Rinderpest Battle: Victory in Sight

Published on 17th May 2010

Rinderpest will be the first animal disease to be verifiably eradicated and only the second infectious disease worldwide after the eradication of small pox in humans in 1977. In this connection, the OIE and FAO are preparing for the international declaration of global freedom from rinderpest in 2011. We in Africa will have reason to celebrate this key achievement with the rest of the world.

The eradication of rinderpest has been made possible by the political goodwill and support of AU Member States, the long-term support and commitments of the national veterinary services, the international technical partners including FAO with the Global Rinderpest Eradication Program (GREP), OIE and the development partners. The European Union deserves special mention for providing unwavering and sustained support throughout the rinderpest eradication process over the last 60 years with total financial investments of more than 250 million Euros in the JP 15, PARC, PACE, SERECU and support to complementary programmes in Somalia.

Thomas Jefferson the third President of the United States of America (1801 – 1809) often declared that “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance”. This calls for renewed attention and investments by national governments in animal disease surveillance systems and contingency planning to ensure preparedness for early detection, confirmation and response to deal with any suspected re-emergence of the disease. It will be necessary to ensure that the potential threat of rinderpest virus escaping from our research, diagnostic and vaccine production laboratories, either accidentally or intentionally, is permanently removed. We, therefore, need to agree on modalities for the collection, detailed documentation and safe storage of biological materials containing rinderpest virus. The African Union Pan African Vaccine Centre (AU-PANVAC) is well placed to serve as a safe and accessible repository of Africa’s rinderpest biological materials. We invite AU Member States to support the rinderpest virus sequestration in Africa.

As we celebrate the eradication of rinderpest from Africa, we must face the reality that other trade-sensitive transboundary animal diseases remain key hurdles to improving access to domestic and export markets for African animal resources and related products. More than 90% of the diseases of livestock and poultry listed by the OIE occur in Africa. Veterinary interventions to prevent and control these diseases are essential to ensure sustainable sources of income and livelihoods for African livestock keepers, guarantee food security for the growing population in Africa and food safety for consumers. The continued presence of transboundary animal diseases (TADs) and zoonoses in Africa poses great challenges to African states and the RECs. The prevention, control and eradication of these diseases would lessen the economic and public health burdens on the continent, and contribute significantly to economic growth, wellbeing and human health.

Foot and mouth disease (FMD), peste des petits ruminants (PPR), contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP), Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), African swine fever (ASF)Newcastle disease (ND) and climate related diseases such as Rift Valley fever (RVF) are among the key diseases that continue to limit the access of livestock commodities from Africa to lucrative export markets. For example, in 2009, a total of 740 outbreaks of PPR were reported in 20 countries; 235 outbreaks of CBPP were reported in 20 countries; 375 outbreaks of FMD were reported in 25 countries; and 42 outbreaks of RVF were reported in 3 countries. These figures are most likely lower than the actual number of outbreaks as we know that there is underreporting of diseases by national veterinary services. These diseases provide technical justifications for imposition of non-tariff barriers that deny Africa the opportunity for the realisation of the full potential of livestock commodities in poverty reduction and improvement of the livelihoods and wellbeing of communities and economies that depend on livestock. This calls for stepping up efforts to combat these diseases.

Another major disease with negative impacts and consequences on humans and livestock in 37 African countries is trypanosomiasis. A decision was made by the African Heads of States and Government to embark on a Pan African Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Campaign (PATTEC). A plan of action for its eradication is being implemented by the affected countries. In the past 10 years, most countries have included trypanosomiasis in their national development priorities. To date Zanzibar Island, Botswana and Namibia, have achieved freedom from tsetse and trypanosomiasis and serve as examples on the feasibility of attaining the objectives of PATTEC.

Effective management of TADs and zoonoses requires cooperation among countries and the RECs are expected to play a key role in the development and implementation of regional harmonization and coordination mechanisms. This will in turn strengthen inter-regional and international trade of livestock commodities. AU-IBAR is spearheading the development of the Integrated Regional Coordination mechanism (IRCM) for the control of TADs and Zoonoses in Africa. This is a multi-sectoral approach that brings together multiple technical sectors, in particular animal and human health to address common problems in line with the concept of One World One Health has been adopted.

