Saturday, June 19, 2021

Botswana can export meat from FMD-infected cattle to South Africa

Being in no way any kind of revenge for what Bafana Bafana did to the Zebras two Saturdays ago at the COSAFA tournament, Botswana can export foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) meat to South Africa for further processing. Only when that happens, the meat would have been rid of the FMD virus.

That is one of the major findings of a beef value chain analysis action plan that was undertaken under the framework of the Private Sector Development Programme on behalf of the Botswana government and the European Union. For years, Botswana’s FMD policy has focused on the eradication of the disease in line with recommendations made by the Paris-based World Organisation for Animal Health which is better by its French abbreviation OIE ÔÇô Office International des Epizooties.

However, as the PSDP plan notes, this approach is unlikely to succeed due to the co-existence of wildlife and cattle in Ngamiland district which is the FMD epicentre.

“In addition policies are not coordinated within SADC where wildlife moves across national borders. An alternative approach should look at the available market channels for the FMD infected cattle besides being destroyed or used for canned food,” says the plan adding that with a P20 million investment in the requisite heat treatment technology, Botswana would be able to economically heat-treat and sell the meat from FMD zones both locally and to South Africa as pre-cooked processed meat.

In terms of the technology in question, the FMD virus in lymph nodes from infected cattle is deactivated by heating it to 69 degrees Celsius. The latter is the critical temperature in food preparation and viruses are highly sensitive to it. 

As it is, the value of the cattle located in FMD affected zones is very low primarily due to their difficulty in accessing the domestic, regional and international markets. Investing in the heating technology would help extend the export value chain to Ngamiland beef. On account of the beef sector’s importance to the national economy, Botswana has robust FMD control protocols that are streets ahead of those of some First World countries, the European Union included. However, that effort comes to nought on bad days because Botswana’s neighbours don’t invest that much effort into their own FMD control. In part response to that problem and at prohibitive cost, Botswana put up an electric fence along its border with Zimbabwe. Politely noting that “countries surrounding the Caprivi Strip and the Okavango Delta need to coordinate their efforts for developing a CBT-based trade that would benefit farmers and consumers alike”, the action plan emphasises the need for a regional approach to address the FMD problem as well as the need to form a SADC committee to advocate the region’s interests at OIE. CBT is a concept that focuses on the health and safety attributes of the product rather than the disease status of the country of origin.

The plan advises Botswana to diversify its processing capacity outside BMC to achieve technical requirements for selling outside FMD-infected areas ÔÇô green zones as they are termed.

“Technologies exist to treat red zone meat so that it can be sold in the green zone and in targeted export markets. However, the value chain for such meats is constrained by the lack of available capacity for such processing. The Ministry of Agriculture, in partnership with the Citizen Entrepreneurship Development Agency, should promote the establishment of smaller processing facilities for this purpose in the red zone,” says the plan adding that “Potentially the Maun abattoir production lines could be upgraded to include a meat processing line and a heat treatment line to export heat-treated carcasses to either south Botswana or the Southern Africa region without the risk of FMD contamination.”

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