A new strain of foot-and-mouth disease in Egypt has killed several thousand livestock, put farmers’ livelihoods at risk and could threaten regional food security, say local and international experts.
“Urgent action is required to control a major outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease and prevent its spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East, which could have serious implications for food security in the region,” the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned on 22 March.
“If the virus kills more cattle, there will be more economic suffering for a large number of people,” said Mohamed Al Falw, a veterinary officer in Sawaris village, in the Greater Cairo governorate of Qallubia. “The government cannot just keep talking and leave these farmers to face this tragedy on their own.”
The virus affects cloven-hoofed animals especially cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, and causes serious production loss. So far, it has killed 8,355 animals, most of them calves, and infected 54,137 others, according to Hatem Farag, (Arabic), Egypt's assistant health minister for veterinary medicine.
FAO says the disease is putting Egypt’s 6.3 million buffalos and cattle, and 7.5 million sheep and goats, at risk.
According to Assistant Health Minister Farag, vaccination efforts are under way, with vets visiting cattle farms across the nation to vaccinate livestock, and advise farmers to keep cattle and other livestock apart to prevent the virus from spreading.
However, Saeed Bayoumi, a vet from Qalubia, said the government was using old vaccines which may not be effective.
Nearly 90 percent of Sawaris’s 4,000 residents depend on cattle for beef and milk.
“What kind of future can my family and I have while the disease kills our cattle one by one? These cattle are our only source of income, but their death puts the prospects of the whole family at risk,” said Abdel Haleem Abdel Salam, 52, a farmer from Sawaris.
Since February, Abdel Salam has lost four of his eight cows, and those remaining are producing less milk. His weekly income is down from 700 Egyptian pounds (US$116) to about 300 (US$50), making it hard for him to feed his family.
“Before this disease took the cattle away, we could at least eat and repay our debts,” he said. “But this is not easy to do now… I am left with these four cattle only. If the virus takes them away, too, my children and I will starve at worst, go begging at best.”