MCA-Funded Zambezi Project Yielding Results

Since 2011, the Meat Board of Namibia, together with local and international partners has implemented a project aimed at developing a system which can allow for the export of beef from the Zambezi region despite the animal health status of the area.

Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) is endemic in Zambezi as in many other parts of Southern Africa, mainly due to cloven hoofed wildlife which maintains and transmits the virus. Eradication, although internationally recommended, is not a viable option due to the complex land uses in the area, which include livestock and crop production as well as ecotourism. This has been confirmed by a study estimating the economic consequences and benefits of different land-use options at National level. The research compared the status quo to the integrating value chain approach the project is testing and to the option of creating FMD free zones or compartments fencing off of wildlife. The study concluded that an establishment of FMD freedom is not a viable option it would also have very negative impacts on wildlife conservation and tourism, especially in an area, which is part of a greater Transfrontier Conservation Area. The major challenge for the people in Zambezi is derived from the fact that following a confirmed FMD outbreak, livestock in the entire region is put under movement restrictions for a period of at least six months, disallowing for the marketing of cattle at the export abattoir and limiting the moving of cattle to different grazing areas.

The project team consists of experts in virology, animal health, food safety, wildlife conservation and works closely together with the Directorate of Veterinary Services, MeatCo Katima Mulilo and the LPF mentorship program. During the first phase of the project, a concept was developed, which identified and proposed risk mitigating measures along the value chain, starting at farm level up to the final product, a combination of those leading to a safe product. These measures include regular FMD vaccination, vehicle transport to the quarantine camp, a HACCP system at the slaughter facility and the properly monitored maturation and deboning of carcasses. In addition, cattle were experimentally infected with FMD virus at a research facility in South Africa to establish the sites were the virus can be most likely detected. With the help of the mentorship program, Zambezi producers were identified which agreed on supporting the project by allowing for the revaccination and testing of their slaughter cattle. In return they received additional training in animal health, rangeland management and disease control from the project.

During the second part of the project activities were very diverse aiming at providing evidence for the safety of the beef produced in Zambezi but also at closing knowledge gaps with regards to the disease. These activities included:

liStudy on the epidemiology of FMD in Zambezi with special consideration of the movement of buffalo and cattleli
liPost-vaccination sero-surveys in cattle and sero-survey in small stockli
liAssessment of the current approach of FMD management in the Caprivi and recommendations for future outbreaksli
liA risk analysis establishing the actual risk of FMD Virus in the final product following the implementation of all risk mitigating measuresli
liProvision of training and aise with regards to the food safety management system implemented at the abattoirli

The demand for local capacity building is met by provision of training in FMD diagnostics to staff at the Central Veterinary Laboratory (CVL) in Windhoek conducted by colleagues from the Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute (OVI, South Africa.

The project term is coming to an end mid-2014 and all results will be presented to Veterinary Services Namibia and in the region during the coming two months. Feedback will be provided also to the farmer communities, the abattoir and policy makers. It is hoped that the results will lead to fruitful discussions leading to an acceptance of the commodity-based trade concept and in the longer term to better marketing opportunities for the cattle producers in Zambezi Region. In addition, the concept provides for a sustainable and integrative solution for the compatibility of livestock production and wildlife conservation.

Source : New Era