MAUN: Director of the Department of veterinary services Dr Letlhogile Modisa will be among over 900 delegates from 180 member countries at the annual general meeting of World Organisation for Animal Health which starts this Sunday in France.
The 83rd annual meeting is expected to be a make or break decision, which will have an impact on the livelihoods of cattle farmers living in wildlife areas world over.
The decision will either spell good or doom for the conservation of wildlife species in African countries such as Botswana.
According to a press release posted on OIE website on Tuesday, this annual event will provide an opportunity to review the current global landscape to animal diseases, including those transmissible to humans, and analyse the new technology for collection and diffusion of health information.
The proceedings will also include the adoption of intergovernmental standards on animal health and welfare, control methods for the main animal diseases and elections for the Organisation’s governance positions.
After a long waiting, OIE will discuss and resolve whether to adopt the Commodity Based Trade standards as a certification for world trade in beef products. CBT is a proposition for a radical change to the international standards in the management of animal diseases, as enforced under the OIE’s sanitary and phytosanitary Agreement of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
If adopted, this science-based regulations would be applied to different meat and dairy products and focus on their production and processing for exports rather than the disease status of the area in which the animal is reared as compared to the OIE’s existing geographically-based regulations.
Should this momentous decision be adopted, for the first time cattle farmers, especially in Africa who had so far failed to get access for their beef due to presence of animal diseases, would be able to do so.
So far, OIE requirements call for “disease freedom” as meat and dairy products can only be exported to the prime beef markets in Europe if its origin country or district is declared free from transboundary diseases such as the Foot and Mouth Disease.
The situation has resulted in African countries like Botswana ploughing large sums of money to put mechanisms to eradicate or control the spread of the animal diseases. However in a lot of these countries there are districts where some diseases cannot be controlled or eradicated due to a presence of wild animals.
The situation has resulted in countries spending large sums of money to establish disease free zones and to contain dangerous diseases such as FMD while many countries fail to access the lucrative world markets despite having large population of cattle due to presence of diseases.
During the recent Letsema forum held in Maun, Modisa could not hide his excitement as he revealed that Botswana government is awaiting the outcome of the OIE general assembly on CBT and the use of quarantines.
Dr Modisa, together with other Directors of Veterinary services in their respectiveAfrican countries are in support of the adoption of CBT.
The African Union (AU) and regional blocs, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and East African Community (EAC) Southern African Development Community (SADC) are pro-CBT.
However the African countries are expected to come against stiff opposition during the General assembly from the European Union countries that have reportedly so far opposed CBT.
The Europeans have so far advocated for this strict sanitary regulation by continuing to ban beef from countries with the endemic animal diseases even when it has been scientifically proven that when beef from the FMD red areas is produced and processed in a certain way, it is safe for consumers.
The feeling in Africa is that European countries use the regulations as a ploy to prohibit beef exports and protect their own beef industries as most importing countries are producers themselves.
In a brief interview Modisa confirmed the EU opposition, but was not prepared to discuss the issue, saying he would do so after the AGM.
However, Africa has more to lose in the issue as the presence of animal diseases does not only prohibit access for its beef rural people, but also poses a threat to the conservation of biodiversity.
In Ngamiland and Chobe districts the demise of the cattle sector due to FMD prevalence threatens to boil in to a protracted wildlife- cattle conflict. Now the concern is that with the anticipated global beef market boom, the escalation of these resources conflict may potentially harm regional integration.
According to the information made available to Mmegi by Dr Mark Atkinson of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Animal and Human Health for the Environment and Development (AHEAD) programme, the FMD situation in Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana poses threat for the realisation of the Southern Africa’s Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier conservation Area (KAZA).
The proposed park spans over 444,000 km2. Once realised KAZA will annex Okavango Delta and Zambezi rivers, including the Caprivi Strip (Namibia), Chobe National park (Botswana), Okavango Delta (Botswana) and the Victoria Falls World Heritage site in Zimbabwe.
“As you well know, the management of FMD is especially problematic in the newly established transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs), KAZA being a prime example” Dr Atkinson wrote in an email exchange.
Dr. Atkinson said for the past years, AHEAD has been working with SADC, regional, colleagues, as well as major multilateral organisations such as FAO and OIE in identifying potential solutions to the health issues at the interface of livestock and wildlife in the region.
“Acceptable trade and export opportunities for cattle farmers who live in wildlife areas do exist, but will require some new thinking by veterinarians, livestock farmers and policy makers alike before they can be effectively implemented.
“There is no immediate or easy solution but real progress is being made to find new, innovative and acceptable ways that meets everyone’s needs to move forward.” Dr. Atkinson further said.
According to Dr Atkinson one of the solutions adopted by SADC is the Commodity Based Trade which was adopted at a conference held in Gaborone in 2012 under the theme ‘‘Reconciling Livestock Health and Wildlife Conservation Goals in Southern Africa: strategies for sustainable Economic Development.”
At the conference, SADC experts agreed on the adoption of CBT as one of the solutions thereto. One of the achievements of the conference was the adoption of the ‘Phakalane declaration’ in which SADC countries made commitment to manage risks from the diseases like FMD by adoption of win-win methods for both farmers living in wildlife areas and conservation goals.
For years the issue has been debated and finally now a decision is expected.
Hopefully when Modisa flies back from OIE he will herald good news that there has been an appeasement of cattle production and wildlife conservation concerns.