While they contemplated a year of reduced pasture due to drought, Ngamiland farmers were dealt a deathblow recently when Foot and Mouth Disease broke out in the heartland of Hainaveld. Mmegi Correspondent, BONIFACE KEAKABETSE notes that the resultant despondency has fuelled whispers of conspiracies in the region
Hainaveld Farms, situated on the northern border of the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve, has been the mainstay of beef production in Ngamiland.
Hainaveld Farms were renowned as a safe haven against spates of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), which has been afflicting other parts of Ngamiland since the 2007 Habu outbreak.
Recently, the unthinkable happened.
An FMD outbreak was reported in Segongwana crush in the Hainaveld West Protection Zone, marking the first ever breach into the ranching heartland. According to a veterinary department release, the outbreak was spotted after some suspicious cases presented themselves. “This follows the sighting of sick cattle at the crush, which were showing clinical signs consistent with FMD,” read the statement.
As shock spread through the region, a freeze of cattle movements and sales, both external and local, was imposed as part of the established measures undertaken whenever an FMD outbreak takes place.
The Botswana Meat Commission was on the verge of transporting cattle from the area for slaughter at its Francistown abattoir as the Maun facility is still undergoing refurbishment. Live exports from the Hainaveld farms to Zimbabwe – another lucrative line for farmers - were similarly affected by the ban on cattle movements. The Hainaveld outbreak was the straw that broke the camel’s back, coming at a time of raised emotions in a farming community that has suffered cattle overstocking due to frequent FMD outbreaks.
Accusations are flying in Ngamiland as to the cause of the outbreak of the Hainaveld outbreak, which comes just months after an FMD resurgence at the neighbouring Kareng cattle post. A rumour has circulated in the paddocks that government’s seeming half-heartedness stems from its desire to turn the whole district over to tourism activities. These suspicions boiled over recently during a meeting between farmers and Agriculture Minister, Patrick Ralotsia. Farmers noted that the rising elephant numbers were driving FMD outbreaks as the beasts trample veterinary fences, thus allowing FMD-carrying buffalo to mix with cattle. A member of the Ngamiland Integrated Farmers Association, Boletile Sethapelo caused a stir when he suggested that government should donate half of the elephants found in Ngamiland to any country that wants them.
“This is the only feasible strategy as the international community is against elephant culling. “You people in the south claim you love the elephants. You have even put an elephant sculpture in honour of them at the Sir Seretse Khama Airport.
Said Sethapelo: “But why do you chase them away with helicopters whenever they come close to Gaborone. Is it not that you love them?” Opposition parties in the area are alleged to be fuelling this particular conspiracy theory as noted by Ralotsia who found himself at pains to dismiss them (allegations). “Donating our elephants is tantamount to donating our wildlife-based tourism elsewhere,” he said.
“If government had wanted to kill the cattle sector in the district, it would not be ploughing millions of Pula in efforts to prevent and control the spread of FMD.” And then, Ralotsia contributed yet another conspiracy theory to the powder keg of accusations swirling around the FMD crisis. “Government has realised that some members of the community deliberately spread the disease to frustrate governments’ efforts so that it looks like we are failing,” he said.
“Some farmers do not declare their cattle to the veterinary officers when they suspect they have FMD. “This behaviour, coupled with poor cattle vaccination for FMD by farmers, has resulted in the scourge not going away for the past eight years.”
Farmers blame the government, the government blames the farmers. As the accusations fly about, traditional leaders have emerged as the voice of reason.
Dikgosi have called on the Ministry of Agriculture to set up a commission of enquiry into why FMD continues spreading despite the resources ploughed in to control it.
Traditional leaders have said there is a need to investigate and gather evidence on why FMD is stubbornly holding onto Ngamiland.
All the community members, government officials and anyone suspected to be responsible for FMD’s spread must be investigated to get to the bottom of the problem, they say. Government has said it will consider the suggestion.