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Foot and Mouth threatens beef export industry

[Zimbabwe] Cattle farming
Zimbabwe's national herd has been decimated by disease (FAO)

Fresh outbreaks of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in parts of Zimbabwe continue to threaten the beef industry's chances of resuming exports to the European Union and other emerging markets.

Stuart Hargreaves, the national director of Livestock and Veterinary Services, said the department, which is struggling to control recurring outbreaks in the Harare area, had failed to get the US $25 million needed for a two-year effort to free the country's herd of the disease.

"It is very sad to note that the country does not have the money required for the FMD eradication programme," state-run media quoted him as saying.

The government had pinned its hopes for a successful fight against FMD on vaccines imported from the Botswana Vaccine Institute. But Hargreaves noted: "These are insufficient, as we also need to vaccinate the non-affected herds."

Four fresh outbreaks were reported last week in the prime cattle-producing areas of Beitbridge in Matabeleland South province, Mwenezi and Mberengwa in the Midlands and parts of Masvingo in the southeastern Lowveld.

The disease has occurred continuously since August 2001, when it was first reported on a farm belonging to the parastatal Cold Storage Commission (CSC) in Bulawayo, the country's second city.

A spate of outbreaks followed, leading to cancellation of the livestock show at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair and other provincial shows. Since then the disease has expanded into zones producing export quality beef.

Insufficient efforts to contain the swift spread of FMD resulted in an EU ban on Zimbabwean beef, causing heavy losses to one of the country’s major sources of foreign currency.

Under the Beef and Veal Protocol, the EU had been importing 9,100 mt of Zimbabwean beef annually, earning the country an average of US $36 million.

The new outbreaks have come at a time when Zimbabwe was expecting to resume beef exports to the EU as well as other new markets.

The country's international trade ministry and the CSC had clinched deals to supply clients in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Malaysia, all of which have since embargoed Zimbabwean beef as a result of persistent FMD.

In the deal between CSC and Malaysia, the parastatal would have supplied 5,000 mt of beef valued at US $15 million a year.

Offcials in the beef industry charge that the CSC's failure to raise an estimated Zim $33 billion (US $42 million) has jeopardised plans to restock herds as part of a long-term strategy for ensuring eventual return to the export market.

Hargreaves said the chances of success against FMD outbreaks would depend on whether the country managed to raise the foreign currency needed to fight the disease.

Efforts to control FMD have been undermined by heavy livestock movement as a result of the government's land resettlement programme, despite a ban on such movements.

The arrival of newly resettled people and the theft of boundary fences from conservancies and other wildlife sanctuaries has led to the uncontrolled movement of wild animals, mostly buffalo and kudu.

After a second consecutive year of drought, Zimbabwe has lost over 100,000 head of cattle in the prime beef producing areas of Matabeleland North and South.

The national herd is now down to 250,000 from 1.4 million four years ago. Some 10,000 cattle are reported to have died of FMD alone since the outbreaks began in August 2001.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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