By Johannes Chin’ombe
Masvingo, January 10, 2016 – BEEF producers in the province are still lamenting the effects of a prolonged foot and mouth outbreak that has plagued their herds since September 2014.
Most are up in arms against government for allegedly putting a halfhearted approach towards ending the scourge that reportedly destroyed about 50 cattle in Mwenezi district in October alone, according to one farmer Fabain Matsilele.
Government, on its part, has responded with an unpopular directive to quarantine livestock affected by the disease and a ban in their movement.
Besides affecting the commercial interests of those making a living through livestock trade, social lives have also been ruined as the continued ban in the movement of cattle has also affected marriage and other customary rituals.
One family which attests to this is that of the late Henry Machingambi, which has failed to distribute the one time biggest provincial beef producer’s inheritance due to the ban.
“As a family, we have failed to account or conduct distribution of inheritance from my relative’s herd because the veterinary department keeps restricting us from collecting the scattered herd to one place so that we share as family,” said a family member.
“Mostly, when there are reports of symptoms, the vet department is quick to go and destroy affected livestock to avoid further spread.”
In a province with a huge rural community, local economies which rely on cattle as a means of exchange, have also taken a big knock.
Adds Jeremiah Madovi, another cattle farmer, “We are under threat of failing to feed our families and let alone send them to school.
“What has befallen us this year is a double tragedy; our cattle are struggling to survive because of the widespread hunger and doubling the fate is this disease.”
Madovi also fears the ban imposed on cattle transportation could see his herd wiped by the disease.
Masvingo Beef Producers Association Chairperson, Robert Makado said the transport ban has driven them out of business.
“Our businesses have been affected since we can no longer transport our herds to the town markets where they pay better,” lamented Makado.
Makado said the situation has also ruined their plans to dispose of their beasts much quicker since they are also feeling the effects of the current drought that has engulfed the whole country.
“…Paddocks are dry, leaving them with no graze,” said Makado.
“Cattle feeds have also gone up to at least $15 per bag and selling them at an early stage would save us from the losses.”
A veterinary officer who spoke on condition of anonymity, conceded the enormity of ending the crisis but was quick to pin the blame on conservancy owners who have allowed wild animals carrying the contagious disease to stray into domestic land.
He adds: “This ultimately leads to buffaloes getting in contact with domesticated animals… cattle get affected by the deadly disease.
“The blame is not to conservancy owners alone but to locals as well who destroy fences.
“So as the veterinary department, we have decided that this year we implement the law strictly on villagers who vandalise fences on farm lands and land owners who fail to fence their land since the solution largely lies in avoiding contact between buffaloes and domesticated cattle.”
Foot and mouth is the most contagious disease known to cattle and it is a trans-boundary animal disease caused by a virus and affects all cloven hoofed animals.
It is highly infectious and spreads rapidly in cattle and pigs. Salivation and lameness are typical symptoms of infection.