More than 500 cattle claimed by foot and mouth

At least 500 cattle have died in the last two months after an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Chiredzi and Mwenezi districts in Masvingo. The government has suspended cattle sales in the area.

The department of veterinary services has mounted roadblocks on all routes leading into the affected areas, and officials are seizing meat and meat products from travellers. Cattle movement to and from the affected districts has also been banned to stop the disease spreading to other areas.

Veterinary officials in Masvingo, however, said there were fears the situation would get worse because of the government’s failure to contain the infection.

“Efforts to contain the disease are being hampered by lack of drugs to vaccinate all the cattle in the affected areas. We have since suspended all public cattle auctions as a measure to control the spread of the disease,” said an official.

Chiredzi and Mwenezi are among Masvingo’s prime cattle farming areas. During the just-ended Masvingo Agricultural Show, ranchers failed to display their breeds because of the restrictions.

The disease has struck at a time when Zimbabwe is trying to rebuild its national herd, following the collapse of commercial agriculture after the fast-track land reform programme and intermittent droughts.

Masvingo used to be home to one of the Cold Storage Company’s international abattoirs, slaughtering about 400 cattle a day and supplying quality beef throughout the region and to the European Union. The facility was closed down due to viability problems and a shortage of stock.

“We made a mistake when we took all the ranches in Chiredzi, Mwenezi and Mukosi without considering the future of the livestock production industry,” said Femias Chakabuda, a former Masvingo mayor. “All former white farmers who were displaced moved with their cattle or disposed of them before leaving, and this has resulted in the current mess.”

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