8. Building agricultural resilience to animal pests and diseases in Namibia

Namibia is adversely affected by natural hazards, such as floods, droughts and veld fires, among others. According to the international disaster database from the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, during the 1982-2019 period, a total of 23 disasters were recorded, of which nine droughts and 14 floods that affected over 350 000 people and caused USD 195 million in total damages. Among these, the major disasters that affected over half a million people included the 2011 flood as well as the droughts of 2013-2014 and 2015-2016, which impacted 780 000 and 580 000 people respectively. The year 2019 was the driest in 90 years and significantly affected the livestock sector and people’s livelihoods. In terms of the frequency of natural disasters, floods have occurred 65.2% more frequently compared to droughts during the 1990-2014 period (Figure 8.1). The mortality of the disasters during the 1990-2014 period is 100% due to floods, while the economic losses are estimated to be 89.5% the result of droughts and 10.5% due to floods (OFDA-CRED, 2020[1]).

Extreme weather events have increased in frequency and severity in recent years and are expected to intensify as a result of climate change. In particular, a rise in the number of hot days, heat waves and droughts are expected (Ministry of Environment and Tourism, 2010[3]). It is also anticipated that climate change will alter the distribution, incidence and intensity of animal and plant pests and diseases (FAO, 2008[4]).

A key challenge that Namibia is facing, is the co-existence of domestic livestock with the large wildlife population in the fertile area around the northern border with Angola. Certain wildlife, such as wild buffaloes that are grazing there are carrying Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and during droughts, due to the unsupervised and open nature of this border area, Namibian farmers may let their cattle graze there, where they congregate and mingle with these buffaloes, which increases their risk to get FMD. Managing these livestock movements is thus crucial to ensure that domestic animals are not infected.

Animal pests and diseases, such as Foot and Mouth Disease, Contagious Pleuropneumonia (CBPP ‒ lung sickness), lumpy skin disease, anthrax, Brucellosis, Rift Valley Fever, pose a major threat to Namibia’s livestock sector as an outbreak can negatively impact the entire country’s livestock production, productivity and access to export markets and thereby affect and undermine local food security and livelihoods. Livestock production contributes to over two-thirds (67.6%) of Namibia’s total agricultural output, of which cattle is the largest contributor (51.7%) (Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, 2019[5]). Due to the importance of meat and meat products for the country’s export earnings, particularly beef that is exported to, among others, South Africa, European Union, United Kingdom, and Asia, ensuring that meat is disease-free is thus crucial to meet international food safety standards. Implementing appropriate, adequate and effective measures to prevent, control and manage disease outbreaks is therefore essential, not only to ensure farmers’ incomes and thus food security and livelihoods, but also to ensure public health so that some of these zoonotic diseases are not transferred between wildlife and livestock and then to humans.

The excessive rains and flooding that occurred in February/March 2009 across Angola, Zambia and Namibia, substantially affected seven regions in the northern and eastern central regions of the country. Moreover, these floods aggravated the impacts of the 2007 drought and the 2008 floods, especially on subsistence farmers and resulted in damage and losses to crops and livestock, particularly in the low-lying areas. It was estimated that total damage and losses amounted to USD 136.4 million and USD 78.2 million, respectively, of which nearly 3.5% and 20% were damage and losses to the agriculture sector and approximately 163 000 people required immediate food security assistance (FAO/WFP, 2009[6]).

During the last few years, Namibia has been affected by recurring droughts, caused by erratic and below normal rainfall during the 2013/2014, 2014/2015 and 2015/2016 rainfall seasons, which severely impacted agricultural production in most parts of the country and particularly in the communal areas (Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, 2017[7]). For instance, according to an assessment conducted in August 2016, the average crop losses for maize were between 73 and 85% in the northern border region with Angola due the impact of this El Niño induced drought (FAO, 2016[8]). Moreover, as mentioned earlier, 2019 was the country’s driest year in 90 years, which resulted in a 53% decline in the cereal harvest compared to last season’s harvest and over 42% below compared to the 20-year average production, while over 59 000 head of cattle died due to inadequate grazing (Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, 2019[9]; FAO, 2020[10]).

The drought of 2014/2015 also led to farmers in the Northern Communal Areas to move their livestock into Angola in search of water and pastures for grazing, which led to an outbreak of FMD in 2015 after an absence of almost 27 years. Due to the open border between both countries, the Namibian cattle congregated and mingled with the wild buffaloes, some of which carrying FMD. In total, 264 cases at 28 foci were recorded of cattle with signs of FMD. In order to control the outbreak, a total of 600 000 cattle were vaccinated in two rounds, which represented a vaccination coverage of 90.2%. The outbreak was declared over in Namibia in August 2015 and in April 2016 on the Angolan side (OIE, 2016[11]).

