FRANCISTOWN: Local farmers have welcomed the recent announcement by President Mokgweetsi Masisi that an electric fence will be erected along Botswana’s border with Zimbabwe to control Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD).
Masisi made the announcement at a Kgotla meeting in Matsiloje during the village’s centenary celebrations. A clearly worried Masisi partly said then: “… As a result of that, the government will electrify the fence at Matopi to control the movement of elephants. The government will also look at the possibility of electrifying the fence at Matsiloje in order to control the movement of elephants to minimise their chances of destroying people’s property. Nonetheless, I praise you for being resilient over the years despite what befell you”.
Tati East Member of Parliament (MP), Samson Guma Moyo also waded into the issue when addressing the gathering during the celebrations. He said elephants have been giving his constituents a plethora of problems over the years.
Guma praised Masisi for coming up with a solution that will address the issue of human-wildlife conflict in his constituency.
Over the years farmers in Botswana, especially those keeping their livestock in villages situated along the border with Zimbabwe have counted heavy losses after their cattle were culled to control the disease from spreading to FMD free areas.
FMD in Zimbabwe is mostly concentrated at Matabeleland North and South Provinces that are in close proximity to the North East District in Botswana.
Elephants have destroyed sections of the border fence over the years, making it easy for FMD-infected cattle from Zimbabwe to cross over into Botswana, spreading the disease. According to a paper titled ‘The impact of Foot and Mouth Disease’ authored by the Royal Veterinary College (University of London), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), countries that have FMD control measures in place like Botswana incur a lot of costs while trying to control the disease. The paper states that the measures are not always easy to end due to the risks related to the FMD incursion from neighbouring countries.
“The greater movement of people, livestock and commodities implies that risks of international transmission of FMD are increasing,” according to the paper. “This risk further compromises these countries in their ability to export livestock and livestock products as the presence, or even threat, of FMD prevents access to lucrative international markets.”
In Botswana, whenever the disease is detected, government policy is to kill all livestock in the affected area in order to control the spread and safeguard the country’s prized licence to export to the European Union, one of the world’s most lucrative markets.
The move to cull the livestock incenses farmers in the Zone 6 area and previously some even took the then Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) to court arguing that the compensation offered by government was low and unjust.
After culling the animals, especially cattle, government compensates farmers with a blanket P1,700 per beast regardless of the breed and value of the animal.
The High Court ruled in favour of farmers saying that the reasons advanced by the state to offer the farmers P1,700 were inadequate and did not consider many issues
There was a palpable sense of happiness after Masisi announced the new measure that the government will employ to control the scourge of FMD although he did not state the timeframe within which the government would have erected the electric fence.
After Masisi’s address during the celebrations, residents of Matsiloje canvassed by this publication were on Cloud Nine saying that the issue was long overdue.
Said a Matsiloje resident, Mokgweetsi Lephalo: “What the President said is long overdue. Elephants have been destroying our border with Zimbabwe for a long time making it easy for cattle infected with FMD from Zimbabwe to infect our cattle here. We just hope that the President will implement what he said very soon.”
FMD is a highly emotional issue in Matsiloje. Last year former councillor for Matsiloje Simon Lephalo told Environment minister, Tshekedi Khama during a consultative meeting to tell Mugabe to go hang because he was impoverishing farmers in Botswana by failing to control FMD in Zimbabwe.
Simon was and still is of the view that constructing an electric fence along Botswana and Zimbabwe will control elephants from destroying the border fence and prevent cattle infected with FMD from Zimbabwe coming into Botswana.
In the early 2000s when Zimbabwe was ravaged by a cocktail of political, social and economic problems, plans by the government of Botswana to erect an electric fence along Botswana’s border with Zimbabwe caused a diplomatic tiff between Harare and Gaborone.The then Zimbabwe’s High Commissioner to Botswana, Phelekezela Mphoko was quoted by the media as saying that Botswana was trying to create another Gaza Strip by erecting an electric fence along the border.
The government of Botswana took the decision to erect the electric fence along the border in order to stem the exodus of Zimbabweans who crossed the border illegally to look for better life opportunities in Botswana.
Batswana also fingered the illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe for being responsible for the spread of FMD in Botswana because in some cases they cut the border fence, which made it easy for cattle between two sisterly countries to cross the border in both directions.
Statistics from Botswana’s immigration department by then showed that Botswana was repatriating at least 2,500 illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe every month at a heavy cost to the national fiscus. At some point Botswana even donated FMD vaccines to Zimbabwe in an effort to cushion local farmers against the negative spill over effects of FMD to Botswana’s beef and farming industry as a whole.
It remains to be seen how the new regime in Zimbabwe that toppled former strongman Robert Mugabe will react to Botswana’s latest pronouncement.
The Emmerson Mnangagwa-led administration has promised to solve the country’s multiple complications but so far evidence on the ground shows that slightly more than one year after removing Mugabe in a military assisted coup, Zimbabwe is still facing problems that existed during Mugabe’s era.