Zimbabwean authorities have refused to lift a ban on the movement of cattle in the entire southern part of the country, sparking an outrage from farmers, especially among beef producers.
The restrictions on the movement of cattle and an indefinite suspension of all public cattle auctions imposed two years ago remain in place as the southern Africa country battles to contain the foot and mouth cattle disease.
The government, through the department of veterinary services, has put about 2.8 million cattle into quarantine, except for those meant for direct slaughter.
Authorities have also suspended the exhibition of cattle at major events such as agricultural shows throughout southern Zimbabwe.
Ernest Dzimwasha, a provincial veterinary officer in Masvingo province in the southern part of the country, said the ban would remain in force to ensure that the disease remained under control.
Dzimwasha said while the country had failed to eradicate the disease during the past two years, it would continue to work flat out to limit their spread.
“The ban remains in place and we will continue to monitor farmers to ensure that they adhere to measures we have put in place,” he said.
“We are doing this for the benefit of farmers and the general public who are consumers of beef products. If we lift the ban, it will be disaster and we are just avoiding that.”
Minister of Agriculture Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Dr Joseph Made said the cattle disease was a cause for concern, adding that the state would not lift the ban until the disease was eradicated.
Made said they had failed to completely eradicate the disease due to a critical shortage of vaccines and manpower.
“We declared the disease a national disaster but our main challenges to contain the disease remain a shortage of manpower and vaccines,” said Made.
“We are therefore left with no option but to put in measures that will limit the spread of the disease hence our decision not to lift the ban.”
Beef producers and ordinary farmers have called on the government to lift the ban, arguing that the move had paralysed the entire beef industry.
Robert Makadho, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Beef Producers Association in southern Zimbabwe, said the restrictions had adversely affected the industry which was also reeling from the effects of severe droughts in recent years.
“Our business as beef producers will soon come to a standstill because of the government’s decision to continue banning the movement of cattle,” he said.
“Most farmers are rebuilding their herd but the ban has made life difficult for us since we rely solely on selling beef to get income.
“We are passionately appealing to the government to reconsider its position and lift the ban, given the fact that most of cattle have since been vaccinated.
“Like everyone else, we have families to feed and by selling some of our breeding herd we could improve our industry, but the ban is making it difficult for us to do so”, Makadho said.
Mike Munyonga, a farmer who lost 20 herd of cattle after they were shot dead by veterinary officials for allegedly flouting the cattle movement restrictions, said he had to close shop.
“The ban has just put us out of business,” he said.
“Every day beef producers in southern Zimbabwe are talking of losses and we are therefore appealing to the government to lift the ban because we no longer have any source of income.”
Another farmer, Simon Gwenhamo, said that while farmers appreciated the efforts the government was making to control the disease, the restrictions had affected their daily operations.
“As farmers, we are feeling the effects of the ban which should be lifted, if farmers are to live normal lives,” said Gwenhamo.
Zimbabwe is home to 5.5 million cattle of which more than half are in southern Zimbabwe the country’s cattle breeding hub.
The area includes Masvingo and Matebeleland south provinces with the largest cattle population in the country.
The beef industry is constrained by recurring foot and mouth disease including the deadly anthrax cattle disease.
Zimbabwe’s beef exports to the lucrative EU markets have been curtailed by frequent outbreaks of the diseases.
To add insult to injury, the Zimbabwean government has frozen the recruitment of new staff into the civil service due to serious cash flow problems into the Treasury.
The move has negatively affected several government departments including the Department of Veterinary Services and especially when there are disease outbreaks.