Strengthening Capacities of SADC Member States to High Impact Animal Diseases

The livestock sub-sector of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region is growing faster than most components of the agricultural economy. The main drivers are rapid population growth, urbanization, and the increased consumption of animal-source foods due to improved income and a growing middle class. 

In recent years, novel foot and mouth disease (FMD) serotypes, and other emerging transboundary animal diseases (TADs) which include African swine fever, peste des petits ruminants (PPR) and highly pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) have threatened the food security and safety of the 16 countries in the Southern Africa region. These diseases are responsible for significant livestock production losses and constrain socio-economic growth. In addition, the lack of appropriate policy and regulatory frameworks undermines compliance with sanitary requirements thereby limiting trade opportunities and access to regional and international markets. Apart from a handful of countries that enjoy access to lucrative beef export markets, most SADC Member States have not yet been able to unlock the full potential of their livestock resources. 

Through the project, ‘Support towards Operationalization of the SADC Regional Agricultural Policy’ (STOSAR), FAO, in partnership with the SADC Secretariat and the European Union, is working to strengthen regional cooperation in addressing transboundary animal diseases, and reduce their negative effects on food security, nutrition and trade. Managing high impact transboundary animal diseases is complex, and can rapidly exhaust the capacities of countries for containment and eradication. It, therefore, requires a collective effort, coupled with innovative approaches, to manage animal disease and food safety risks that compromise food security and international trade. Development and adoption of harmonized standards and validated procedures adapted to the region’s context are also necessary. 

Successful management of animal diseases depends largely on a regional approach, where countries with enhanced capacity work together in a coordinated manner. The STOSAR project embarked on strengthening the capacity of managing high impact animal diseases in three main areas. The first component is the development of regional strategies to manage FMD, PPR, and HPAI. The SADC Livestock Technical Committee (LTC) validated the strategies in November 2021, and final approval by the SADC Ministers responsible for agriculture and food security will ensure the adoption and domestication of the regional strategies. SADC member states are also receiving technical support to develop national risk-based strategic plans and control programmes for these diseases. 

The second main area of capacity development is the provision of key laboratory equipment, diagnostic kits, consumables and an assortment of laboratory reagents. The equipment has improved the quality and efficiency of laboratory diagnosis and enhanced field surveillance for priority animal diseases. For example, the national laboratory of Madagascar received a real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (real-time RT-PCR) machine. Mr Donatien Ratenony, the Director of the Presidential Projects coordination unit said, “Acquiring this PCR equipment and reagents from the STOSAR project is very important to Madagascar. This equipment will enable the early diagnosis of viral infections and assist us to quickly institute control measures which will facilitate the export of animal products.”

The third and final area of capacity enhancement conducted by the STOSAR project is the training of field and laboratory experts in the recognition, diagnosis and control of major TADs. In partnership with two regional centres of excellence, the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD), and the University of Pretoria, multiple training courses have been developed and delivered to benefit the SADC Member States.

Courses ranged from disease outbreak investigation, to risk mapping methodologies, clinical and laboratory detection of diseases, quality management systems and laboratory accreditation. Other training included food-safety risk analysis, contingency planning, and the design of risk-based surveillance protocols. The risk-mapping workshop introduced participants to the use of Q-GIS and disease risk maps based on animal demographics, movements and other variables. The project also developed and disseminated awareness materials, including a guide promoting Commodity Based Trade (CBT). This was presented to policy-makers from the SADC Member States. All in all, about 1 100 participants have been trained since January 2020. 

Regarding the support provided to the SADC Member States through the STOSAR project, the Subregional Office for Southern Africa’s Animal Production and Health Officer, Berhanu Bedane, said, “The project has significantly contributed to the region’s livestock development programme by strengthening the capacities of Member States to better manage emerging animal health threats.” He also added, “FAO remains committed to addressing challenges that constrain the performance of the sector and, improving the management of transboundary animal diseases creates opportunities for regional trade in animals and animal products and is a progressive step towards accessing lucrative international markets”.

Working closely with the SADC Secretariat and its Member States, the STOSAR project continues to make a significant contribution toward the realization of SADC’s Regional Agricultural Policy (RAP) through the implementation of regional agricultural priorities, strengthening regional integration, and enhancing trade in plant and animal products and commodities.