Rising tide of African Swine Fever cases

Approximately 53 African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreaks between January and mid-June has sharpened old problems. 

South African Pork Producers Organisation (SAPPO), a pork body representing the collective interests of pig farmers said it was concerned with the rapid increase in the outbreaks.

“The latest outbreak was near Bapsfontein (Gauteng). South Africa has informed the OIE of 111 outbreaks since 2016. The rapid increase in outbreaks has significantly increased the risk of ASF spilling to commercial farms” added Dr Peter Evans of SAPPO.

South Africa had 50 opened and 44 resolved cases reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and 1 outbreak inside the controlled according to a June report by the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development (DALRRD). 

The heart of the problem was seemingly government and the pork industry being lonely in the struggle of keeping the outbreaks contained albeit evidence pointing to the same hostile problem by numerous esteemed studies. 

Particular reference is a recent study titled Understanding ASF dynamic in South Africa: from spatio-temporal analysis at national level to fine special network analysis, which revealed a body of evidence accusing the country in lacking real enforcement of the law – pigs kept in pens, animals and animal movements records. 

Movement of pigs from neighbouring countries to rural villages was flagrantly endemic and not regularly reported.

“Despite the absence or very low prevalence of the diseases, proximity with endemic countries in addition to lack of such records of pig movements place the zone at an increased risk of introduction and spread of ASF” the study consorted. 

In the Eastern Cape, DALRRD concurred that the outbreaks mostly occurred in the primitive ‘free-roaming and smallholder pig sector’ and like a cloud being blown by the wind, the department could still up until now not be able to determine the original source of the outbreak.

SAPPO missed the forest for the trees as it admitted that ASF messages were not filtering down to smallholder farmers – even thou it employed social media as a marketing tool. 

DALRRD played a thinker of secondary importance in communicating ASF. With an idling portal boasting of ASF marketing paraphernalia such as brochures, videos and training manuals, these efforts were prisoned unable to be used by most rural villages due to connectivity challenges.  

Further to this, the study’s overall picture of the bitter sweet ‘marketing failure’ could simply be put to the exercise of the pork industry and government not understanding the social networks in rural areas that drive observed movements. Unfortunately, this not only impaired smallholder farmers but it also affected state veterinarians (who are unable to “implement effective interventions in case of an outbreak or for prevention sensitisation) and commercial farmers.   

According to the 2019 Outbreak ASF in South Africa report published by the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP), direct costs of culling total stock in the formal market was at R1.33 billion for a market valued at an estimated R2.44 billion. 

“After our National Pig Health Monitoring Committee meeting in early June, we requested that the PVS vets highlight biosecurity on their farm visits, investigate possible routes of entry and most of all emphasise that a compartment certificate means nothing if there is not military style discipline on the farms, this includes managers and owners,” said Evans. 

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