International trade in livestock commodities is a major business that is currently worth 33 billion US dollars. It accounts for about one sixth of all agricultural trade. Meat exports, derived mostly from cattle pigs and poultry make up about 50% of all livestock products, most of which are traded by developed countries. Despite boasting a large share of the global livestock population, Africa’s share in the international trade in livestock and livestock products remains negligible as only a few countries are able to comply with SPS requirements for export to other continents. Currently, only four countries (Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and South Africa) are able to comply with the standards required to access lucrative and sophisticated markets such as the European Union, Norway and others. Other countries such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Djibouti and Kenya have some access to markets in the Gulf States and in the Middle East.

This has been made possible by investing in veterinary services and harnessing of public and private sector partnerships for the development of appropriate infrastructure along the livestock value chain. These include quarantine stations, livestock markets, export quality slaughterhouses, laboratory facilities and fences in some of the countries.  

Of greater concern is the continuous loss of shares by African producers in markets within the African continent with imports of animal products increasing by more than 10 % per year, while exports remain stagnant. Available data for meat and dairy products exports and imports in Africa between 2003 and 2007 shows that in 2003, Africa exported about 106,000 metric tonnes of meat valued at US dollars 208 million while importing 953,000 metric tonnes valued at 889 million US dollars. In the same year, Africa exported about 349,000 metric tonnes of dairy products valued at 166 million US dollars and imported 5.6 million metric tonnes valued at 1.73 billion US dollars. In 2007, Africa exported 93,647 metric tonnes of meat valued at 332 million US dollars and imported 1,536,200 metric tonnes of meat at a value of 2.07 billion US dollars. The exports of dairy products for 2007 comprised of 388,000 metric tonnes with a value of 268 million US Dollars while 6.1 million Metric tonnes of dairy products valued at 3.3 billion US dollars were imported in the same year.

From this data, it is clear that there is a growing demand for meat and dairy products in Africa that should present new market opportunities for both domestic producers and exporters. It is equally clear that Africa is a net importer of livestock commodities with the resultant large outflows of hard currencies. Re-conquering the domestic and regional markets by African producers should therefore be considered as a priority challenge for the African livestock sector. We need to encourage the marketing and trade of livestock and livestock products within and between African countries.

With general trade liberalization (in the framework of WTO – and Regional Trade Agreements), competition is becoming fierce, both in domestic and international markets. Previously threats to African producers were from subsidized agricultural products from developed countries. Currently the competition is increasingly from more efficient producers in countries where no subsidies apply eg. Brazil for poultry and beef, Argentina for beef, New Zealand and Australia for mutton. In these countries, production costs are 25-40% lower than in Africa. There is an urgent need to enhance the competitiveness of Africa’s animal resources by investing in means to lower production costs and value addition. 

International trade in livestock and livestock products is also increasingly governed by international standards to ensure the sanitary safety and quality of the commodities and for protection of the health of the consumers. Measures to reduce the risk of disease transmission through traded livestock and livestock products are essential but the rules governing the global trade in livestock as outlined in the WTO’s Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement are widely recognised as heavily biased in the interests of developed countries. 
This is not surprising as currently, the main contributions to standards setting processes in international organizations are provided by the developed world that often ignores the specificities of African production systems and trade. The participation of African countries in the standard setting organisations is limited as most African countries do not have appropriately trained personnel with knowledge and expertise in the relevant scientific fields. There is need to increase the participation of African stakeholders along the value chain in standard setting including private sector actors, the civil society and poor livestock producers in order to enhance capacity to influence standards and increase understanding of the benefits of compliance at national, regional and continental levels. There is also need to enhance the implementation of measures that promote both intra-regional and inter-regional trade in livestock commodities within Africa. In this regard the principle of equivalence of the SPS Agreement should be fully exploited. The harmonization and coordination of related policies and regulations across RECs will greatly facilitate this and will avoid contradictions with the SPS Agreement and barriers to trade.

Moreover, strong coordination between different institutions and other stakeholders dealing with SPS matters at national level is needed to better advise Government on the decisions and positions to take to the WTO-SPS Committee and International Standards Setting Organizations (ISSO) meetings. For this to happen, it is necessary for Governments to support the creation of National  and regional SPS Committees.

The AUC is committed to enhancing the technical expertise  and capacity of Member States in SPS issues as well as facilitating their participation in meetings of ISSOs through two EU funded projects namely “Better Training for Safer Food” (BTSF) and The “Participation of African Nations in sanitary and phytosanitary standard-setting organizations” (PAN-SPSO). 

By H.E. Mme Rhoda Peace Tumusiime.

Commissioner For Rural Economy And Agriculture,  African Union Commission.

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