The country experienced an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever (RVF) between May to July 2010. RVF is a virus transmitted by mosquitos and primarily affects livestock, such as cattle, sheep, goats and wild ruminants like buffalos. It is considered a zoonotic disease as it has the capacity to infect humans. This outbreak was caused by a strain of RVF virus closely related to virus strains that were responsible for the outbreaks in South Africa during 2009-2010, where over 14 000 cases and the death of 8 000 animals were reported. This large RVF outbreak in South Africa was attributed to heavy rainfall during January-February 2010. In Namibia, it resulted in the mortality of 2 019 sheep and the morbidity of 35 000 sheep and goats. It led to the vaccination of 130 000 sheep and 67 000 goats (DVS, 2011[12]; Monaco et al., 2013[13]).

Among the expected impacts of climate variability and change on agriculture, are the increase of irrigation demands due to rising temperatures, spatial changes in the optimum growing regions for field crops and forestry, reduction in yields of rain-fed crops, including maize, sorghum and millet and the increasing risks of floods and other extreme weather events that will negatively impact crop production. Moreover, the increase in temperatures will adversely affect livestock production and productivity, especially in the southern and central regions. In addition, through the increase in the emergence and outbreak of animal and plant pests and diseases, which may negatively affect, for example, the quantity and quality of feed, heat stress in animals and their susceptibility to livestock related pests and diseases (Republic of Namibia, 2020[14]).

Namibia’s National Disaster Risk Management System (NDRMS) consists of various key institutions, of which the Office of the Prime Minister has the overall responsibility for the operation of the NDRMS and maintains the Directorate for Disaster Risk Management (DDRM). DDRM is mandated to coordinate the disaster risk management activities and provide support to the regional, constituencies, settlement and local authorities disaster risk management (DRM) committees and serves as the Secretariat to the National Disaster Risk Management Committee. It thereby serves all government offices, ministries and agencies at national, regional and municipal level as well as relevant statutory bodies, private sector, communities and other non-state actors who are involved in disaster risk management in the country. Representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform (MAWLR) are included in the DRM committees at all levels (Table 8.1).

Namibia has an extensive number of national disaster risk reduction/management (DRR/M) and sectoral policies, plans and strategies, in which agriculture and DRR/M is mainstreamed (Table 8.1). With regard to the prevention, control and management of animal pests and diseases, some of the DRR/M measures, such as the development of improved and well adapted livestock breeds, the implementation of good animal husbandry and health practices ‒ like vaccinations and the control of (transboundary) animal movements and animal disease surveillance ‒ are included in the country’s 2015 Agricultural Policy and in the 2017 Strategic Plan for the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry 2017/18-2021/22. The country is currently finalising its first sector-specific DRM strategy for agriculture led by the MAWLR and is updating its 1997 national drought policy based on lessons learned from the 2018/2019 drought.

The following section describes the various DRR good practices that Namibia is implementing to prevent, control and manage animal disease outbreaks, which are significantly influenced by the occurrence of natural hazard-induced disasters. These types of disasters, such as floods and droughts, negatively affect the health of animals through enhancing their susceptibility to livestock diseases. Through the implementation of ex ante measures, the resilience of the livestock sector to animal pests and diseases is enhanced in Namibia.

Animal disease surveillance is an important activity to assess the occurrence or continued absence of animal diseases in a country. Namibia is implementing both active and passive surveillance strategies to monitor diseases. Passive surveillance includes inter alia the treatment of animals at veterinary clinics and on farms, the inspection of animal gatherings, such as auctions, livestock shows and exhibitions, the inspection of imported cattle and those that will be exported, ante and post-mortem inspections at slaughterhouses, farm, and community visits according to an annual farm inspection program and assessment of bi-annual animal health declaration forms by farmers.

Active surveillance programs are in place for FMD, BSE and residues in food. The active detection of a disease involves the collection of blood or tissue samples from suspected animals, which are then screened and tested at the Central Veterinary Laboratory. If this laboratory screening capacity does not exist in the country, arrangements are made to send the samples to regional and international collaborating laboratories for disease confirmation. Surveillance data and laboratory results are provided to the Epidemiology subdivision of the Directorate of Veterinary Services (DVS) for analyses and reporting, which enables evidence-based decision-making with regard to animal disease status and appropriate measures to be undertaken.

