How is quarantine affecting slaughterhouses, farmers; what is Government’s response?

by Mmeeme Leticia Luweze
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The Ministry of Agriculture recently imposed a quarantine on 36 districts across the country following the outbreak of FMD, leaving many people in the animal industry uncertain about the future of their businesses and jobs. The districts affected by the Foot and Mouth disease are spread across almost all regions of the country, including Ssembabule, Mubende, Gomba, Kyotera, Lwengo, Fort Portal, Rakai, Ngora, Kibuku, Bukedea, Butalejja, and Mbarara City, among others.

In February of 2024, a case of foot-and-mouth disease was equally identified in a grazing unit located in Rubaga division, Kampala. In Mbarara district, beef traders expressed opposition to selective enforcement of quarantine rules by veterinary officials, highlighting disparities between beef and milk sector operations. Julius, a local beef trader, argues, “It’s unfair for our businesses to be closed while milk sector counterparts continue operations.” 

The outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) has significantly impacted farmers and consumers, exacerbating challenges in the cattle industry due to government-imposed movement restrictions and delays in vaccine supply. Many farmers are grappling with these issues, which are taking a toll on their livelihoods. During a plenary sitting of Parliament, Hon. Frank Tumwebaze, Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries, revealed that livestock farmers would be responsible for purchasing vaccines to combat FMD once they are available. This means that farmers are facing losses while also being required to pay for the vaccine once the government releases them.

The Cabinet’s decision, prompted by the outbreak affecting 36 districts within the cattle corridor since November 2023, aims to ensure timely vaccine availability. Farmers will need to pay US$2 (equivalent to 7,757.85 Ugandan Shillings) per dose twice a year for each susceptible animal. The funds collected will be reinvested into a revolving mechanism for vaccine procurement. Additionally, the Cabinet directed the Ministry of Finance to allocate a supplementary budget for procuring 10 million doses of the FMD vaccine. This initiative targets affected and neighboring districts, to lift quarantine restrictions and mitigate the spread of the disease.

President Museveni to address the FMD welcomed the scientists from Botswana and agreed to the partnership to develop a vaccine for the disease in Uganda during the meeting at State House, Entebbe. This collaboration followed a bilateral meeting between President Museveni and President Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi of Botswana on January 22, 2024, during the G77+ China Third South Summit at Speke Resort, Munyonyo. Botswana Vaccine Institute scientists have since collected samples from the cattle affected by foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in the cattle corridor and other parts of the country.

Hon. Frank Tumwebaze, the Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries, informed the President that scientists from the Botswana Vaccine Institute had agreed to partner with the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) to develop a vaccine to combat foot and mouth disease in Uganda.

“Today, together with @MAAIFUganda, we met the Egyptian Ambassador to Uganda H.E Monzer Selim, and his team. This was a follow-up meeting to conclude government-to-government discussions on FMD vaccine availability and production as directed by H.E Kaguta Museveni. To our farmers, keep the hope. Good progress is being made. Before 20th April, we shall have into the country reasonable volumes of the vaccine to distribute.” – tweeted by Frank K Tumwebaze, Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries, on 28/03/2024

Economic hardships resulting from Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) have led to the closure of abattoirs, milk selling points, and butcher shops, affecting livelihoods across the country. To address this issue, the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization in Uganda, is conducting District Surveillance training for teams in the Southwestern milk production zone. The training focuses on detecting, responding to, and controlling Foot-and-Mouth Diseases.

Antonio Querido, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Representative in Uganda, tweeted about their ongoing efforts to combat Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) through a risk-based control approach. “Risk-based control is the most effective approach to combat Foot-and-Mouth Disease. By focusing surveillance efforts and control measures where the risk is highest, we can maximize intervention impact and minimize disease spread,” tweeted Antonio Querido on March 27, 2024.

According to the  Foot-and-Mouth Disease Gap Analysis Workshop Report 2022, Uganda’s efforts to control Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) have faced significant challenges despite widespread vaccination campaigns. Factors such as wildlife reservoirs, uncontrolled movements of animals, and the inefficacy of vaccines have contributed to the persistence of various FMDV strains within the country. Outbreaks in Uganda are especially prevalent near the Tanzanian border, where the expense and scarcity of vaccines have resulted in low vaccination rates among smallholder farmers.

FMD is a notifiable disease, mandating reporting within 48 hours of an outbreak. Farmers and animal handlers are legally obligated to report outbreaks promptly, triggering clinical investigations and rapid response measures, including ring vaccination. A presentation delivered by Dr. Chris Rutebarika an Animal Health Consultant noted FMD poses a substantial barrier to market access and the development of Uganda’s livestock industry. Its effects extend beyond direct losses, including reduced weight gain, milk production, and reproductive issues, alongside diminished draught power. The lack of incentives to adhere to control measures further compounds the challenge posed by FMD.

Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) is a persistent challenge in Uganda, with a history dating back to its first confirmation in 1953. Since then, various control measures have been implemented, alongside ongoing serological and molecular research since approximately 2006. Despite efforts, FMD remains endemic, necessitating further studies to establish cost-effective control strategies. 

Dr. Chris Rutebarika’s presentation delivered during the Global Foot-and-Mouth Disease Research Alliance meeting further shows that several factors complicate FMD control in Uganda. The absence of a specific FMD control policy and the presence of susceptible wildlife, acting as reservoirs, contribute to its persistence. Inadequate regulation of animal movement, both domestically and across borders, exacerbates the challenge. Additionally, the use of improper vaccines and the wide host range of FMD further complicate control efforts.

Uganda employs a multi-disciplinary approach to FMD control, encompassing early detection, movement control, quarantine restrictions, and vaccination with a trivalent vaccine covering the most common serotypes. The focus is primarily on cattle due to their socioeconomic significance and clinical susceptibility. Efforts extend to other livestock species as their importance increases in various farming systems.

The government has taken decisive steps to control and eradicate Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in Uganda, with a focus on both immediate and long-term strategies. Firstly, immediate action includes the approval of sourcing 10 million doses of FMD vaccine to expand ring vaccination efforts in affected and high-risk neighbouring districts. Additionally, plans have been approved to establish a revolving fund, enabling regular procurement of sufficient vaccine stocks to support bi-annual vaccination campaigns for susceptible domestic animals nationwide.

Furthermore, a policy proposition has been endorsed, requiring farmers to cover the cost of vaccines, while the government will bear expenses related to vaccine administration, transportation, and storage. As the revolving fund becomes operational and vaccine stocks become available, mandatory vaccination of all susceptible domestic animals will be enforced, with proof of vaccination becoming a prerequisite for animal trade.

The Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries, urges fellow livestock farmers and stakeholders to recognize and support these initiatives as part of our collective efforts to eliminate FMD from Uganda, akin to the successful eradication of other animal diseases such as rinderpest.

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