Tati East Member of Parliament, Samson Moyo Guma, has called for an integrated SADC regional initiative in the fight against livestock/animal diseases ahead of the anticipated cattle restocking in Zone 6 of the North East District.
We cannot but agree with Guma on his proposal for an integrated regional fight against livestock diseases given the empirical evidence of the spillover of diseases from one country into the other, and in some cases extending beyond the borders of two countries.
Frequently, if there is an outbreak on one side of the border, the likelihood of the disease flowing into the other side is very high.
Livestock diseases have devastating economic impact on the various countries where such outbreaks occur. In the case of an FMD outbreak, countries like Botswana get a serious knock as a result of the ban on its beef exports, especially to the lucrative European Union market.
In case of an outbreak, the country loses a lot of foreign exchange revenue that could have been earned and used for infrastructural development and other priority projects.
If an FMD outbreak is not quickly contained in a particular country, it has the potential to affect the cattle and beef industries of the adjoining countries.
Take for example, last year’s outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in Zimbabwe that spilled into the Zones 6 and 7 of the North East and Bobirwa areas respectively. The same applies to frequent FMD outbreaks in Namibia that spilled into the Ngamiland.
The outbreaks have no doubt deprived the country substantial revenues it could have earned from beef exports.
After such outbreaks, in the case of Botswana, massive resources (financial) are pooled to eradicate the outbreaks to ensure that the outbreak is contained in one area so as to safeguard the entire cattle population.
Failure to contain the outbreak would be disastrous economically given the contribution of the cattle and beef industries to the country’s total revenues and gross domestic product (GDP).
Millions of Pula were used in the eradication of the outbreak of FMD in the past financial year alone and more millions have been budgeted for in the coming financial year.
It is not only FMD whose outbreak has spilled from one country into the other.
Our memories are still vivid with the spillover of the cattle lung disease from Namibia into Ngamiland District in the 1990s which led to the culling of almost 400 000 cattle in the entire district.
The culling exercise and the subsequent restocking exercise came at great cost to the country’s economy. Simply put, government was forced to shelve certain priority projects in order to address the plight of the Ngamiland farmers.
Most families who derived their source of living from cattle farming were impoverished by the cattle lung disease outbreak and measures had to be implemented to stave off the negative effects. As it is, some Ngamiland families never recovered from the disaster.
While we applaud the bilateral attempts by most of the SADC countries in containing diseases outbreaks along their common borders, the Tati East legislator’s proposal is spot on. His is a noble and viable idea that is worth pursuing.
As SADC strives for regional integration, one of the issues it should pursue as a major challenge facing the region should no doubt be livestock diseases. Botswana being a key livestock producer should listen with keen interest.
In as much as we have institutions like the Southern African Power Pool where the various countries forge ways of addressing power supply issues, the region certainly deserves a similar approach in the fight against livestock diseases.
It is commendable that the governments of Botswana and Zimbabwe found it fitting to pool their resources together to fight the FMD outbreak along their common border last year.
Such efforts should be fostered not only between the two countries. There is need for a broader initiative at regional level to address such issues.
While we have mentioned FMD and the cattle lung disease, there are many other diseases like nagana (caused by the tsetse fly) that continue to kill a lot of cattle in the Ngamiland.
It is our ardent hope that the relevant agricultural authorities of the SADC countries will find it fitting to impress upon their governments to establish an integrated approach in the fight against animal diseases.
In the same vein, SADC must establish an animal diseases fund which could be used in case of outbreaks in member countries.