Livestock recovery, growth plan in motion under Second Republic

02 Apr, 2023 - 00:04 0 Views
Livestock recovery, growth plan  in motion under Second Republic Plunge dipping remains the most effective dipping method in which the whole animal is immersed in the dip to kill the ticks

The Sunday Mail

Dr John Basera

Overview of the livestock sector

SEMI-ARID regions of Zimbabwe are most suited for extensive production of ruminant livestock in rangelands.

About 70 percent of communal farming households are in these areas.

An estimated 86 percent of these households derive their livelihoods from livestock and livestock products.

Livestock are an integral part of the lives of a majority of the Zimbabwean population.

The livestock sector includes numerous species of animals, which include beef and dairy cattle, goats, sheep, poultry, pigs, farmed fish, crocodiles and bees.

Livestock production systems in Zimbabwe are classified as intensive, semi-extensive and extensive.

Extensive livestock production — which is mainly practised in agro-ecological regions III, IV and V —involves the production of grazers and browsers (cattle, sheep and goats) in rangelands.

The intensive production system — which is common in regions I and II, the high veld — involves production of animals that include dairy and beef cattle, pigs, poultry and rabbits.

Intensive production systems are capital-intensive and about 70 to 80 percent of production costs are for feed.

About 90 percent of the national cattle herd, 99 percent of the national goat flock and 80 percent of sheep are owned by smallholder farmers.

The livestock sector contributes significantly to the inclusive growth and development of the national economy.

The livestock sector is positioned to take a key role in the current national inclusive transformation agenda towards the attainment of Vision 2030.

This article will focus on animal health initiatives that are being rolled out to reduce livestock mortalities, morbidity and, ultimately, expand the livestock head count.

Livestock recovery and growth plan

Government was concerned with the level of performance of the livestock sector and it promulgated a blueprint to address all areas that were limiting growth.

Observed challenges were associated with (i) animal health, sanitary and feed safety issues; (ii) availability of adequate nutrition (pastures, fodder and water); (iii) genetics improvement issues; (iv) access to infrastructure suitable for accessing lucrative domestic, regional and international markets; and (v) inadequate financial resources.

These challenges are responsible for the low off-take, low fertility, high mortality and morbidity, low carcass weight, poor quality and inability to effectively compete on the export market.

In 2020, Government approved the Livestock Recovery and Growth Plan (2021-2026), whose main thrust is to put in place solid interventions to address livestock production and productivity issues that lay a good foundation for the livestock sector to assume its prominent role in transforming farmers’ livelihoods and providing the required raw materials for agriculture-led industrial development, among other things.

These will culminate in an increase in livestock production and productivity, strengthened animal disease surveillance and control systems, as well as more developed and resilient livestock production systems.

The goal is to reduce livestock mortality, for more productive livestock systems that are adapted to meet the incessant drought events caused by climate change.

The Government, through its Livestock Recovery and Growth Plan, intends to grow the national cattle herd to six million by 2023, and eight million by 2025.

The plan seeks to address a number of challenges that are constraining livestock production, productivity and profitability.

The main objectives are to ameliorate or address challenges in the key areas of animal health, animal genetics, animal nutrition and other related parameters.

The Livestock Recovery and Growth Plan seeks to attain a US$2 billion livestock economy by the year 2025 and contribute to food security and nutrition, employment creation, household incomes and, ultimately, growth of the rural economy as we journey towards Vision 2030.

Climate change has brought its own challenges to the livestock sector.

There has been an increase in animal disease outbreaks, frequent droughts and floods.

These natural phenomena have continued to decimate the national herd.

In the past 10 years, successive droughts have resulted in poor nutrition, especially for grazing animals, and this has led to reduced fertility, resulting in low calving rates.

The national calving rate is below 50 percent, whereas the ideal should be above 60 percent.

Animal diseases

The prevalence of animal diseases remains one of the biggest constraints to livestock production and trade, and livestock products.

Animal health risks emanate from a variety of disease-causing pathogens and conditions — which include viruses, bacteria and protozoal that infect animals directly or can be transmitted by a variety of vectors.

Vector-borne diseases, particularly tick-borne diseases, constitute the biggest risk to livestock production and account for over 60 percent of recorded ruminant livestock deaths.  Internal and external parasites of livestock cause production losses and spread disease and require control.

Diseases such as foot and mouth, Newcastle, African swine fever, anthrax, tick-borne and trypanosomiasis are endemic to our country and require constant and consistent surveillance and monitoring to ensure their satisfactory control.

Prevention and control of these diseases require the use of vaccines, drugs and chemicals.

