Query: Response to the call for the removal of the Red Line in order to incorporate all Namibians into the commercial livestock sector of the country and to allow for the movement of livestock and livestock products throughout the country
Response: The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) acknowledges the concerns of the Namibian citizens who continue to call for the removal of the Red Line in order to incorporate all Namibians into the commercial livestock sector of the country and to allow for the movement of livestock and livestock products throughout the country. MAWF would like to add that these calls are not only from the General Public but are echoed by the leadership of the Government of Namibia and indeed the leadership of the MAWF. In this regard, several efforts have been made and are continuing to be made by Government to address this issue. However, the issue of removing the redline or nullifying its negative effects is more complicated than it appears and therefore requires a cautious and responsible approach in the best interest of the country.
As stated above the Government of the Republic of Namibia has since our attainment of Independence in 1990 focused on the removal of the Red line or the nullification of its negative effects as one of its top priorities and as such the Government continues to unabatedly pursue this goal. It is true that many Namibians, especially the majority of the Namibian population residing north of the Veterinary Cordon Fence view the Red line as a political divisive tool created by the Apartheid South African Regime during our country’s dark days of colonialism. It is also true that before independence the checkpoints along the Red line were used to control the movement of people especially those that moved from the communal areas north of the red line to the southern parts of the country. However, the current use of the Veterinary Cordon Fence is purely to control the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and CBPP from endemic areas to disease free areas south of the fence. As such, the gates along the fence have since independence, seized to be police check points and are today used purely to control the movement of livestock and livestock products from the FMD and CBPP endemic areas to the southern FMD and CBPP free zones. The above reasons and considerations therefore inform the Governments position on the Veterinary Cordon fence.
The Veterinary Cordon Fence is still in place 27 years after independence because despite all the efforts taken by the Government to eradicate FMD and CBPP north of the VCF, we have not yet been able to attain FMD and CBPP free status in those areas for various complicated reasons which include:
a. The endemic nature of FMD and CBPP as shown by sporadic outbreaks of these diseases. The most recent outbreak in the northern communal areas was resolved in 2016 and marked a significant reversal of fortunes after the 26-year absence of FMD in that area. Outbreaks of FMD have also been reported in the Kavango East and Zambezi Regions in 2015. This therefore, makes it very difficult to remove the VCF without threatening the entire livestock sector of Namibia.
b. In other areas such as the eastern part of Kavango East Region and the Zambezi Region significant numbers of free roaming African Buffaloes occur, that are known to be reservoirs of the FMD virus.
c. The most effective way to control livestock diseases is by erecting a border fence but it is well understood that such a fence will to some extent have some adverse socio-economic effects on communities living along the borders and as such it has to be approached cautiously through wider consultation of both internal and external stakeholders.
As had been explained above, it is not correct to say nothing is being done because efforts are in place to implement the strategy for the eradication of FMD and CBPP. This involves vaccination and in some cases destocking of livestock north of the VCF but the most critical issue is that of the border fence to replace the Veterinary Cordon Fence. To this end, Cabinet has set up a Task Force headed by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Cooperation to spearhead the sensitive consultation process with all stakeholders, and not only the livestock sector. MAWF thus aligns itself with the efforts of the Task Force to find a lasting solution to the problem.
The most responsible way to approach this sensitive issue is to ensure that the threat of FMD and CBPP spread from the endemic areas to areas south of the VCF be adequately addressed. In 2015, the World Animal Health Organization (OIE) approved a Strategy for the Eradication of FMD and CBPP from the Northern Communal Areas of Namibia. All aspects of this strategy are currently being implemented, which includes vaccination of livestock with the view of suppressing viral load or reducing clinical cases and eventually eradicating the prevalence of the disease. The strategy also includes testing, identifying and eliminating pockets of infection in the livestock populations. These efforts however, need to be supplemented by the erection of a fence on the northern border of Namibia and hence the need to expedite the consultations referred to in your previous question in a responsible and scientifically justifiable manner. The problem is and never was the physical removal of the fence, it is rather about safely integrating the livestock herds north of the VCF into the commercial herd south of the VCF, and most importantly doing so without jeopardizing the FMD and CBPP free status of the areas south of the VCF or risking the entire livestock sector of Namibia on which numerous Namibians depend for their livelihoods.
As explained above, it is difficult to commit to specific dates for the removal of the VCF. Rather, it is more rational to focus on time frames for the completion of critical activities. At this stage therefore, it is important to finalise the consultation processes and only then can all stakeholders, guided by the FMD and CBPP eradication strategies in place, commit to a date, which should in any case be agreed on by the Cabinet of the Republic of Namibia.
MAWF is aware of and takes the threats seriously but wishes to advice the affected Namibian population to remain patient and to understand that the Government is working tirelessly to find an amicable and lasting solution to this problem. Whilst MAWF clearly understands the demand from the affected sections of the Namibian house, given that people want results, note should be taken that Namibia is a country governed by laws and as such MAWF will not encourage lawlessness to complicate an already complicated situation. It must also be stated that one cannot address the socio- economic problems of the citizens living north of the VCF by causing bigger socio-economic problems for the entire livestock sector, as the irresponsible removal of the red line will only cause the whole of Namibia to lose its export markets for livestock and livestock products. MAWF again calls on all peace-loving citizens to remain patient and to support Government in its ongoing efforts aimed at attaining the best possible solution for the country. Margaret Kalo, Senior Public Relations Officer, Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, E-mail Address: Margaret.firstname.lastname@example.org