The Department of Animal Health and Production is involved in frantic efforts to contain yet another outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the Ngamiland area. The Director of Animal Health and Production, Dr Musa Fanikiso, told The Sunday Standard that after identifying clinical signs that indicated the presence of the disease they sent samples to the Botswana Vaccine Institute and their worst fears were confirmed when results pointed to the existence of an SAT 1 strain of FMD, predominantly in the Habu extension area.
However, Fanikiso said that the disease research has indicated that the disease is not as widespread as they initially thought as it is restricted to only three crushes within the Habu extension area. He, however, cautioned that the contagious disease will easily spread throughout the area if farmers do not complement his department’s efforts to control the movement of livestock.
“We are aware that if left to fester, this could escalate into a national catastrophe that could cost the government millions and we are working around the clock to ensure that all protective measures are in place,” said Fanikiso. The Matsiloje outbreak alone cost the government around P19 million in compensation, logistical needs and restocking.
He added that while the few animals that have displayed signs of FMD infection are under strict monitoring and medication, the situation remains fragile and potentially explosive primarily because the infected are is an open area in which there is free movement within and between crushes.
Asked if the situation has escalated to a point where they will have to destroy the cattle, Fanikiso said that at the moment destruction is not a viable alternative, but only if movement control measures are adhered to so as to minimize chances of the spreading of the disease.
The Government has, because of the outbreak, instituted movement restrictions on all cloven hoofed animals and wildlife into and out of the Zone 2 area under which Habu falls. Fresh produce, like milk, skins and meat, from clove hoofed animals within the area, have also been prohibited. However, movement of processed products from such animals, including UHT milk, canned meat, cheese and yoghurt are still allowed to move freely within the area.
But trade with farmers from this area has been banned and they will not be able to export their beef to EU markets. Bobirwa farmers suffered the same fate when, after 28 years without the disease, they were hit by a crippling outbreak that saw the government taking steps to ban their beef from EU exports for 5 years until such a time that the area had been completely cleansed. However, as is the present case with Ngami, the government opted to institute stringent movement control measures instead of destroying the cattle.
Botswana has, over the years, suffered great setbacks after numerous crippling FMD outbreaks in areas like the north east district, Pandamatenga, Chobe and Bobonong and Matsiloje. Farmers from borderline areas like Matsiloje, Bobonong and Pandamatenga have in the past pointed accusing fingers at neighbouring Zimbabwe for instigating the spread of FMD into Botswana because of her lax livestock movement control measures along the border posts. Such areas continue to be prone to FMD attacks and past research has revealed that in most cases the FMD strain identified in these areas is identical to the one prevalent in Zimbabwe.
Uncontrolled livestock movement, unmonitored cross border livestock transfers by cattle rustlers, vandalism of border line fences by cattle rustlers, illegal immigrants and elephants are factors that perpetuate FMD transfers across borders.
On the other hand, Fanikiso revealed that the situation is exacerbated by the presence of the African Cape buffalo, which has been identified as the main carrier of the SAT 1, 2 and 3 strains of the virus, in southern Africa. Buffaloes, he said, are the main carriers of FMD because they are allowed free movement across borders such that they can easily transfer the virus from one country to another, and their subsequent contact with livestock in grazing lands and watering holes results in infection.
“It is, therefore, impossible to eradicate FMD completely because of its close association with buffaloes which populate areas like Chobe, Pandamatenga and Ngamiland,” said Fanikiso.
While it remains almost impossible to eradicate FMD, the efforts of farmers and the public at large support government’s vaccination efforts and movement controls will go a long way in keeping the disease under control.
Fanikiso told The Sunday Standard that while farmers in the affected areas have proved very supportive of government’s efforts, there is an insurmountable problem of controlling livestock movement.
Though herding livestock remains the most effective way of controlling movement, farmers are reluctant to herd their cattle because they face a lot of dangers from elephants which populate the area.
The Sunday Standard is informed that the Ngamiland area is infested with elephants which have relocated from the delta and are encroaching on farming areas and grazing lands. Such elephants pose a great danger to herdsmen and many are hesitant to accompany their cattle to grazing fields such that movement of animals will remain a problem until the danger posed by elephants is removed.