The Sunday News
Dumisani Nsingo, Senior Reporter
BOTSWANA authorities have started shooting Zimbabwean cattle that stray into its borders to guard its herd against Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) as it kowtows to the European Union (EU) beef export requirements.
More than 30 cattle have been shot so far in areas adjacent to the border. Botswana’s border patrol unit started shooting the cattle that encroached into the neighbouring country from Gwanda rural district areas close to Mulambapeli Border Post on the southern part of Gwanda Town last week.
Prior to the development the authorities had earlier this year in a meeting with Government officials indicated it would start shooting livestock which strayed into their country as it sought to conform with the EU’s stringent requirements for beef exports.
The shooting policy by the neighbouring country puts at risk more than 90 000 of Matabeleland South cattle along the Botswana-Zimbabwe border.
It is said a number of villagers that send their cattle to relief grazing areas of Tuli Settlement and Russell Gorge near Shashe River, which is close to the boundary between the country and Botswana but on the Zimbabwean side lost a sizeable number of animals with over 30 cattle from Nhwali village believed to have been killed and burnt.
The other affected villages are Mulambapeli, Mashaba, Kafusi, Nsendami and Takaliyawa. Matabeleland South provincial veterinary officer Dr Mbuso Moyo confirmed the shooting but could not divulge more information referring this publication to his principals.
Contacted for a comment veterinary deputy director Dr Chenjerai Njagu said he was unaware that Botswana had started shooting livestock which encroached into its border but hinted that it was an issue that was discussed between the two countries’ governments.
“Of course Botswana had told us that it was going to kill livestock which strayed beyond its borders at a joint committee meeting which was attended by Government officials from both countries but Zimbabwe had asked for some time to sensitise its people. However, I haven’t received any information that they have since started to shoot the animals and in any case I wouldn’t give you any comment at this particular time because this is more of a diplomatic issue and I can’t pre-empt anything before my principals do,” said Dr Njagu.
Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Deputy Minister Paddy Zhanda who is responsible for livestock production could neither confirm nor deny the shooting of cattle by the Botswana authorities but stated Government was aware of the policy.
“We did an exercise to sensitise people that once their cattle crossed to the Botswana side they risked being shot. The Botswana government is under pressure from its farmers because the country exports beef to the EU market. It’s not something new though as it used to take place sometime ago. The three months grace period which we were given had since lapsed. However, at the moment I can’t confirm much we will have to send our veterinary officer and the police to ascertain how many cattle have been shot,” said Dep Minister Zhanda.
A visit to one of the affected areas by Sunday News revealed that the Botswana authorities had started shooting livestock which crossed into their country. A number of villagers interviewed were incensed and disgruntled by the Botswana authorities’ policy citing that it was insensitive and a way of drowning them in poverty as livestock rearing was one of their mainstay since their area was relatively dry with very low annual rainfall to embark on meaningful crop farming.
The villagers alleged that the fence demarcating the two countries was destroyed by a herd of elephants as the gigantic animals sought water at Shashe River and had not been repaired for sometime leading to their cattle having easy access to the Botswana side.
“I had my bull shot by the Botswana authorities on border patrol in the presence of a veterinary officer from Zimbabwe on Sunday (last week) and it happened to be the only bull which was servicing my 25 cows and heifers. We understand that this shooting is a policy, but it is going to leave us in poverty because most of us rely on rearing cattle for livelihood,” said a 49-year-old widow, Ms Liseli Ncube from Mashaba Village under Chief Mathe.
The village head, Mr Will Sebata said although the policy used to be there some time back there was a need for villagers to be given ample of time to put in place precautionary measures to ensure that their animals did not cross the border.
“As community leaders the shooting of our cattle is something which we don’t condone. Of course we were informed way back that cattle that crossed the border would be shot to avoid the spread of FMD but the time frame was rather short. The cattle ended up straying to the Botswana side after elephants destroyed the fence. I heard one of our villagers lost quite a large bull which played a pivotal role in our community as it serviced a number of cows,” he said.
Zimbabwean farmers and communities living near wildlife parks are at risk of FMD, which led to the country losing its quota to export 9,100 tonnes of beef to the EU in 2001.
The first case of FMD in the country was clinically detected on 16 August 2000 in a cattle feedlot in south-western Zimbabwe.
Prior to the outbreak, the country was known as an exporter of meat especially to the European market. The outbreaks have adversely affected the meat industry. Emerging indications point to the fact that there are two sources of infection in the Zimbabwe outbreaks, both originating from the African buffalo species.
FMD is a severe, highly contagious viral disease of livestock with significant economic impact. The disease affects cattle and swine as well as sheep, goats, and other cloven-hoofed ruminants. All species of deer and antelope as well as elephant, and giraffe are susceptible to FMD.
Botswana has been dependent on its exports to the EU and they remain the bulwark of the nation’s international trade partners.
EU banned beef from Botswana in 2011 due to low quality, hitting hard the country’s beef exports and presence of FMD in some of its areas was cited as one of the embargo. Figures from that country’s central bank indicated that beef exports stood at $68.3 million respectively in 2011 and 2012, sharply down from $127.6 million dollars in 2010. Botswana aims to see a surge in beef exports to the EU markets, following the lift of a long export ban in 2013.