MORE than 350 000 cattle have been lost over the past year to a combination of disease, drought and panic slaughtering, with January Disease (theileriosis) accounting for most of the deaths.
Authorities continue to find it difficult to contain the tick-borne disease.
“The figures are currently being collated, however, I can confirm the number now stands between 350 000 and 400 000 deaths. The 50 000 figure being quoted was from the summer of 2017 into 2018, but a lot has happened in between. We also have cases that are going unreported,” said an official from the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement, who elected to remain anonymous as they are not authorised to talk to the press.
But, Ms Ruth Maredza, an officer in the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) based at Mubaira Growth Point, said it was difficult to come up with the exact figure as some deaths went unreported.
“The problem we have is that our farmers are not coming to us to report the deaths. As such, it is difficult for us to come up with the number of affected cattle,” she said.
DVS director Dr Joseph Nyika also said he was not sure of the exact figure.
The country’s national herd is estimated to be around 5,5 million.
However, the veterinary department has since embarked on an aggressive nationwide programme aimed at curbing further losses.
Not only is theileriosis threatening the national herd but it now poses a serious threat to public health after revelations meat from diseased cattle was finding its way to the market.
But DVS is presently hamstrung.
A $2 fee currently being paid by farmers for dipping services countrywide is proving too little for the cash-strapped department to buy the required chemicals.
Government needs about $11 million annually to deal with various diseases —theileriosis, anthrax and foot-and-mouth — affecting livestock around the country.
There are 4000 dip-tanks around the country that require at least 12 000 tonnes of chemical for a single dipping session for them to operate at optimal levels.
Cattle dipping is supposed to be done at least twice a month; thus, a minimum of 24 000 tonnes of chemicals are required per month.
Speaking in an interview, veterinary diagnostics and research officer responsible for parasites Dr Emily Waniwa said the department does not have adequate resources.
She, however, indicated that quick-win solutions like awareness and remedy programmes were currently being implemented.
The schedule started in Norton a fortnight ago and moves to Chivhu tomorrow.
“Whilst efforts are being made to normalise communal dipping, produce the theileriosis vaccine and do more research on the current disease dynamics, there is need for increased tick-borne diseases awareness to farmers. We are currently conducting interventions at farm and community level that can help reduce further loss of cattle,” said Dr Waniwa.
“These interventions include, but are not limited to, farmers buying their own acaricides and controlling ticks in the event that dipping through communal dip-tanks is erratic, early disease recognition, reporting and early treatment guided by veterinary professionals, animal movement control and teaching proper dipping methods,” she said.
The programme is initially targeting hotspots such as Mhondoro, Ngezi, Chivhu, Buhera, Masvingo and Matabeleland.
Theileriosis is caused by the brown ear-tick that usually thrives during the rainy season. Dipping is considered effective in fighting the scourge, but foreign currency shortages are making it increasingly difficult to import dipping chemicals.
The shortage of chemicals means farmers are either failing to dip their cattle or dipping them in chemicals whose concentration is considered suboptimal.
Local companies are not taking up the initiative to manufacture cattle vaccines locally.
Similarly, Government, through the assistance the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), has scaled up local production of the vaccines.
“…so we are currently working on short-term win solutions using a $17 million budget. But we are also trying to produce vaccines by manufacturing and testing them, though this is a long process.
“The vaccines will be administered on a small scale, to test effectiveness, before a massive roll-out. UNDP and FAO have injected some funds in at least 18 districts for this initiative. It will later spread to provinces,” said Dr Waniwa.
“Our Veterinary Public Health (VPH) branch will also be giving public education on drug withdrawal period and dangers of eating potentially infected meat and other products of animal origin in line with the branch’s key function of safeguarding public health.”
Unlike anthrax, there is no immediate danger of consuming cattle that die from theileriosis, though it has potential health complications to humans.
Anthrax symptoms in humans depend on how one is infected, but they range from skin sores, vomiting and shock.
In the immediate to long term, Government plans to increase the size of the national herd to over 20 million beasts.