Growth of the livestock sector is currently being stifled by the high prevalence of livestock diseases, particularly tick-borne diseases.

The presence of these diseases and the perceived risk from the emerging diseases that have potential to decimate the sector are a cause for concern, hence the need for improved disease surveillance, management and awareness initiatives.

January disease/theileriosis

Theileriosis is a notifiable tick-borne cattle disease caused by the blood parasites Theileria parva, which are transmitted by the brown ear ticks.

The parasites affect white blood cells, resulting in generalised swelling of the lymph nodes and cattle die within a few days of clinical signs.

It is common between December and March.

Of late, theileriosis now occurs all year round but soars significantly from November, before peaking in January, as this period is associated with increased activity of the tick vectors.

The name January disease was coined after it was observed that most cases occurred in the month of January, when the country normally receives most of its rains.

In 2017 alone, the country lost over 55 000 cattle due to tick-borne-related deaths.

This figure swelled to in excess of 500 000 cattle deaths by 2020.

This prompted Government to institute measures to avert the situation and this included increasing its budget towards the fight against the January disease.

The New Dispensation — under the wise leadership of His Excellency, President Mnangagwa — came up with a National Integrated Ticks and Tick-Borne Disease Control Strategy that comprises scientifically proven approaches that apply to our local environment to avert the deaths, minimise loses and/or maximise benefits.

The following key points embed the implementation plan of the National Integrated Ticks and Tick-Borne Disease Control Strategy:

  1. Enforcement of dipping across all farming sectors, including commercial farms;
  2. Promoting adoption of plunge dipping for tick control, as it is still the most cost-effective and most user-friendly method;
  3. Strengthening community participation and ownership of the tick and tick-borne disease control programmes;
  4. Establishment and maintenance of infrastructure and equipment that include replacement of pour-on races with plunge dips, drilling of boreholes for water supply to dip tanks and rehabilitation of damaged dip tanks to ensure most farmers have access to the most cost-effective tick and tick-borne disease control infrastructure;
  5. Combating unregulated animal movement across and within districts;
  6. Introduction of new genetics tolerant to diseases through artificial insemination;
  7. Farmer education and awareness on disease recognition and reporting;
  8. Prompt diagnosis of tick-borne disease cases and provision of early treatment;
  9. Resource mobilisation to strengthen disease and vector surveillance programmes, and to adequately cover for both field diagnosis and laboratory confirmatory diagnosis;
  10. Local manufacture of acaricides and import substitution;
  11. Strengthening the legislation/regulatory framework; and
  12. Active involvement and partnerships with private sector players in the development and implementation of all interventions.

War against January disease: The war chest

  1. Intensive cattle dipping programme

In the rainy season, all cattle are dipped once every week, and in the event of an outbreak, the frequency of dipping is increased to three times in two weeks using the 5-5-4-day dipping interval.

Plunge dipping remains the most effective method in which the whole animal is immersed in the dip to kill the ticks.

Other dipping methods include hand spraying, using knapsacks, which is recommended for small herds of less than 30 cattle.

This method requires a proper handling facility to allow for thorough wetting of animal, with each animal receiving about 4-6 litres.

For herds greater than 30, motorised sprays are ideal and more effective.

Application of oil-based pour-on dip chemicals on the midline of cattle can also be used to control ticks.

The dip chemical spreads all over the animal’s body.

The method, though expensive, is very effective, especially during periods of incessant rains, when other dipping methods might not be practically possible to conduct or can be washed away by rain water.

There are 4 009 plunge dip tanks in all provinces countrywide accessible to farmers.

  1. Accelerated dip tank rehabilitation programme

Dipping infrastructure is a precursor in the fight against the deadly January disease.

Government is rehabilitating the dip tanks to ensure optimal functionality.

The Livestock Recovery and Growth Plan targets to rehabilitate 2 000 out of the 4 009 dip tanks.

It is important to note that, while this rehabilitation programme is continuing, cattle are now dipping everywhere.

The Government rehabilitated 453 dip tanks in 2022 and seeks to rehabilitate 511 in the current year.

The programme model encourages community participation for sustainability, as communities provide the labour while Government is providing financial and materials support.

  1. Blitz tick grease application programme

The Presidential Blitz Tick Grease application programme was launched in November 2020, as a Presidential input scheme, to contain January disease outbreaks.

The programme involves the provision of 1kg of tick grease per cattle-owning household, targeting a million smallholder households.

Upon receiving the tick grease, farmers are trained on the application and use of tick grease in between dipping sessions.

