Monday, April 19, 2021

FMD: farmers’ enemy number one

When Botswana cattle farmers count their curses, most begin with Foot and Mouth Disease. “National disaster”, that is how Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Dr Micus Chimbombi describes the bane of the cattle farming industry.

Dr Chimbombi is not some hyperbole prone official who is trying to exaggerate the weight on his shoulders, far from it. Often times he finds himself flung into the political and media maelstrom of the epidemic. The man who is expected to have all the answers has had to keep a cool head when cattle farmers wrung their hands in fear and economists recoiled in horror at the effect of the disease.

“The outbreaks hurt the national economy because of the commerce built around the industry as it gets affected. The impact is huge as we have to allocate a big budget for every outbreak in order to contain and eradicate it. The current budget for the recent outbreak in the Matsiloje area (Zone 6) is P33 million),” said Chimbombi.

And it gets even worse; so far indications are that outbreaks of the disease are not just transient blips on the growth curve. Chimbombi and his colleagues are saddled with not only seeking a lasting solution but also rethinking how to guide the economy and cattle industry to resist these future shocks. “We are very concerned with the persistent outbreaks. That?is why we continue to educate the public about the importance of animal husbandry.”?In a 2008 working paper titled ‘Botswana’s foot and mouth disease and beef trade policy’, Principal Veterinary Officer Neo Mapitse observes that escalating costs of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) compliance mean that in a highly competitive global market, Botswana’s beef exports may be squeezed.?“Seeking alternative markets is a priority and one that may require some basic restructuring of the industry and associated government support. While everyone recognizes that the beef industry remains critical to the Botswana economy, how it contributes through what market routes and with what disease control and food safety mechanisms may need to adapt to new circumstances,” says Mapitse. Such observations are not lost to Chimbombi who says government has a clear cut programme to fight any outbreak. He said the first two elements are the separation of diseased animals from non-infected animals by way of cordoning the affected and the need to vaccinate the affected animals. The third involves the control of the movement of animals.?Agriculture Minister Christiaan De Graaff recently told Francistown and North East District Councillors that ┬áthe last outbreak of FMD in Zone occurred in the same area in 2002 and 2003 and was controlled by destroying about 16 000 cattle and 181 pigs.

The minister noted that subsequently cattle were restocked and the area regained FMD free status from the World Organisation for Animal Health. ?“The current outbreak means that this status and indeed that of the entire free zone of Botswana has been lost. The Department of Veterinary Services will after determining the extent of the disease spread, seek reinstatement of the free status in areas of low risk such as central and southern Botswana,” said De Graaff. He said the source of outbreaks in areas along the north eastern border such as Zone 6 and 7 is the persistent outbreaks of FMD in neighbouring Zimbabwe and government suspects the spill over into Botswana primarily through people who regularly handle animals in both countries as well as the movement of cloven hoofed animals and their fresh products between the two countries.?The minister said several options including stamping out, vaccination and their various combinations were considered in deciding on an appropriate control strategy for this outbreak. The advantages and disadvantages of the various strategies were carefully considered and at the end “government decided on emergency vaccination followed by supervised slaughter of all infected zone cattle through the BMC plant in Francistown”. He noted that the meat will be suitable for human consumption and farmers will be paid the market price of their animals by the BMC while young animals, less than six months old will be destroyed on the farms and owners compensated P1500 per head. “For this strategy to work it is vital that all cattle be fully vaccinated and later sent to the abattoir. At least two rounds of vaccination will be conducted, but additional vaccination may be carried out until no further cases are observed.

Cattle that miss vaccination will be destroyed without compensation to the owners. Similarly, stray cattle or cattle whose owners fail to take to BMC will be destroyed without compensation to the?owners,” said De Graaff. He added that as a long term FMD control strategy along the border with Zimbabwe, a buffer zone will be created along the border. Meanwhile, area MP Samson Moyo Guma has said that he will be leading a delegation of farmers to go and meet the minister with regard to the recent outbreak. He noted that government has decided to conduct vaccination of cattle and has cordoned the whole area. “Government is consulting with stakeholders. The principle is to kill all the cattle in order to eradicate the disease and then a restocking exercise be commenced once the area has been declared safe. A delegation including myself and the farmers are meeting the minister to explore the way forward. Everybody must be consulted,” said Guma. Like De Graaff, he said the biggest challenge is that if nothing happened on the Zimbabwe side, then the whole of Zone 6 is sitting on a time bomb as any strategies undertaken by the Botswana government or on the Botswana side will be short term.?“There is FMD in the Plumtree area. The whole area is infected. Cattle rustlers are stealing cattle in Zimbabwe and selling them to butcheries in Botswana and thus importing the FMD. We are sitting on a time bomb and government will have to come up with a comprehensive plan and initiate a serious war against the outbreak,” said Guma.

He noted like Mapitse that Botswana sells beef to the outside market and all has to be done to protect the industry and the small farmer. “We have to do that calmly. Government should consult seriously and also engaged its counterparts in Zimbabwe. We need a comprehensive solution for the problem in order to avoid recurrences. People must be made aware of the challenges,” said Guma. FMD was first reported in Botswana in the early 1930s. The country became infected through the spread of the disease from the then Rhodesia and South Africa. The disease was eradicated in 1934 only to reappear sporadically through the 1940s and in the second half of the 1950s.?Documented outbreaks caused by SAT types of FMD virus occurred in 1977 in Ngamiland (SAT 1) and Nata/Gweta (SAT 2) and in 1978 in the Chobe areas (SAT 2). In 1980 an outbreak was recorded in the central region in Zones 8 and 9.?The 1977/78 outbreaks followed cattle movement routes to the abattoir in Lobatse and the country did not experience any further outbreaks until 2002 when an outbreak of the disease by SAT 2 was confirmed in the Matsiloje extension area. The virus strain was found to be related to the SAT 2 virus that caused FMD outbreak in Zimbabwe in August 2001. In 2005/06/07, three separate outbreaks of FMD were reported in eastern and western areas of the Chobe and Ngamiland districts.

As cattle in the Chobe area did not constitute the regional and international markets, the outbreaks did not affect beef exports. And the control measures adopted was vaccination instead of destruction as vaccination is intended for eradication and resumption of sale to international markets. Another outbreak was reported in the Zone & area (Bobirwa sub-district). According to Mapitse, an FMD outbreak is considered a national disaster and as such its control measures require huge expenditure which the relevant department does not maintain in its accounts. Additional funds are therefore requested from the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning in accordance with the set rules.?The country has been divided into two main FMD control zones, the FMD free area where vaccination is practiced and the FMD free area where vaccination is not practiced as defined in the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code. The zones are separated by disease control fences which are maintained by government.?

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