To support the surveillance of animal diseases, the Namibia Livestock Identification and Traceability System (NamLITS), managed by the DVS, has been established in close partnership with the private sector, farmers’ organisations, and the Meat Board of Namibia. The system requires that all cattle over six months of age need to be identified with individual ear tags. The acquisition and sale of ear tags is managed by the Meat Board of Namibia on instruction by the DVS for the FMD free zone, whilst DVS manages the tagging of cattle north of the Veterinary Cordon Fence. The traceability system also covers small ruminants, such as sheep and goats, but these are identified as “lots” belonging to individual farmers from the same holding. Once the animal is tagged, registration forms are submitted to DVS or entered online to link the animal identification with a specific holding.

Movement permits are issued by DVS for the recording of animal movements from one registered holding (e.g. farm, abattoir, auction pen or loading facility) to another. A departure register is completed by the dispatching livestock owner and the departure and arrival registers are completed by the receiving livestock owner, along with the endorsed livestock movement permit, which are then returned to the DVS for the reconciliation of the movement. Livestock movement permits are valid for 14 days. A holding may be blocked from receiving further animals if documents are not promptly returned and farmers may be prosecuted should they be involved in illegal livestock movements.

Namibia implements zoning strategies as prescribed by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to maintain distinct animal sub populations in the country with respect to FMD and CBPP. This zoning strategy ensures that some sub populations in the country can benefit from international trade. The country has a Veterinary Cordon Fence (VCF), which is an important feature in the zoning strategy of the country as it divides the country into the “FMD free zone without vaccination” in the south and the “FMD undetermined zone” in the north. The FMD undermined zone is further subdivided into the protection zone and the infected zone, which comprises the entire Caprivi Strip in the north east (Figure 8.2). The “FMD free zone without vaccination” also enjoys OIE-recognised free status from CBPP, Rinderpest, BSE and Peste De Petit Ruminantes – sheep and goat plague.

The Veterinary Cordon Fence was constructed in 1897 and traverses the entire width of the country along the 20th parallel from the Atlantic coast in the west to the border with Botswana in the east. The fence is composed of two separate fences, including an outer 1.2-meter stock proof section to prevent the crossing of domestic animals and a game proof 2.2-meter inner section to prevent wild animals to jump across the fence. A 9-meter cleared buffer area separates the two fences and there are nine manned and permanent checkpoints along the entire length of the fence to prevent all livestock movement across. In the event of a disease outbreak, these crossings may be closed in order to essentially seal off the FMD free zone from the rest of the country and the African continent. Constant maintenance is undertaken, and the fence is regularly patrolled by the DVS, the police as well as farmers. The latter, due to their proximity to the fences, is able to quickly notify the authorities and be first responders in case of any issues.

The objective of the FMD-free zone is the early detection and prevention of outbreaks of this animal disease. The FMD free zone is defined by the VCF to the north, the Orange River in the south, the Botswana border to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. It is essentially an enclave on the African continent, as it excludes all contact between domestic and wild animals from other zones or other countries. The north to south movement of livestock, game or livestock products is not allowed across the VCF, but the animals can move in the opposite direction. An FMD free population of 803 African buffaloes is currently present within the confines of the Waterberg Plateau Park (Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism, 2020[16]). These buffaloes are jointly sampled and tested by DVS and the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism every three years, to reconfirm their FMD-free status. These buffaloes are not allowed to move out of the park, except to be sold to neighbouring countries and no buffalo can be introduced into the park.

The aim of the FMD protection zone is to confine African buffalos in fenced parks. This zone is defined by the VCF in the south, the Kavango River at the Bagani breach in the east, the Atlantic Ocean in the west, and the Angolan border to the north. The fertile area around the Namibia-Angolan border called ‘the Cuvelai plains’ is used for horticulture production as well as animal grazing by a large diversity of wild and domestic animals. Due to the unsupervised and open nature of the northern border with Angola, livestock can move freely between the two countries as the communities on both sides of the border share close cultural and ethnic ties. However, some of the buffaloes in this area are carrying FMD and during droughts, Namibian farmers may let their cattle graze there, where they congregate and mingle with the buffaloes, which increases their risk to get FMD.

Following the 2015 FMD outbreak, it is evident that the protection zone remains vulnerable given the porous border with Angola and the re-emergence of African buffaloes in that country. The control of this outbreak is an example of the multi-sectoral disaster risk management cooperation as it involved the collaboration from livestock keepers, the police force, DVS, Directorate of Agricultural Engineering and Extension Services, Office of the Prime Minister, Meat Board of Namibia, Meatco, and the Namibia National Farmers Union. Moreover, cross border cooperation was also initiated to coordinate efforts along the border and reduce the spread of the infection. Similarly, the Botswana Vaccine Institute as the supplier of the vaccine, and OIE’s regional reference laboratory were closely involved in the diagnosis and provision of the vaccines.

