The Otjozondjupa/Omaheke buffalo conundrum

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Uncle Bob Kandetu

Namibia’s meat exports to the European Union (EU) countries and to the United States of America are under threat because of the perennial invasion of the buffalos in the Omaheke and Otjozondjupa regions of Namibia, arguably the strongest productive farming regions of the country.

The African buffalo is known to be the carrier of the foot and mouth decease and as such a threat to the lucrative beef export of Namibia, because the contractual agreements for such exports are predicated on the confirmed absence of the said deceases in the relevant farming environments, both communal and commercial. Unlike some of the country’s neighbors, Namibia has been cleared of the foot and mouth deceases that are regarded as precondition for the contractual arrangements and maintenance of the said economic relationships.

But the unfortunate reality is that seemingly the arrival of buffalos in the commercial and communal areas of Namibia is unchecked and has remained a regular feature, to the consternation of the farming communities in central Namibia south of Oshivelo and south of the Verda veterinary gates. Each time a buffalo has been reported, the movement of animals would be restricted and sales of animals indefinitely suspended for the duration of the uncertainty.

Search parties would be fielded, consisting of veterinary officers and members of the affected communities. When the buffalo is discovered it would be eliminated and its blood samples would be drawn for testing and fortunately there has not been reports of a carrier buffalo. For this reason the often invaded regions or constituencies would be placed under quarantine for several days or weeks, inspected randomly and released for regular movements and markets.

The latest development has been that buffalos were sported in both Omaheke and Otjozondjupa regions. The latter region is currently still reeling under quarantine restrictions because, whereas the buffalo in Omaheke Region was eliminated and tested negative against foot and mouth diceases, the buffalo in Otjozondjupa is still missing, at least two weeks after it was first spotted. Preliminary reports had it that the said animal was traced back into the wilderness from whence it had emerged. This alleged return has left stakeholders up in arms and it has rendered the Okakarara Constituency of Otjozondjupa Region at best suspect for the potential to be infected.

Health officers were dispatched and the quarantine of animals extended further. These restrictions have sparked discontent among the farming communities as they had to coincide with the reopening of schools for the second term and the parents, mostly farmers, were caught on their back foot, for the restrictions prohibits the sale of animals. Communities in Okakarara Constituency are negatively affected and the constituency is riddled with despair.

What frustrates the farmers even more are reports that the Otjozondjupa buffalos normally escape from the Waterberg Nature Resort that is located right in the middle of Otjozondjupa commercial farming communities.
This habit seems to expose the environment and tourism ministry as they have to explain why buffalos cannot be restricted to the resort farms. To this effect government has been found wanting with regard to conservation measures.

The escape of buffalos from areas of restriction to wander in areas of communal and commercial cattle rearing has not impressed the Namibian nation and much less the recipient countries for Namibian export meat. And the grapevine has it that even the European Union countries that import Namibian meat have become restless at the possibility that Namibia’s standards for hygienic meat processing could be gradually slipping, enhancing the suspicion that there is tenuous political will to tame the unruly buffalos. Whether or not Namibia’s meat export industry will continue to enjoy EU and American preference, or will be placed under scrutiny and ultimately put on terms, remains to be seen.

It goes without saying that if European and North American meat exports are to be sustained, Namibia will have to come out clean and the Namibian government will have to flex muscle and put the buffalo conundrum to rest.

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