Last month at the OIE (World Animal Health Organisation) Assembly in Paris, changes to international regulatory standards around Foot and Mouth Disease were adopted. This has long been argued for, and will make a big difference to livestock producers across southern Africa.
The updated OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code makes it possible for African countries with wild species like buffalo that naturally harbour foot and mouth disease (FMD) viruses to be able to trade beef without necessarily requiring the physical separation of wildlife and livestock through the extensive veterinary cordon fencing that has characterized animal disease management in southern Africa since the colonial era.
According to Steve Osofsky, Wildlife Conservation Society AHEAD Coordinator, commented “we’ve reached a critical turning point in regards to resolving the more than half century-old conflict between international beef trade policy based on foot and mouth disease control fencing in the southern African context and the migratory needs of free-ranging wildlife in the region and beyond”.
In Zimbabwe, with large populations of FMD-carrying buffalo, this has long been a major challenge. In the past, a massive amount of funding was spent on trying to keep buffalos and livestock separate and thousands of kilometers of fencing erected, in order to gain access to international markets. The European Union invested considerable sums in creating a zoned arrangement, with ‘disease free’, ‘buffer’ and ‘infected’ areas to allow exports to European markets under special agreements that existed under the Lome agreement. This was a lucrative trade for those beef farmers able to comply. However, it also excluded many beef producers in large parts of the country. In addition, it diverted huge amounts of aid funds, as well as government resources, in the inevitably vain attempt to create FMD disease freedom.
In southern Africa, where the FMD virus is endemic, this was an unscientific and expensive policy. But pressure from European nations and others in the OIE prevented any change in international regulatory policy until now, despite excellent arguments from African researchers, including from Zimbabwe, that safe trade alternatives exist. In many ways it was a scandal – a huge waste of time and public money, distorting markets and creating benefits for the few not the many in the name of ‘development’ and ‘aid’.
Now quarantine-based value chain approaches to beef production (also known as commodity-based trade) can become a routine option. AHEAD Guidelines show how this policy change offers the unprecedented possibility of access to new beef markets for southern African livestock producers. As Osofsky says, it also “unlocks the potential for restoring migratory movements of wildlife and thus enhancing prospects for long-term wildlife populatioon viability within individual countries as well as in transboundary landscapes like the KAZA Transfrontier Conservation Area”.
As argued in earlier research convened by the ESRC STEPS Centre and supported by the Wellcome Trust, commodity-based trade for beef will help open up markets within Africa, as well as Asia, and make these markets available for a wider range of producers. A journal article and associated commentaries mapped out the options. Complying with safe trade regulations requires upgrading value chain infrastructure and support, but it means that a small-scale livestock producer in the new resettlements or communal areas can now access high value markets, boosting ecoomic opportunity and improving livelihoods. Land reform has restructured markets as well as land, and the’ real markets‘ for beef allow multiple opportunities (see also our recent ‘making markets’ film on beef). This policy change will therefore make a massive difference to people and economies across the region.
The old era of fencing and absurd and unachievable ‘disease free’ zones is now over, and we can now accept that livestock production in southern Africa must live with the FMD virus, but in a way that allows for safe trade and careful regulation. Sometimes the long, hard slog of evidence-based policy research does pay off, despite plenty of interests stacked against it. Congratulations to the 180 national members – and especially the African contingent – at the OIE Assembly!