The objective of the infected zone is to maintain a high herd immunity against CBPP and FMD. This zone, which covers the Caprivi strip and includes the eastern part of the Kavango east region and the Zambezi region, is referred to as the infected zone, due to the presence of free roaming buffaloes that are intermingling with cattle. As a result, FMD outbreaks are frequent, particularly in the eastern flood plains when a large number of cattle are trapped on higher lying areas. In order to prevent and control the spread of these diseases, annual mass vaccinations occur three times per year. Outbreaks in this area are mostly due to failure to maintain the vaccination schedule, farmers who are not presenting cattle for vaccination or the mismatch between vaccine and prevailing strains of the virus. To overcome these challenges, close cooperation is maintained between the producers, veterinary services and the Botswana Vaccine Institute for the supply of vaccines and post-vaccination serosurveillance1 and vaccine matching.2

Annual vaccination of all cattle in the entire country against Anthrax and Brucellosis is mandatory according to the country’s Animal Health Act 1 of 2011 and proof of such vaccination needs to be provided to the DVS officials if farmers would like to engage in livestock trade. Moreover, north of the VCF, the government administers the FMD and CBPP vaccine as its control is considered a public good. Vaccination is normally conducted twice a year. Ideally the initial dose must be followed by a booster 30 days apart, however, given the difficult terrain and vast distances that are covered, revaccination occurs on average between 90 and 120 days later. Thus, there is always a concern about the efficiency of vaccination and whether protective immunity is being achieved. The target of such mass vaccination campaigns is to attain 80% vaccine coverage in the animal population. The Act also states that livestock keepers are responsible for the care and preventative vaccination of all their livestock. Thus, livestock raisers may also administer a variety of other vaccines against other diseases, such as black quarter, botulism, Pasteurellosis, and lumpy skin disease as per their annual vaccination programs or on advice of a registered veterinarian.

Namibia has contingency plans for FMD, CBPP, BSE and avian influenza, which outline step by step what should be done and by whom during these animal disease outbreaks to ensure the rapid movement from preparedness to action. In addition to this, DVS maintains fully stocked stores in Otjiwarongo, Oshakati and Katima Mulillo, which include items, diagnostic kits, camping material and stationery. These stores are supervised by the chief veterinarians to ensure that the equipment, materials, and inputs are timely replaced and remain ready to be used during an outbreak.

The drafting of the contingency plans involves all relevant stakeholders, and the DVS ensures the routine review of the updating of the contingency plans to the changing prevailing conditions. Real-time or desktop simulations are performed and evaluated to maintain staff and community awareness during times when there are no outbreaks. Currently, there is no defined frequency at which such reviews should take place and reviews are conducted on a needs-basis particularly during and after outbreaks, utilizing feedback from such outbreaks. As a result, the contingency plans for rare or infrequent disease situations are hardly reviewed, simulated or awareness is raised among all relevant stakeholders.

Despite the substantive progress achieved to ensure animal health through the implementation of interventions that help to prevent, control, and manage the outbreak of animal diseases that are exacerbated due to the impact of natural hazard-induced disasters, such as floods and droughts, in Namibia, certain challenges remain that can be addressed. The following recommendations are put forward for consideration:

  • Expansion of NamLITS coverage to include individual identification for sheep, goats, and pigs to support disease surveillance: NamLITS currently covers cattle as well as small ruminants, but the latter are identified as “lots”. Introducing the individual identification for sheep, goats and pigs under the country’s livestock identification and traceability system would improve animal disease management, especially for diseases that affect multiple species, such as Rift Valley Fever.

  • Enhance the implementation and enforcement of NamLITS: enhancing the implementation of the NamLITS north of the VCF, including through applying penalties to offenders, would foster farmers’ compliance. More strict enforcement of livestock movement permits and import certification in the northern communal areas would also ensure the early detection and rapid response to prevent and control widespread animal disease outbreaks.

  • Regular revision of animal disease contingency plans and simulation exercises: conducing regular updates of the animal disease contingency plans that are currently in place and undertaking more frequent simulation exercises, especially in the areas south of the VCF, can help enhance stakeholder’s knowledge, awareness, and preparedness to respond to outbreaks in areas where diseases have not been identified for prolonged periods of time. Through the updated contingency plans as well as regular simulations and dry runs, it can be ensured that all relevant stakeholders are aware and have the capacities to carry out their responsibilities during outbreaks. In this regard, it is critical to have updated and logical legal procedures in place that compels stakeholders to act in a predetermined fashion in order to adequately control and manage the outbreak. In this regard, defining a clear hierarchy and roles and responsibilities is key. Roles and responsibilities of stakeholders would also need to be framed under the national legislation. Finally, it could be beneficial to appoint an officer, who would be specifically responsible for contingency planning and outbreak coordination.

