SOUTHERN AFRICA - To curb the spread of foot and mouth disease (FMD) from Zimbabwe, Botswana in 2003 started a massive project to erect a 2, 4-metre high electric fence to run 813 km along their common border, writes Ian Nkala.
The US$1 million project torched a diplomatic storm between the two neighbours as Zimbabwe’s then Ambassador to Botswana, Phelekezela Mphoko, derided the fence as the “Gaza Strip” of southern Africa.
He suspected that apart from seeking to curb disease spread, it was also being built to prevent illegal migration of his compatriots fleeing economic hardship at home to more economically stable Botswana.
The fence was later abandoned because of high costs involved in building and maintaining it but the spread of FMD from Zimbabwe to Botswana’s northern districts has continued, harming the local economy.
Now the Botswana government has come up with a new idea to control the disease, though not as controversial as the 2003 one. Gaborone has told Harare that with effect from June 1 this year, it will effect a radical shoot-to-kill policy of Zimbabwean cattle that stray into their territory.
In response, Zimbabwe’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture in charge of livestock, Paddy Zhanda launched an awareness campaign at five centres on the Zimbabwean side of the border, sensitising cattle owners on Botswana’s plan.
“The ministry launched the campaign and I was assigned to lead it,” said Mr Zhanda.
“We had meetings with the local people and their leadership from Shashe to the south then up to Gwanda, Maphisa, Mangwe, and Bulilima. The message was well received.
"After launching the campaign we left it to the local leadership to continue sensitising the people on the new policy. We see no problem with Botswana implementing it; they are entitled to safeguarding their stock from possible spread of diseases.”
Zimbabwe, with about five million head of cattle, has grappled with recurrent outbreaks of FMD in recent years in part because of its failure to maintain regular vaccinations amid the prevailing economic crisis.
The latest outbreak that was reported in April last year has not been contained up to now, Mr Zhanda said. After the outbreak, the government banned public cattle auctions in Bulawayo, Matabeleland North, southern Midlands, Matabeleland South and western Masvingo provinces.
Restrictions were also enforced on cattle movement but since the government lacks enough money to vaccinate cattle, the outbreak has not been contained and restrictive measures remain in force.
Botswana’s Agriculture Minister, Patrick Ralotsia, told the local daily Mmegi late last month that his country wanted to implement the shoot-to-kill policy immediately but Zimbabwe requested a three-month grace period to give room for the ongoing awareness programme to be staged.
“I have interaction with the ministries in Zimbabwe and I can tell you that they agree that this is necessary and not just for Zimbabwe, but all the countries that we share borders with, that have FMD problems. Disease does not know borders. This is one way in which we are trying to totally annihilate FMD across the borders.
"We have agreed with the Zimbabwean authorities that this is for the good of our people. Once the policy starts, people will take greater care of their livestock and will not allow them to cross the border. They will see that the FMD control has been toughened.”
FMD is common in southern African countries, among them South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia.
Most except Zimbabwe appear to have good surveillance and vaccination programmes that enable them to promptly detect and prevent the spread of the disease. It is generally rife in buffaloes and often spread to cattle when they interact in the grazing lands in the region where wildlife and domestic animals often share pasture.
On January 23, Namibia announced that there had not been any new cases of the disease in the north where at outbreak was noted a few months earlier. John Mutorwa, the Agriculture Minister declared Namibia free of FMD.
"All indications are that the outbreak of foot and mouth in the previously infected areas has been successfully contained, hence the decision to lift the restrictions in the regions that were affected with immediate effect.
"[However] the war against the eventual eradication of trans-boundary animal diseases including FMD from any part of Namibia continues until our final victory,” he said.
Following the outbreak, Namibia’s first in 26 years, authorities in that country imposed animal movement restrictions and spent US$11 million on vaccinations.
A 7 April report to the World Organisation for Animal Health by Dr Letlhogile Modisa, the director of Botswana’s veterinary services said the country was free from FMD. In Malawi, 31,194 cattle were vaccinated against the disease in Shire Valley and Chikwawa. By the end of September last year, the Zambia government had vaccinated 600,000 cattle against FMD in four provinces.
Mr Zhanda said Zimbabwe will not lift restrictions in place to control FMD.
“We are on top of the situation except in small areas, but in the long term, we want to develop mechanisms where we minimise movement of cattle. Introducing local auctions is one of them. Why do we burden our people to travel 100 kilometres to auction their cattle?
"Local auctions are cost effective and help in controlling the spread of livestock diseases as well. At the same time, we will continue with the issuance of cattle movement permits as a control measure not only against possible stock theft but also spread of disease. Remember that the permit can be given or denied depending on the prevailing situation.”
TheCattleSite News Desk