The poultry industry is on high alert, following reports of an outbreak of Avian Influenza (AI) in North West Province, South Africa.
The Department of Veterinary Services and the Zimbabwe Poultry Association (ZPA) are calling on all poultry farmers to be vigilant and to practice stringent biosecurity in the wake of the re-emergence of this highly contagious poultry disease in South Africa.
Poultry production in Zimbabwe is still recovering from the effects of a single outbreak of AI a year ago which occurred on the largest poultry breeder operation in the country. This disrupted production across the industry and resulted in a shortage of eggs. Zimbabwe was declared AI-free by the World Organisation for Animal Health on 31st January this year, but the ban on the importation of all poultry products and live birds from South Africa remains in force as a control measure to protect the local poultry industry.
It is illegal to import chicken products into Zimbabwe from South Africa; whether in large refrigerated consignments or coming through the border with packs of frozen chicken in the family grocery shopping. This also applies to bringing in live birds from South Africa, because of the risk of AI, which can spread rapidly and decimate whole flocks.
Reacting swiftly to reports of AI in North Western Province from the South African veterinary authority, Zimbabwe’s Department of Veterinary Services has stepped up AI surveillance in Beitbridge. DVS is also carrying out a campaign to alert farmers in the region about the risks of AI and the importance of biosecurity, to protect farmer livelihoods and the poultry industry.
“Biosecurity is critical“, emphasises Solomon Zawe, Chairman of ZPA. “Every poultry farmer, large or small, needs to practice biosecurity to protect their birds – by being vigilant, not introducing disease into flocks and practicing good hygiene.” ZPA represents all poultry producers – emergent, small-scale and large-scale; as well as the breeder industry which produces day old chicks for poultry rearing.
The spread of AI to the Southern Africa region in 2017, with continuing outbreaks in South Africa and one outbreak in Zimbabwe has highlighted the importance of biosecurity in livestock farming. Swift reaction by the affected operator and DVS ensured that the outbreak that occurred in Zimbabwe, on Lanark Farm, Harare South in May 2017 was contained. Massive depopulation and stringent biosecurity ensured that AI did not spread to other poultry operations in Zimbabwe.
Poultry is Zimbabwe’s largest meat producing industry, and also supplies the market with eggs, one of the cheapest forms of nutritious protein. The poultry industry led the post-hyperinflation recovery of the livestock industry which saw Zimbabwe achieve self -sufficiency in meat and eggs again, whilst many other food commodities have continued to be imported.
National poultry production dropped significantly in 2017, with production declining in both the layer and broiler industries. In 2017 there was a 31 percent reduction in table eggs on the market and an overall 10 percent decline in broiler meat production, compared with 2016 production. Reduced production resulting from AI, drove up retail prices of poultry products in 2017.
The impact of AI was most apparent in the small-scale sector, with broiler small-scale production declining by more than 50 percent immediately after the AI outbreak; and egg production by 22 percent over the year compared with 2016.
National poultry production is recovering under the poultry industry rebuilding strategy put in place by ZPA. Recovery of day old chick production from 4,2 million immediately following AI, to an all-time peak of 7,1 million in December, is translating into recovery in the small-scale sector.
Some two-thirds of Zimbabwe’s production of both broiler meat and eggs, comes from the small-scale sector. Smallholders took national production of both chicken and eggs to new heights in 2014, as Zimbabwe became the fastest growing poultry industry in the region. The thousands of predominantly peri-urban poultry farmers contribute significantly to food security and family livelihoods in Zimbabwe. Collectively, small-scale poultry producers generate millions of dollars in economic growth along the poultry value chain.
However, poultry trade statistics indicate a disturbing trend. Despite the ban on imports of poultry products from South Africa, imposed after the outbreak of AI there, statistics show that some 1 000 tonne of poultry products were imported into Zimbabwe from SA during 2017.
The prohibition on imports of poultry products from South Africa would indicate that this product entered the country illegally, without the required permits being issued. As well as the AI risk this poses to animal health, smuggled meat products can also be a risk to human health.
There is a danger that undocumented products from unregistered sources with no certification, are dumped, condemned, otherwise contaminated, or shelf expired, all of which poses a health risk. In perishable products such as meat, there is also a risk of contamination in transit if the product is not kept adequately refrigerated all the time. Once bacterial infection occurs in a thawing product, bacteria can continue to multiply under refrigeration.
Both the emergence of Avian Influenza in the Southern Africa region, and listeriosis deaths in SA over the last 15 months, highlight the health and economic risks from the uncontrolled importation of livestock products. Zimbabwe has also banned the importation of processed meat products from South Africa. This followed reports from SA authorities of listeriosis contamination in polony, traced to a meat processing plant in SA.