Botswana government is taking the battle against the notorious Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) epidemic to neighbouring Zimbabwe. The fight is being taken to Zimbabwe because it is the source of the epidemic that is ravaging Zones 6 and 7 of the North East District and the Bobirwa areas with the resultant social and economic hardships.
The bold and expense move is further aimed at finding a permanent solution towards eradicating the disease and averting further recurrences.
The decision to take the fight to Zimbabwe was announced by Agriculture Minister Christiaan De Graaff at an emotionally-charged meeting at Matsiloje village on Tuesday.
The minister told the angry farmers that government had decided to kill 21 000 cattle in Zone 6 and a further 2 000 cattle in Zone 7 in order to contain the disease from spreading to non-affected areas.
De Graaff, who had never hoped to address the issue of FMD outbreak in Zone 7, could not hide his frustration at the meeting saying it was a sad day for the cattle industry as five crushes in the Robelela crushes, with about 2000 cattle, had been diagnosed with the disease.
The outbreak in Masiloje was detected in April. The minister maintained that the outbreak in Zone 7 is not a spillover from Zone 6 because the fence separating the two zones is intact. To his disappointment, a farmer, whose case is being handled by the Selibe-Phikwe Police, was caught moving his cattle from Zone 6 into Zone 7 following the outbreak in the former.
Because of the outbreak in the two zones, all slaughtering facilities in Francistown and Selibe-Phikwe have been closed indefinitely and the movement of cloven-hoofed animals restricted.
Veterinary officers, the Botswana Police Service and the Botswana Defence Force personnel have also been deployed in strategic points to control the spread to non-affected areas.
In accordance with international disease control norms, trading partners, neighbouring countries and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) have been notified of the outbreaks.
“We are doing all that we can to contain the spread; surveillance results have been undertaken. Zones have been compartmentalized and no movement is allowed except to the slaughtering abattoir in Francistown. Zone 6 has well been put under surveillance,” said the minister who was clearly shaken by the outbreak.
He explained that after the initial detection of the outbreak at Matopi, Blue Jacket and Saenet, the outbreak has spilled to the Matsiloje extension area and the Tati farms with the number of affected cattle increasing from 12 000 to 21 000.
In the circumstances, meat and meat by-products is not allowed outside the affected zones.
He said due to the increased number of infected cattle, the BMC is stuck with the meat and, to that extent, government has taken the decision to kill all the cattle in the affected areas. The cattle will be killed and buried.
The minister said that at the outbreak of the disease in April, he had asked for P60 million for its containment, but due to the spread to other areas, he is now forced to ask for P120 million adding that, as a result, a compensation of P1700 per head will be paid and the killing will not be confined to animals less than six months old like had been decided earlier.
“With this strategy, we hope that the disease will be eradicated in the area. The other strategy adopted is the creation of a buffer zone with Zimbabwe,” said De Graaff.
Turning to taking the fight to Zimbabwe, he said the northern neighbour had placed an order for 600 000 doses of FMD vaccine and about 200 000 doses have already been supplied.
In addition, the government of Botswana will offer to Zimbabwe some vaccine and the affected cattle will be vaccinated under the supervision of the Botswana veterinary officials in light of the severity of the current outbreak, which he described as aggressive.
The minister feared that if government did not intervene and assist Zimbabwe, 200 000 cattle in Zone 6 would be affected with the potential of the spread to other parts of the country.
He said his deputy, Orreditse Molebatsi, will visit Matsiloje farmers to consult them further on the issue of the buffer zone and urged the farmers to cooperate with the veterinary officials.
In conclusion, he said government had decided to pay 70 percent in compensation and retain 30 for restocking once the disease has been eradicated.
The farmers, however, are not happy with the determined ratio of 70 to 30 percent.
The area MP, Samson Moyo Guma, told the farmers that they had not climbed down on their earlier proposals made to government, especially the retention of the money by government to ensure a restocking exercise after the eradication.
Simon Lephalo was concerned with the cross border movement of people which is causing the spread of the disease and was disappointed that despite their request for a meeting with the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Peter Siele, to address the people movement issue, the minister had not obliged.
“We are concerned with the livelihood of Batswana given the outbreaks’ recurrences. We urge you to rise to the concerns of the people. It is only through consultation that the spread can be contained,” said Lephalo.
Some farmers maintained that government should consult them on the issue of the buffer zone while others were concerned that the P1700 compensation is not sufficient.
Another farmer urged government to reconsider the restocking ratio as he was not satisfied with the 70 to 30 percent restocking exercise as already determined by government.
The farmers also asked the government to consider buying them farms away from the affected areas.
Meanwhile, vaccination of the cattle will be continued until the 15th of June while the killing will be started on the 23rd.
In conclusion, the farmers unanimously resolved for an audience with President Ian Khama given the gravity of the situation. It remains to be seen whether the president will find time to address the farmers as per their request.
As for the cattle that were smuggled from Zone 6 into Zone 7, De Graaff said they will be killed and the affected farmers will not be compensated.