Livestock production under threat

ZIMBABWE’S livestock production is under threat following a recent surge in foot-and-mouth disease in six of the country’s provinces.

Foot-and-mouth is the most lethal disease known to cattle and is believed to emanate from wild animals, particularly the buffalo. Since 2001, it has combined with drought to deplete the national herd, currently estimated at around five million.

Furthermore, the disease also led to the loss of lucrative beef markets in the European Union and Middle East after the markets raised a red flag over the outbreak.

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) country representative David Phiri said it was essential that policy and regulatory systems and services be strengthened to ensure continued growth of the sector. “It is particularly important to build the capacities of national authorities so as to address the factors that constrain the growth of the sector and its potential to access regional and international markets,” he said.

This comes after FAO, in partnership with the European Union, helped the Zimbabwean government to fight foot and mouth disease assisting by purchasing vaccine, vaccination equipment and laboratory reagents. The assistance also includes the provision of technical support to the Agriculture ministry’s Department of Livestock and Veterinary Services in updating its foot and mouth management strategy.

Phiri noted that this strategy aligns well with the proposed Zimbabwe National Livestock Policy, the policy framework for agriculture and the national economic development policy — ZimAsset — as well as regional animal disease control strategies and priorities in the Sadc region.

“The final product of this strategy will also contribute to the wealth of knowledge that FAO has generated globally,” he added.

The strategy has been developed through a collaborative process with key stakeholders and successful implementation of such a programme not only depends on its economic soundness, but also on the sincere participation of key value chain players committed to complying with the necessary prevention and control measures.

It is also expected that effective management of foot-and-mouth disease will substantially reduce its socio-economic impact for the benefit of livestock-dependent communities living in the diseases’ high risk areas. Zimbabwe’s livestock industry remains one of the fastest growing sectors of the agricultural economy, supporting the livelihoods of over 70 percent of the country’s population, mostly from households in the marginal rainfall areas, where persistent droughts, increasing land degradation and dwindling water sources expose smallholder farmers to high risk of crop failure.

In such areas, the socio-economic impact of animal diseases,  such as foot-and-mouth, is especially significant, causing production losses, constrained animal productivity and limited access to high value markets. Such setbacks clearly undermine the efforts of government and development partners to support livelihoods and to lift rural populations — in areas of the country that are dependent on livestock, out of poverty.

In addition, the effects of foot and mouth disease can potentially be catastrophic in intensive production systems, such as, commercial dairies, piggeries and stud breeding establishments.

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