Livestock value-chain concern as FMD outbreaks persist

FIFI PETERS: Let’s get more on what’s almost a lockdown, a really temporary one, on the movement of cattle in the country. This is the latest intervention by the ministry of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development in a bid to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease from blowing out and becoming an even bigger problem in this country.

We’ve got Dawie Maree, the head of information and marketing at FNB Agribusiness. Dawie, thanks so much for your time. We have heard on the [radio] station that the small-scale farmers are really unhappy about this intervention, concerned about what this will mean their business. What do you make of the ban on the movement of cattle for 21 days?

DAWIE MAREE: Good evening, Fifi. Thank you for having me. Definitely it’s going have a major impact on the livestock sector and especially, as you’ve mentioned, on the small-scale farmers. We must take into account that these farmers are dependent on auctions to sell their cattle, and obviously to get cash flow from that. The same [applies to] our commercial farmers, where they sell to feedlots, obviously they bring their calves and so on.

I must also mention that there is a complete ban on the movement of animals from one [set of] premises to another, except when it is going to slaughter, or to an abattoir for slaughtering purposes. That movement can still take place with a specific certificate for [that purpose]. So consumers mustn’t be concerned that they won’t get meat on the shelves. That will still take place.

FIFI PETERS: But just tell us what’s going on with the spread of foot-and-mouth disease for the fact that this 21-day restriction on moving livestock around has been implemented. It seems like the situation is pretty bad out there.

DAWIE MAREE: Yes. We had roughly 10 instances of foot-and-mouth outbreaks across the country. The first event started early in 2021, in KZN, and the second one was in March of this year, which was outside the previous foot-and-mouth-free zone, across Limpopo, for example.

There is a red zone running in Limpopo next to the Kruger National Park, where foot-and-mouth disease is endemic, but as soon as there is an outbreak [beyond this] it becomes a concern. In March and in April this year we had outbreaks in North West, Gauteng and the Free State, and it recently spread to Mpumalanga as well. So across the inland areas it’s definitely a concern, and foot-and-mouth obviously is spread through the movement of animals.

So yes, it’s the right thing for the department to ban the movement of animals to contain the disease as far as possible.

Although the foot-and-mouth disease doesn’t have an impact on humans as such, it does have an impact – it’s an economic disease [for] animals.

The biggest thing with foot-and-mouth outbreaks is that it prohibits trading with other countries. China, for example, after the March/April outbreak, banned the import of all cloven-hoofed animals and egg products, including wool from South Africa – and we are a big, big exporter of wool to China. So it definitely has an economic impact on our agricultural industries.

FIFI PETERS: Should we be worried that other countries might follow in China’s footsteps?

DAWIE MAREE: Look, our neighbouring countries, countries like Namibia and Botswana, also follow that same procedure because they obviously don’t want foot-and-mouth disease in their countries as well – specifically in Namibia, which has an export trade agreement with the EU.

Other countries – we can continue to export to them. For example, Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia and [inaudible] and so on, where we have bilateral agreements. They are not [inaudible] – so on a bilateral level there, we can still export. But in general countries like China and our neighbouring countries just ban exports, for example.

Although it’s been proven scientifically that foot-and-mouth can’t be exported or transmitted by wool, they still ban that.

FIFI PETERS: But do you think the 21-day lockdown – I’m calling it that, if you can call it that – would work?

DAWIE MAREE: I think ‘lockdown’ is probably the right word. It will contribute in the containment of the disease. But will it be sufficient? That’s a question that perhaps Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development must answer, because obviously [21 days] is a contagious period in which it can be transmitted.

I think it will only obviously work if the whole industry complies with it, and if there’s no illegal movement of animals as well, because we’ve seen in the past where there was [a] restriction, for example, in Limpopo, where animals can’t move around, illegal movement still takes place, and that’s how the disease also spreads.

So if the industry plays [ball and the farmers] and everybody keeps to it, then it can definitely contribute in containing the disease.

I think what’s very important, and what this outbreak highlights, is the importance of a traceability system in the livestock sector [which] we urgently need in South Africa to prevent these types of outbreak in future as well.

FIFI PETERS: Yes. You are giving me déjà vu vibes. You talk about traceability and restrictions being broken in terms of illegal trading. You’re giving me déjà vu vibes of the past two years. But of course the department has said that–

DAWIE MAREE: It’s a different industry now.

FIFI PETERS: Not the country being limited to a specific industry. The department is obviously saying that those who do engage in illegal activities of trying to move cattle will be prosecuted. So it’s not allowed.

But Dawie, I suppose we’ll catch up in 21 days to see if this thing blows out or if it becomes an even bigger problem. Thanks so much for your time this evening.

Dawie Maree is the head of information and marketing at FNB Agribusiness.

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