The market for cattle and dairy products in the Eastern Province will reopen next month after more than three months of quarantine due to foot-and-mouth disease in three districts of the province.
The outbreak began in November in the Gabiro area and affected around 700 cows from Gatsibo, Nyagatare, and Kayonza districts. This resulted in the restriction of movement of dairy products and cattle in an effort to limit the spread of the disease and safeguard the public against the consumption of tainted dairy products.
Dr Christine Kanyandekwe, the Deputy Director General in charge of Livestock at Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), last week told The Rwanda Focus that 180 cows of the infected cattle were destroyed as a last option to contain the disease.
The decision, taken by the ministry of agriculture and animal resources together with local people, rid the area of infected cows, after 72,000 others had been vaccinated. "We are now crosschecking to see if there might some remaining cases, but as things stand the quarantine will be lifted in March," Kanyandekwe remarked.
She added that they also plan to vaccinate the cattle again in April in order to contain the disease.
Though exact figures are not yet available, livestock farmers in the area report big losses due to the disease. "It is a huge loss," Kanyandekwe admitted. "Not only for the farmers, but also for the government which spent much money on vaccination."
She said economists are now calculating the exact amounts.
However, some people complain that it should not have taken such a long time to contain the infection. But Agriculture Minister Agnes Kalibata explained that it took some time before they got wind of the situation because some farmers did not report it immediately.
One of the mechanisms established to reduce the risk of future infections, according to Kanyandekwe, is the deployment of veterinarians at the border, considering that it is suspected that this latest outbreak originated in Tanzania. In addition, control posts have been established, for instance in Rusine center of Gicumbi of Northern Province, to monitor movements of animals.
Kanyandekwe further said that it is also important to involve local communities in the prevention and treatment of cattle diseases; so far, 1060 community animal health workers have been trained.
"We intend to provide them with basic knowledge on animal health and train them every year so that they are capable of healing some of the diseases," she pointed out.
Despite such measure, outbreaks of diseases among farm animals are as good as unavoidable, and they are a disaster for the farmers who might see part of their livestock destroyed or be unable to sell their produce. And while an insurance farm such as Sonarwa offers a scheme for cattle farmers, officials admit that few make use of it.
"We only know of a few farmers who have imported purebreds and positioned themselves in cattle farming as a business," Kanyandekwe said, adding so far Minagri has only 15 insured farmers, although others might have gone straight to the insurance provider.
She noted that the Girinka program will be included into the animal insurance scheme and farmers will be encouraged to join it so that they are protected against losses when the next infection breaks out.