The tick grease is a supplementary tick-control measure, being applied to tick-feeding sites on the animal such as the inside of the ears, base of the horn, under the tail and tail brush, to improve the outcomes of the national dipping programme.

The programme enhanced the national effort against ticks and tick-borne diseases, which culminated in a 47 percent reduction of cattle mortality due to the January disease in 2021, and a 39 percent decline in cattle mortalities in 2022, compared to the previous year in both instances.

Currently, Government targets to distribute 1,5 million kg of tick grease, with priority being given to the January disease hotspots.

  1. Capacitating of field extension personnel

All agricultural extension staff received motorbikes and are getting a monthly fuel allocation.

This move is expected to increase their mobility whilst disseminating and imparting critical knowledge to livestock farmers.

The frontline field personnel are able to quickly respond to outbreaks and institute control measures.

The extension staff have also received tablets to allow for better communication with farmers, swift disease reporting and also access continued education through an in-service training application run by the training department in the ministry.

  1. Local manufacture and supply of dipping chemicals

Government contracted a local manufacturer to produce dip chemical for the national dipping programme.

Another contractor was engaged to supply the imported active ingredients for the dip chemical manufacture.

This local manufacture model has potential to produce cheaper dip chemicals, at 42 percent less the current costs.

The arrangement is improving the capacity utilisation of our local manufacturing industry, creating employment, as well as opening opportunities for regional exports in the long run.

  1. Review of the Animal Health Act and Regulations

Animal movement controls are critical in the fight against the January disease.

The ticks that cause the disease cannot move long distances by themselves but rather move from one place to another through uncontrolled animal movement.

The movement of tick-infested animals has been responsible for spreading the disease.

It is an offence to move cattle infested with ticks, according to the Cattle Cleansing Regulations, 1993, and all cattle must be dipped and tick-free before they can be translocated.

Government reviewed the Animal Health Act and its associated regulations to more effectively enforce animal movement controls for an enhanced disease control programme.

Implementation of the revised Animal Health Act and its regulations will effectively serve the country’s livestock production and growth objectives.

  1. Production of theileriosis vaccines

Government is currently running field trials of the locally produced BOLVAC vaccines, which can protect animals against the disease.

The field trials being carried out in Makoni district will inform on the up-scaling and roll-out of the vaccines countrywide.

  1. Awareness campaigns

The Government declared
war against the January disease at a launch held in Kadoma on February 8, 2023.

Subsequently, provincial launches were done in each province.

The war involves massive awareness campaigns on the control and preventative measures, chief among them being religious dipping of cattle.

The Government is working closely with traditional leaders to encourage dipping of all cattle.

Government is also enforcing the Cattle Cleansing Regulations of 1993, which make dipping of cattle mandatory, failure of which one faces prosecution.

The same regulations also make it an offence to keep or move tick-infested animals. It is the farmers’ responsibility to dip all their cattle.

  1. Early diagnosis, detection and reporting

January disease-affected animals succumb to death after a short period of illness.

Early administration of treatment is key in saving cattle from the disease.

Daily monitoring of animals is recommended for signs of the disease, which include swelling of lymph nodes, especially those behind the ears and those in front of the shoulders, difficulty in breathing, excessive tearing, cloudiness of the eyes and bloody diarrhoea seen in terminal stages.

It is important to immediately notify the nearest veterinary officer so that control measures can be instituted early.

Treatment of affected animals includes injection of tetracyclines, buparvaquones, diuretics and vitamins/minerals.

Impact of January disease control interventions

Interventions that include increased surveillance, diagnosis and treatment have resulted in a reduction in cattle mortalities.

In 2021, mortalities dropped by 47 percent compared to the 2020 figure.

In 2022, a further reduction of 39 percent was recorded.

For the first quarter of 2023, the tick control programme is on track, and the results are impressive.

The graphs above show the trend of weekly mortalities, 2020 to 2023, for the first quarter.

The trend shows that there has been some improvement each year compared to the previous year.

The trend observed is a result of capacity building of farmers through trainings and extension messaging on the January disease since 2020.

Annually, extension trainings and messaging reach an average of three million people directly from extension officers, and on a person-to-person basis in the communities, by electronic and print media, the messages reach upwards of 90 percent of the population.

The impact has been positive, resulting in intensive dipping of cattle, contributing to the decline in January disease cases and mortalities.

The 2023 trend particularly, after the peak at week 4, shows a significant decline in cattle mortalities that followed the declaration of war against the January disease, which has been escalated and sustained to date.

This is a war we must win at all cost.

Dr John Basera is Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development


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