Sunday, August 12, 2007

A stitch in time saves nine

A stitch in time saves nine
By Editor
Sunday August 12, 2007 [07:00]

It appears that the burden of cattle diseases is still on our shoulders and it is a challenge we will have to battle with for some time. What is very sad is that while it can no longer be doubted that the burden of animal diseases is piling up every passing day, we seem to be lost in terms of what ought to be done to redress the situation.

We are saying this because we know that over the last few years, different types of livestock diseases - especially those affecting cattle - have been breaking out and in most cases the authorities have only woken up when the diseases have already had a considerable effect.

From our own observations, it would appear that the approach being taken is mainly that of attempting to deal with these diseases as and when they break out. In terms of dealing with this problem, we have seen that in most cases animals are only vaccinated in the middle of an outbreak, when some animals are already infected and many others already dead. We have seen this on corridor disease, and a couple of years ago on foot-and-mouth disease where the government only intervened way after the disease had spread to several parts of the country, forcing a limitation of animal movements.

Looking at the magnitude of animal diseases in the country, this type of inertia is not only highly regrettable, but very strange too. We expect that the government, including other stakeholders, should have by now come up with effective ways of preventing or controlling animal diseases. We think that the government, together with other stakeholders such as the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) as well as livestock owners or producers, should put their efforts together and help to safeguard the health of livestock in the country.

We are aware that the responsibility of tackling animal diseases should be a shared one. And it is precisely for this very reason that we acknowledge the efforts that the farmers' union, as stated by ZNFU president Guy Robinson, is doing to sensitise its members over the need to adhere to measures that will help control or prevent animal disease outbreaks. However, we think that the government should by and large shoulder most of the responsibility insofar as animal disease control measures or policies are concerned. If anything, our government has a lot of learning to do from the experience of other countries, especially the United Kingdom which recently had reported cases of foot and mouth disease.

Granted, the socio-economy of Britain is different from that of our country and it would be improper and unfair to judge our own systems based on the United Kingdom's model. But it is worth pointing out that the amazing speed and level of involvement exhibited by British authorities is something worth emulating.

Not only has Britain contained the outbreak of foot and mouth disease with great speed, but it is also moving far ahead to ensure that areas of possible reccurance are sealed. In terms of government involvement, we saw how Prime Minister Gordon Brown - who was on holiday at the time of the announcement of the outbreak - was forced to call for an emergency meeting just in order to deal with the outbreak. This is the kind of seriousness we think is desirable if we are to start finding solutions to the problem of animal diseases, which have become perennial phenomena.

Given that the outbreak of diseases is something that is clearly unrelenting, we think that it is time the government started formulating and implementing long-term measures to help minimise or indeed eliminate these diseases.

And we should also be aware that whatever efforts are put in place now, outbreaks will keep recurring in future as long as there is no foresight from those involved in the management of livestock diseases. It is for this reason that we feel that by now there should be a plan from the government to ensure that not only are drugs or vaccines procured in sufficient amounts, but also that our scientists are being engaged adequately to help us in finding some long-term solutions to the problems affecting livestock in the country.

We are of course aware that there are some measures by the government to engage in mass vaccination of cattle in high-risk areas as well as restrictions on the movement of cattle around the country. But we think that more stringent measures should be put in place to further guarantee prevention and control of animal diseases. We also expect responsible authorities to be more serious with the enforcement of livestock movement control measures, much as we expect an improved disease surveillance and reporting system from those tasked to do so.

In other words, we expect that our bureaucrats at the Ministry of Agriculture should be concerned with all these issues and advise the government accordingly in terms of exactly what ought to be done in order to move towards a disease-free environment for our livestock. And we urge the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Ben Kapita - who fortunately is a farmer himself - not to rest until as a country we find some long-term solutions to the problem of livestock diseases. We need to start dealing with these problems now because if left to chance, we may one day face what may turn out to be an insurmountable challenge. The English say: "A stitch in time saves nine."

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