South Africa: Farmers fight foot-and-mouth disease (by Fidelis Zvomuya for Farm Radio Weekly in South Africa)

| March 28, 2011

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When Mr. Fana Mdlalose found one of his cattle slavering, he knew it meant trouble. Excessive saliva and drooling are symptoms of one of the worst problems livestock farmers have to face, foot-and-mouth disease, or FMD.

In many FMD outbreaks, livestock are culled to prevent the disease from spreading further. Mr. Mdlalose worried that his prized two-month-old black calf would have to be killed. He lamented, ”Five years of hard work and it’s over. It was a bad day for me.”

A government veterinary technician visited Mr. Mdlalose on his four-hectare plot. Thirty of his cattle tested positive for FMD. To Mr. Mdlalose, this was not only a personal calamity, but a calamity for the whole cattle community of Ingwavuma district in the remote northern part of KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa.

Lydia Johnson is KwaZulu-Natal’s Minister for Agriculture, Environmental Affairs and Rural Development. She said that there is no need to panic because there is currently no talk of killing livestock.

She explained what will be done to contain the disease: “While the disease itself is bad, its spread has not reached far, which is why we have set up 24-hour roadblocks on strategic access routes to the district to contain it within the area where it has been identified.” This news came as a welcome relief for Mr. Mdlalose.

The outbreak in Ingwavuma, on the border of Swaziland and Mozambique, was confirmed in February. Six hundred animals were tested. Half tested positive.

Foot-and-mouth disease is rarely fatal. Most animals recover after suffering two or three weeks of painful blisters on the hoof, tongue and inside of the mouth. In dairy cattle, FMD sharply reduces milk production and can lead to sterility, heart trouble and chronic lameness.

In response to the government’s decision not to cull, farmers have taken it upon themselves to prevent the spread of the disease.

Mr. Joseph Khanyile is chairperson of the Jozini Farmers’ Association. His organization is encouraging farmers to conduct daily spraying and to disinfect both their liquid and dry fodder. He calls on farmers to comply with requirements for vaccinations and restrictions on livestock movement.

Mr. Khanyile says that farmers have stopped gathering in groups and visiting other farms. They are terrified of inadvertently spreading the virus, which can be transmitted by people, clothes, equipment or even the wind.

He adds, “We are communicating mostly by cell phones and emails. The few people that we do allow on our land, like those who drive from one farm to the next to collect the daily milk yield, are forced to disinfect themselves and their equipment after each stop.”

The farmers blame the government for the outbreak. They believe it was caused by the broken fence between Mozambique and South Africa. Poor controls over the movement of livestock and game are also a contributing factor.

Dumisani Mtshali is the state veterinarian. He urged livestock owners to co-operate to contain the virus by bringing livestock to dipping tanks where technicians can administer vaccinations. He says, “All vaccinated animals will be branded on the neck … any animal that remains without a brand mark after the vaccinations must be reported and its owner must also be identified.”

The economic impact of foot-and-mouth disease is hitting these farmers hard. Many say they cannot sell their meat because local people fear the disease.

In late February, the government announced a ban on the export of all cloven-hoofed animals and their products. According to economists, this could mean losses of up to two billion Rand (about 300 million US dollars).