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What ministry is doing about foot and mouth outbreak

Image: Stock image

On January 7, the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries declared officially that there's an outbreak of foot-and- mouth disease in Vhembe district, Limpopo.

This was confirmed after cases were reported to state vets, who conducted tests on cattle in the area. The positive location is just outside the control zone, and more specifically, in the high surveillance area of the foot and mouth disease-free zone.

The spillage of the disease immediately prompted the World Organisation for Animal Health to suspend SA's foot and mouth disease-free status.

This temporary suspension resulted in some neighbouring countries banning SA exports.

These bans have caused serious loss to the red meat industry that has had a sustained period in growing its export footprint in various markets worldwide.

The beef industry alone has made significant strides in growing their exports. In their continental penetration, Egypt, Mozambique, Angola, Swaziland, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Mauritius are solid markets for SA. In the East, Hong Kong and Vietnam are our major markets. The United Arab Emirates is our biggest market in the Middle East, followed by Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan.

As a country, we export tonnes and tonnes of beef - both frozen and chilled. The last good year for agriculture performance as a sector to our GDP, which saw the country getting out of a technical recession through , was 2017. Red meat alone on export generated an estimated $144m (about R2bn).

It is in this context that the suspension of SA's foot and mouth disease-free status poses a real trade threat for the country.

Consequently, minister Senzeni Zokwana convened an urgent meeting with the red meat industry players to discuss the implications and solutions from the perspective of looking at international trade. In the meeting, both government and the industry agreed on the following:

A formation of a technical team made out of the department and the industry on fighting the current outbreak. The team will be an additional capacity to the current state veterinary personnel and technicians on the ground in Vhembe district; and

Setting up of a trade committee to engage with foreign markets. This committee will look beyond foot-and-mouth disease and look at market gaps and opportunities.

These technical teams are expected to exist beyond the current situation and fix their eyes firmly on future threats and opportunities within the sub-sector.

The country, from time to time, experiences diseases like avian flu, listeriosis, fall army worm and many others. On trade issues, government involvement can play a significant role in levelling the fields piggybacking on existing bilateral agreements for the industry to enhance their export markets.

- Nkwanyana is the spokesperson for the minister of agriculture

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