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Last Updated
Tuesday 03 August 2021, 12:07 pm.
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New FMD outbreak could further cripple beef industry

FRANCISTOWN: The suspected outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD) at Ramokgwebana crush in Robelela Extension area in Bobirwa could further compound the troubles bedevilling the cattle and beef industries.
By RYDER GABATHUSE
Staff Writer
(GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: New FMD outbreak could further cripple beef industry








Still smarting from a confirmed outbreak of FMD reported on May 5 in the Matsiloje area, which is in the neighbouring veterinary disease control Zone Six, news that Zone Seven has recorded a recurrence of FMD has shocked peasant farmers.

However, veterinary disease control zones six and seven seem to be haunted in that in 2002 and 2003 Zone Six was hit by FMD outbreaks, forcing government to spend about P19 million in compensation, restocking and logistical operations. Veterinary disease control Zone Seven, which is predominantly in the Bobirwa/Mmadinare area, was recently declared FMD-free after a successful campaign to contain the disease. This followed an outbreak of FMD in 2006 in the area, which shares the border with neighbouring Zimbabwe. From 2006, the Bobirwa/Mmadinare area was excluded from the lucrative European Union (EU) markets. When it was finally allowed to sell to the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) abattoir in Francistown, it could only sell to the non-EU areas.

Government had opted to vaccinate all the cattle in the affected area as opposed to killing the animals, which could have rendered the area FMD-free faster but affected the national herd. The decision to suspend the Bobirwa/Mmadinare area from selling its cattle to the EU markets had disrupted production at the BMC Francistown abattoir as throughput was reportedly affected during the same period. The abattoir had failed to meet its capacity to kill due to low supply of cattle, as the Bobirwa/Mmadinare area is an important area within the catchment area of Francistown BMC abattoir.

Agriculture Minister Christian De Graaf 's ministry is still battling to contain the recent outbreak after Cabinet approved a whopping P30 million budget to combat the disease in Zone Six. Until yesterday morning, it was not yet clear how much budget government would this time around commit to effectively control the disease in the Robelela area. Obviously government will have to commit a hefty sum to successfully contain the disease though this comes at a time government is engaged in a tussle with its striking workers demanding a salary hike.

Previously in the Ngamiland area, government spent about P172 million to stabilise the situation. "We had a meeting yesterday with the veterinary officers and other stakeholders, the idea being how we can best deal with the new FMD outbreak," the minister said. "We are still negotiating with our trade partners so that the BMC abattoir can open," he said. As it is important, the minister was, amongst other things, considering scheduling Kgotla meetings in the affected areas so farmers and other stakeholders can be reached immediately.

Minister De Graaf stressed that it was "very important" to educate people out there to ensure that the disease does not spread to other areas as it could badly harm the economy. "If the disease is contained in a given area, it can be easily managed than when it is allowed to spiral out of control as it can cripple the whole industry," he said. He indicated that they are doing all they can to ensure the situation returns to normal and BMC abattoirs resume production as soon as possible. Beef exports contribute significantly to the country's economy which is why the government has been on its toes and De Graaf vowed that his ministry would leave no stone unturned. A press statement from the Department of Veterinary Services shows that as a result of the suspected outbreak, a complete movement ban of all cloven-hoofed animals (cattle, sheep, goats, antelopes and pigs) and their derived fresh products is instituted immediately in

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Zone Seven.

"All cattle slaughter facilities or abattoirs in Zone Seven are closed with immediate effect," further reads the statement. Veterinary officials throughout the zone are conducting surveillance to determine the extent of the disease spread. Some farmers who had been interviewed at the time celebrated the decision to declare the area FMD free. However, their celebrations are short-lived following this new suspected outbreak. Some Bobirwa farmers in Semolale and Mabolwe have definitely received the news of suspected outbreak with shock. Diraditsile Madiope works at the Government clinic in Mabolwe village and rears his cattle. He recently celebrated the FMD free status his area attained after a successful battle to contain the disease. But with this development, he is disappointed.

Equally, Johane Kgakisi, who rears cattle on a subsistence level in Mabolwe, does not know what has really hit them following the latest suspected outbreak. He probably finds solace from the fact that this time around government seems to be concerned with targeting the red zones and not painting the whole area with a red paint.

At semololale, a Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) councillor, Onkarabile Dikinya, recently celebrated the opportunity to sell his cattle to the BMC Francistown abattoir. So he was devastated by the news of the fresh restrictions on the movement of cloven-hoofed animals as a result of the FMD outbreak, and feared that the area could resort to selling to the butcheries, as was previously the case.

Dikinya's mother, Onkgopotse Dikinya, who is also a shop owner, trading as Kganchi, has every reason to worry about the continued recurrence of FMD as she aptly said: "Cattle play a crucial role in our business because income from cattle sales rescues the shop from many financial challenges."

In a recent interview, BMC communications manager, Tiro Kganela indicated that the closure of the abattoir for control purposes, "obviously affects production at BMC".  He stated that the decision to close the abattoir was beyond their control. He was, however, elated that competent authorities are handling the situation, "and that is why they have advised us to close the abattoir and we have done so". 

The latest suspected outbreak comes at a time when government has decided to kill about 10,000 head of cattle in the Red Zone of the veterinary Zone Six cordon fence of Matsiloje after two rounds of vaccinations and thorough surveillance. BMC Francistown abattoir will conduct the supervised slaughter of the animals, where the beef from the vaccinated animals will be sold to the non-EU markets. This will apply only after the authorities have satisfied themselves that there is no more disease in the Red Zone and other controlled areas.

Affected farmers will be compensated at the market value of their slaughtered animals.  As calves under six months cannot be slaughtered for the market, they will fetch about P1,500 as compensation to the farmers after they have been killed and burnt under strict supervision by the authorities. Addressing the Francistown City Council (FCC) full council meeting recently, Minister de Graaf said Zimbabwean illegal immigrants, who are herdsmen, could be responsible for spreading the FMD virus in the area after jumping the border and handling Botswana cattle without proper disinfection.

He indicated that his ministry has plans to beef up its staff, and get assistance from the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), Botswana Police Service and casual labourers to ensure that their work is a success.

Principal veterinary officer for the North East District Dr Waweru Muchina recently blamed the outbreak of FMD on illegal trafficking of animal products across the border.

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