“Import restrictions may not necessarily be a solution if domestic supply of poultry does not increase to meet the consumer demand”. (Central Bank of Lesotho. 2006. Economic Review. Potential outbreak of Avian Influenza- Implications for Lesotho).
The volatile poultry industry in Lesotho can be at its lowest resilience in the face of Avian Influenza H5N8 virus (commonly known as Bird Flu) outbreak in South Africa. This is because the country imports at-least 90% of poultry products and bi-products from South Africa and is currently the 2nd importer of the neighbouring country`s poultry products (23.1% of RSA poultry imports), after Mozambique (SAPA, 2016).
The huge number in poultry importation does not only translate on the greater margin of exposure to Avian Influenza in the event of the outbreak in South Africa, but it also serves as a sustainability indicator, highlighting the negative economic growth in this sub-sector in the country.
Following the recent outbreak in South Africa, the neighbouring Southern African countries such as Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia and Botswana banned entry of poultry imports from this country. However, Lesotho did not follow through.
It should be taken into consideration that after a careful deliberation centred around this outbreak, the country`s Livestock Services came to conclusion not to ban South Africa`s products but to apply a precautionary measure in advising all importers to use only approved companies in sourcing poultry products.
Although the measure was questioned as to whether the country is doing enough to block any possible entry of this virus, the real threatening situation is not only the entry of ‘bird flu’ in the country but also the sustainability of the industry assuming South Africa cannot contain the virus.
Even though South Africa has culled (eradicated through slaughter) all birds from affected farms in the Free State and Mpumalanga, sitting at the recorded total of 260 000 birds in all, If the outbreak is not contained and spreads to other commercial farms, the sad reality is, Lesotho is going to experience a gloomy phase of negative growth in this industry (as if drought has not done enough). In as much as more efforts are directed on preventing the virus entry into our country as many other countries have done, it is sad to ‘only hope’ that South Africa contains this outbreak. Can Lesotho be sustainable in the face of ‘bird flu’?
While some have doubted the ministry`s move on not banning poultry importation from South Africa, it becomes eminent that so long as the local supply does not meet the consumer demand, there is still a long way to go, and casualties in this battlefield are certain. Of course, strides in policy formulations such as ‘National Preparedness and Response Plan for Avian Influenza Pandemic’ by the Ministry of Agriculture and food Security are acknowledged. The missing link however to free the country from dependence to the neighbouring country is critical at this point.
Disease outbreaks like Avian Influenza are felt as a clarion call for the government of Lesotho to centre efforts around long term sustainability in poultry industry.
Brief information on Avian Influenza
What is avian Influenza?
Disease in poultry caused by influenza viruses which can affect several species of poultry such as chickens, turkeys, ducks etc., as well as pets or wild birds. The influenza virus is classified by two categories; low and high pathogenic Avian Influenza according to the severity in poultry with low causing little or no signs while high pathogenic has high severity normally causing high mortality in poultry. South Africa has been hit by a High Pathogenic Influenza (HPAI). The introduction of the virus in chickens can be the result of migrating wild birds to warmer climates.
Signs and Symptoms
- Ruffled feathers
- Depression and droopiness
- Sudden drop in egg production and soft-shelled eggs
- Loss of appetite
- Bluish colouring of wattles and comb
- swelling of head, eyelids, comb, wattles, and hocks
- Green diarrhoea
- Blood-tinged discharge from nostrils
- Incoordination, including loss of ability to walk and stand
- Pin-point haemorrhages (bleeding; can be seen most easily on the feet and shanks).
- difficulty in breathing
- Sudden and High mortality
- Nasal discharges
Since most signs can be present in diseases other than Avian Influenza, it is strongly advised that a vet be consulted to conduct tests for confirmation.
It is best to minimise contact with wild birds, strengthen hygiene and biosecurity measures.
Vaccination has always never been advised against this disease and many countries such as South Africa do not use any form of vaccination in this disease because although it may reduce losses, vaccinated birds may remain carriers and a threat to the other flock never exposed to the disease.
In cases of outbreaks, chickens need to be eradicated from the farm and strict post biosafety measures need to be in place (hygiene and sanitation). It is important also for farmers to monitor their flock closely to pick any signs at an earlier stage to prevent major losses.
‘Bird flu’ and Public Health (Zoonotic Disease)
Although the public would be concerned of possible infection from birds to humans, so far, there hasn’t been detection in humans for this strain (H5N8).