The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) congratulates animal health and wildlife conservation experts from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) on their adoption of additional, environmentally-friendly ways to manage trade-sensitive animal diseases like foot and mouth (FMD), with an aim towards easing tensions at the livestock-wildlife interface.

Given the importance of both the livestock and wildlife sectors to many countries across southern Africa today, SADC has been reevaluating how best to manage risks from diseases like FMD, as well as the costs and environmental impacts of various disease management options, including veterinary fences. SADC’s goal is, importantly, to help Africa’s pastoralists and farmers, while also protecting free-ranging wildlife. Ensuring that beef-importing countries have full confidence that any products they are buying pose minimal threats to their own agricultural sector of course remains of paramount importance.

Across SADC, livestock and wildlife represent economic growth opportunities in an increasingly globalized world. However, costs associated with fencing-based approaches to manage diseases often limit the livestock sector’s access to regional and international markets. In addition, international standards for disease prevention that include using veterinary fencing to separate wildlife and livestock can negatively impact free-ranging wildlife.

At a just completed conference in Botswana, “Reconciling Livestock Health and Wildlife Conservation Goals in Southern Africa: Strategies for Sustainable Economic Development,” SADC experts agreed to explore new approaches to the safe trade of beef and beef products based on the meat production process itself (aka-“commodity-based trade”), rather than solely on livestock’s geographic origin as delineated by fencing. By applying Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) – a management system already widely used to ensure that food is safe for human consumption – and by focusing on straightforward pre-slaughter management principles, meat hygiene, and quality processing, beef and related products free of animal diseases of concern can be produced.

“With the SADC Livestock Technical Committee adopting commodity-based trade as an additional regional standard as per guidelines from the OIE [Office International des Epizooties- the World Organization for Animal Health], the door is open to a truly win-win opportunity both for livestock farmers and for tourism and related industries involved with the new transfrontier conservation areas or ‘peace parks,’” noted Dr. Mark Atkinson of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Animal & Human Health for the Environment And Development (AHEAD) program, AHEAD being one of SADC’s partners in this new era of collaboration between the livestock and wildlife sectors. “If livestock agriculture is no longer solely dependent on veterinary fencing to deal with foot and mouth disease, then SADC’s vision for the restoration of major movement corridors for the region’s spectacular wildlife, including the world’s largest remaining population of elephants, indeed has a chance of being realized. In addition, with commodity-based trade and the local value-added processing it encourages, livestock farmers previously excluded from accessing markets may for the first time be able to find traction in the wider regional economy, and beyond,” Dr. Atkinson added.

“There is still a lot of groundwork to be laid to optimize regional land-uses so that transfrontier conservation and livestock agriculture can literally find common ground in the interest of regional economic development underpinned by earnest environmental stewardship” noted Dr. Steve Osofsky, who heads-up the AHEAD Program for the Wildlife Conservation Society. “Over time, as the region gets more experience with commodity-based trade, we hope Member States will be able to seize upon the socioeconomic as well as conservation opportunities offered by SADC’s collective vision for transfrontier conservation areas as enabled by strategic alignment and realignment of selected veterinary cordon fences. At the same time, commodity-based trade should facilitate expansion of livestock farmers’ access to regional and global markets based on additional, practical disease control policy options. We stand ready to assist our SADC colleagues, sharing in their belief that sustainable development and environmental conservation are in fact inextricably linked.”

Image courtesy Mark Atkinson/Wildlife Conservation Society

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