  • Encourage regular transboundary cooperation and collaboration with its neighbouring countries: Namibia could benefit greatly from regular engagement with its neighbouring countries to harmonize animal disease diagnoses, vaccination, and prevention programs. Close regional cooperation on animal disease surveillance and control could foster regional disease freedom.

  • Pursue a gradual northward relocation of the VCF: implementing robust eradication programs for FMD and CBPP in the northern communal areas is possible through the gradual northward relocation of the VCF. This would allow for the extension of the FMD free zone and allow farmers in the protection zone to also export their beef and mutton to higher value markets (which are currently only accessible to farmers south of the VCF). To address the lack of market opportunities in the NCA with regard to the sale and export of beef, Namibia should promote this commodity-based trade.

  • Secure adequate resources to ensure prevention, control and management of animal disease outbreaks: Given the importance of the livestock sector in Namibia’s economy, it would be important to ensure adequate and continuing funding for the coordination of stakeholders and the prevention, control, and management of animal diseases. Critical activities, such as regular mass vaccination and farm visits, need to be undertaken regularly and its planning and execution could benefit greatly from regular and structured funding sources.

References

[12] DVS (2011), National Summary Report, Windhoek, Namibia.

[10] FAO (2020), FAO Namibia Newsletter, Issue #1, FAO, Rome, http://www.fao.org/3/ca9843en/CA9843EN.pdf.

[8] FAO (2016), Assessment of impacts and recovery needs of communities affected by El Nino-induced drought in Kunene, Erongo and Omusati regions of Namibia, FAO, Rome, http://www.fao.org/3/a-i6604e.pdf.

[4] FAO (2008), Climate-related transboundary pests and diseases, FAO, Rome, https://www.standardsfacility.org/sites/default/files/FAO_Climate_Related_Transboundary_Pests_and_Diseases_FAO.pdf.

[6] FAO/WFP (2009), Special report: FAO/WFP crop, livestock and food security assessment mission to Namibia, FAO, https://reliefweb.int/report/namibia/special-report-faowfp-crop-livestock-and-food-security-assessment-mission-namibia.

[5] Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (2019), 2017 Annual Agricultural Statistics Bulletin, Namibia, https://doi.org/Unpublished.

[9] Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (2019), Crop prospects, food security and drought situation report, http://www.mawf.gov.na/documents/37726/764836/Crop+Prospects+and+Food+Security+Situation++Report+-+February+2019+%285%29.pdf/23d6d6fd-de11-491d-b75c-d68d07830c27?version=1.0.

[7] Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (2017), Agricultural Statistics Bulletin 2010-2015, Namibia, http://www.mawf.gov.na/documents/37726/764836/2010-2015+AGRICULTURAL+STATISTICS+BULLETIN.pdf/085f71b5-daec-40af-a486-aab5df71a926?version=1.0.

[15] Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forests (2009), FMD Disease Free Zones and Fences, Namibia.

[3] Ministry of Environment and Tourism (2010), National Policy on Climate Change for Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia, https://www.adaptation-undp.org/sites/default/files/downloads/namibia_nationalclimatechangepolicyfornamib.pdf.

[16] Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (2020), Wildlife Census Waterberg Plateau Park 2020, Windhoek, Namibia.

[13] Monaco, F. et al. (2013), “Rift Valley Fever in Namibia, 2010”, Emerging Infectious Disease, Vol. 19/12, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3840870/.

[1] OFDA-CRED (2020), International Disaster Database EM-DAT, http://www.emdat.be (accessed on 2 February 2020).

[11] OIE (2016), World Animal Health Information System Follow Up Report No. 4, Paris.

[2] PreventionWeb (2020), Namibia Disaster & Risk Profile, https://www.preventionweb.net/countries/nam/data/ (accessed on 15 November 2020).

[14] Republic of Namibia (2020), Fourth National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Windhoek, Namibia, https://www4.unfccc.int/sites/SubmissionsStaging/NationalReports/Documents/5823401_Namibia-NC4-1-Namibia%20-%20NC4%20-%20Final%20signed.pdf.

Notes

← 1. Serosurveillance is the detection of vaccine antibodies in the blood after vaccination.

← 2. Vaccine matching is comparing the field strain to the vaccine strain.

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