds. This practice is also helpful for minimizing diseases of all kinds being transferred between chickens, pigs, humans—and yes, rats.

By observing the Polynesian way nature has evolved to keep the ecosystems of tiny islands safe from being wiped out by diseases, I thought that doing the same in our farms and wildlife refuges would be a very effective way to naturally prevent the spread of diseases like bird flu.

Here's my story: I recently returned to the states after living for two years of in Pohnpei, Micronesia. There, I had the good fortune to experience a system already in place (by nature) for migrating birds to protect themselves from diseases when they arrive on the island, and for the local population of birds to protect themselves from possible disease that the migrating birds could be carrying with them on their migrations.

I also had the good fortune to experience first-hand the local practice of using a medicinal plant to treat the birds in a shipment of chickens (supposedly from China), which now when I read about it, I am certain had Avian Influenza.

In a "belt" around the island, just inland of the mangrove swamps, is a thin strip of salty land. It is brackish but not waterlogged, and gets a renewed influx of water with the tides. Growing on this land is a grove of trees that we called "weipwul." This literally means "hog pineapple." The same fruit is commonly known as "noni" in the U.S.

When the migrating birds first land on the island, they have been flying for thousands of miles over open ocean. They are exhausted, thirsty and energetically spent—good candidates for catching any kind of diseases that might be on the island.

However, they spend the first few days eating the fruit of the weipwul trees. During this time they are rehydrated, re-energized, and, it seems, given an immune-system support that protects them from whatever diseases might be in the local population of birds, pigs, people—and yes, rats—that they will be exposed to.

This zone serves as a natural quarantine and re-energization center for birds that come into the island. Now when birds come onto the island by-passing this natural quarantine zone (like a shipment of chickens from China sold in the market), the local people expect them to be sick.

Historically, the people only got "shipments" of chickens when a boat washed up on the shore. Those chickens were seen as valuable treasures because they had "medicine" in their bodies. Local people saw that these new birds, when bred with local birds, could treat the diseases that otherwise "couldn’t be treated."

What the locals are talking about here is genetic diversity. Inbreeding causes genetic disease. Every once in awhile, when they are blessed with new chickens, they can break the cycle of the genetic diseases that have begun to manifest. So, knowing this [historical benefit of new birds] explained why the shipment of very sick chickens wasn't rejected by the local market. And, learning about the weipwul/noni effect explains why the villagers didn't seem to be concerned that the chickens were sick.

But at first I wondered: Why would you take sick chickens home and risk introducing disease into your healthy chickens? I asked a friend of mine, a traditional elder. She said that they were unconcerned because "they knew how to treat this disease." Further, as long as the person handling the chicken is also eating the weipwul fruit, then they are also protected from contracting this disease while working with the chicken.

With this explanation I asked her to show me how it’s done. We went to the market and got a really sick one (the only one that they had left, with feathers falling out, purple skin, sores, oozing eyes and beak, that no one else wanted) and we proceeded to treat it. We force-fed the chicken pureed fruit for awhile, then when it got enough strength back to hold its head up, we let it eat on its own.

After about 18 hours, it seemed totally revived, with no signs of AI illness (such as oozing eyes or purple skin), and its sores had begun to heal. So, we let it run around with the other free-range chickens and noticed that it frequently ate the weipwul off of the ground as its food of choice. Within three weeks, its feathers had grown back and we couldn't distinguish it from the others.

It is now my thinking with all of this hype and scare about bird flu, with real or imagined risks, that we can do the same kind of thing here in the states around our free-range chickens on the poultry farms. We can set up something like a "quarantine belt" around our chicken farm "islands" by feeding the chickens the fresh/frozen pureed fruit as a way to protect the local population of chickens from the diseases that the migrating birds may be carrying with them. Likewise, if possible, we can somehow get this fruit into the diets of the migrating birds on wildlife refuges.

I've made contact with a supplier of this fruit who can ship it to whomever needs it in the form that I want it in (as close to fresh as possible), as a fresh/frozen puree. This can be put into the chicken feed, and the wild bird feed (if used).

Let me know what farmers think about my suggestions, and please give me any advice you have. Thank you in advance.

Catherine Sundvall
catherine.sundvall@indra.com

PS: Brad Stufflebeam of Wesley, Texas, is working to connect farmers, cooperatives and organic feed suppliers to a high-quality supply of the frozen noni fruit, and can be contacted by email at noni@homesweetfarm.com.

 

DEAR CATHERINE:

You saw first-hand the effectiveness of this plant and the way it serves birds and humans on this island. There are many names www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/noni/worldwide_names_13.asp for this crop, which has many traditional and contemporary medicinal uses www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/noni/downloads/morinda_species_profile.pdf.
The traditional role of the noni (Morinda Citrifolia) is documented here www.agroforestry.net/tti/Morinda-noni.pdf with full botanical background, and here www.consumerhealth.org/articles/display.cfm?ID=19990303205600 in greater medical detail.

The weipwul/noni tree is included in a USDA-SARE farm profile www.sare.org/publications/naf2/calvo.htm as part of an integrated agroforestry enterprise in the Northern Mariana Islands.

A wild fruit that combats this deadly virus would be a confounding development, and perhaps provide insight into how else birds and people might boost their immune systems in similar ways.

NF