On June 9, smallholder farmers in Group Village Head (GVH) Symon in Neno assembled 359 head of cattle under a giant mgosa tree. The animals were to undergo vaccination against foot and mouth disease.
Signs of panic were all over among the farmers, who mainly rely on taming animals for their living. They were reacting to the declaration by Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development that GVH Symon was one of the areas hit by foot and mouth. In the announcement, the ministry said Neno and Blantyre, particularly in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kunthembwe are the most affected.
The animals are vaccinated in a crush, a built stall for holding animals. One by one, they are driven into a crush and as they walk through, a vaccination injection is inserted on their back and let out.
Neno District Agriculture Office livestock specialist Daniel Makaku described the exercise as the first, saying it would be followed by others in 58 other centres in the district.
He said they chose GVH Symon because the communities built the crush before others.
“The other reason was that vaccination starts in areas where animals are not infected. We then go to the hotspots,” says Makaku.
The construction of the crushes is an instruction sent to all affected communities as one way of dealing with the outbreak. However, Neno district agriculture development officer (Dado) Patrick Msiyambiri says the response has been poor.
He says some farmers were hesitant to construct crushes because they thought their animals, especially those expectant, would miscarry.
Neno is one of the districts where many people tame livestock such as cattle, sheep, pigs and goats as an alternative to growing crops.
Macdonald Kanyimbo from GVH Symon in Lisungwi Extension Planning Area (EPA) says the outbreak is a serious threat to his welfare. He was among the 35 farmers who constructed the crush in their area.
“I wanted to protect my animals and help to stop the spread of the disease. We rely on cattle for our living and I could not relax,” he explains.
To deal with the outbreak efficiently, Dado office instructed the farmers to create livestock committees. GVH Symon livestock committee chairperson Dave Mtambalika says the committee oversees the construction of crushes and enforces regulations instituted to deal with the outbreak.
“We have adopted regulations by the Dado office to control the outbreak and the progress has been good,” he says.
According to Mtambalika, among the regulations include checking the movement of animals in the areas, selling of meat and meat products and controlling grazing and smuggling of animals at night.
In Feremu and Chifunga villages in T/A Mlauli, (the hotspots) farmers have been discouraged from taking their animals to areas near Majete Game Reserve because the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development believe the virus originated from Majete.
The ministry’s livestock development director Patrick Chikungwa says: “There are buffaloes in the Shire Valley that harbour the foot and mouth virus. Most probably, the virus came from animals grazing close to the game reserve.”
Ever since the outbreak was reported, everyone in the district is on guard, making sure no one is violating the regulations put in place. However, there have been cases of breaching regulations, but the culprits are penalised.
One of the village heads, Fusani says: “We are confiscating weighing scales from those selling meat. We are very vigilant, even at night. So far, I have confiscated one weighing scale from a meat seller,” he says.
The vaccination is in two phases. The first phase lasted two weeks and 15 000 doses were administered to 18 000 head of cattle in Neno only. Each animal will be vaccinated twice and the second phase begins this week.