Windhoek — Angola's recent announcement to grant unfettered access to Namibian communal farmers to graze their livestock in Angola could pose a serious challenge to efforts to declare the Northern Communal Area (NCA) a livestock disease-free zone.
Namibian veterinary officials fear they would have very little control over the movements of the livestock between the two countries. A joint commission between Namibia and Angola has recommended that Namibian livestock owners can now register to graze their herds legally in the south of the Cunene and Kwando Kubango provinces of Angola.
The agricultural ministry has been working hard to eliminate foot-and-mouth disease, as well as other bovine diseases in the NCA, with the ultimate aim of shifting the northern veterinary cordon fence further south in the next few years and ultimately removing the cordon fence also known as the red line completely.
The ministry has dubbed the project the NCA foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumenia (CBPP) Freedom Project, through which it has been devising ways and means to eradicate the two trans-boundary animal diseases from the NCA. "For the project it is a challenge. We do not have much control over what is happening in another country, however on the positive side we receive news from Angola that they want to support our project," acting chief veterinary officer, in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Dr John Shoopala said of the grazing recommendations from the Angola-Namibia Joint Commission.
Shoopala said the porous Namibia/Angola border poses a challenge for declaring the NCA or the protected zone a free zone in future. Cabinet decided in 2010 that removing the veterinary cordon fence would "allow livestock owners access to more lucrative domestic, regional and international markets for their livestock and livestock products." The agriculture ministry was immediately tasked to implement the approved policy for the eradication of trans-boundary animal diseases in the NCA. At the time Cabinet said helping communal farmers to access lucrative markets, such as the European Union and the USA, is set to increase the agricultural contribution to the economy by 20 percent from the current 8 percent.
Shoopala nevertheless says the positive disposition of the authorities in Angola towards a disease-free area in the northern regions is welcome. The Angolan government also wants FMD and CBPP free status in the southern part of Angola. "We are currently going on their word, but they [indicated that they] want to sign an agreement to also have a policy to eradicate trans-boundary animal diseases in southern Angola," Shoopala added.
Namibian veterinary service officers are mostly concerned with how to control the animal movements across the border between the two countries. "You know that shortly after independence a fence was put up along that border, but it did not last, as communities themselves removed the fence. So it is a challenge, but we are devising ways to deal with that," Shoopala pointed out. The ministry is envisaging more entry points along the border, so that it can easily control animal movements along the common border.
With regard to the Caprivi Region, which falls under the infected zone, Shoopala said there is nothing that can be done to change that status due to the free-roaming buffaloes and the porous border on that side as well. "Remember we now also have the Kavango-Zambezi Trans-frontier Conservation Area, whereby animals can move freely from one country to another," he said.
Shoopala said effective farming in livestock is not possible in the presence of trans-boundary diseases. "And their control in the form of surveillance, vaccination and other measures continue to cost the country millions, while there is little benefit derived at household level and national income level," Shoopala said.
Two days ago, the line minister, John Mutorwa, said that there should be no justification to treat the infected zone and the protected zone in the rest of the NCAs on the same level. "There must be an intensification in implementing the devised ways, means and strategies to eradicate trans-boundary diseases from the NCA for purposes of improving market access for livestock and livestock products from the NCA," Mutorwa said during a NCA FMD and CBPP Freedom project management consultative workshop.
According to the minister the continuation of the status quo is unacceptable and unjustifiable.
"If there are still some people, who erroneously believe that the Namibian nation, specifically those living in the NCAs still can wait, I am saying: there is not much time left," Mutorwa said.
He further said if the ministry and other stakeholders such as agricultural farmers' unions and the World Organisation for Animal Health, do not offer their maximumn support, at some point the power of the people might take over. The Veterinary Cordon Fence separates the northern part of Namibia from the rest of the country, with an actual fence running from the Botswana border in the east to Palgrave point in the desert to the west.