Until just two weeks ago, about three farming zones in the country – 3b (Nata-Sowa area) 3c (Dukwi area) 6a (Mosetse area) were classified as free of the highly contagious foot‐and‐mouth disease (FMD).
But now farmers in the said areas, wait with shortness in breath, to hear the outcome of the tests that the government is running to find out if their cattle have been infected with FMD, a highly contagious animal disease that affects all cloven-hoofed animals and is carried in many ways, including by live animals, in meat and dairy products, soil and untreated hides.
The fear of FMD contamination follows a recent incursion of buffalos in the three zones which has forced the government to ban the movement of cloven hoofed animals from the affected areas.
Kokorwe Integrated Farming Association Secretary General Bokani Bakani said farmers are pinning their hopes on government to return a negative test.
“We are heavily affected by this incursion because it could possibly result in foot and mouth disease as you know that buffalos are the main carriers of foot and mouth virus. Animal movement restriction also means that we can no longer sell our cattle to the likes of Botswana Meat Commission and this is a great worry considering that most people in this area are heavily reliant on livestock farming,” he said.
Bakani stated that they are closely working with veterinary officials adding that farmers are keeping officials in the loop by informing them of the changes.
“At this point no one knows exactly when the situation will return to normalcy because a final determination will be made by officials,” added Bakani.
The Association mouthpiece also said it will be the first time in over 10 years to witness a recurrence of the disease in the area adding that the last time it happened was when there were no zones within the Nata-Gweta constituency.
“I want to believe that these buffalos made an incursion as a result of dried wells, so they saw it as an opportunity to break into areas where they could find water. Government should erect a buffalo fence to deter cross fence movement of both wild and domestic animals,” said Bakani.
On the other hand, Nata-Gweta Block Beef producers Association Secretary General Petrus Nyatsang said they are already feeling the pinch of suspended animal movement as farmers are unable to sell their cattle.
“We are in a desperate situation because most people in the area are farmers and they are unable to sell yet they have families to feed, so you can imagine the difficulties faced by farmers in the area,” said Nyatsang.
He said there is a population of over 300 000 cattle in the constituency and detecting FMD could have far reaching economic hardships for the country.
Meanwhile, Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) Public Relations Officer Shadi Linchwe said following an announcement that the buffalo incursion threatens an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the entire area, a decision was taken to also suspend receiving and slaughtering of cattle from the affected areas until further notice.
“Buffalos are active carriers of the disease, so this means that BMC will not be able to receive cattle from these affected zones and this is also due to the change in protocols for cattle and so forth,” she said.
She stated that in the meantime, BMC will focus on sourcing cattle from other areas to augment supply.
Botswana Beef Producers Union (BNBPU) Spokesperson Andrew Seeletso said it was long overdue for government to effect subsidies given that it has been a drought year.
“It is a difficult season as most people know that it has been declared a drought year, so most farmers have lost their livestock due to famine as most could not find vegetation to feed on. Cattle population on the other hand has been on the decline because when you consider all these challenges, it becomes difficult for farmers to carry on with livestock farming on a commercial scale. Farmers cannot even sell and get better returns due to drought,” added Seeletso.
While the drought situation is being attended to, another setback for farmers could come in the form of wildlife fires, with outbreak already reported in some parts of the country.