• Okavango farmers in anguish over cattle deaths
  • Senkobo continues to cause havoc
  • Farmers decry slow reaction from govt
  • Farmers want disease causing tick targeted 
  • Vet officers promise action soon

There is a palpable sense of despair in the farming community of the eastern panhandle in the Okavango as the bovine dermatophylosis (senkobo) conitinues to ravage their cattle, since the first outbreak in 2017.

The root cause of the disease is the tropical bonttick, which has since infested the grazing grounds in these areas.

Farmers in the Eretsha and Beetsha farming area, the hardest hit, had no soft words for veterinary officers who addressed them in Kgotla meetings this week. There is a general feeling that government has neglected the farmers since the outbreak.

Between 5000 and 10000 cattle are estimated to have died of the disease since 2017, an estimation the officials could not confirm nor deny.

At the centre of their anger, is the apparent delay by veterinarians to find a permanent solution to the disease, prompting suspicions that there may be a deliberate ploy to have cattle in the area decimated by the disease.

Their concerns are further compounded by the fact that persistent calls have been made to authorities that include political leadership for assistance, but nothing has come of it.

At the front of this spirited assault on the officers for their slow pace in assisting farmers are the tribal leaders of the affected villages. Kgosi of Gunotsoga was the first to sound the clarion call, calling for the immediate action to save farmers. Should the situation continue unabated, there are fears that farmers will be driven into poverty as they rely on farming for livelihoods.

“We are losing cattle to this disease at an unprecedented and alarming rate, and it appears authorities are not playing their part to avoid the worst possible scenario,” Kgosi Bonang Karondo of Beetsha opined on Wednesday.

He posited that residents of his village relied heavily on farming, adding that anything that threatens their livelihoods needs urgent attention by those responsible. This as the majority does not benefit from government programmes. Karondo further called for effective and sustainable interventions that would effectively control the disease.

In all the villages, farmers took turns to share their frustrations with government’s lacklustre attitude towards controlling the disease, arguing that it was unacceptable that years after the first cases, their cattle were still dying in numbers. The infestation of the tick, especially in the areas that their cattle graze, makes it even difficult to control.

Some farmers also revealed how they have spent their last money to buy the treatments as suggested by the vets, but nothing has helped.

They have even argued that an effective measure to treat their cattle and effectively control the disease would be also to target the tick in its habitat which happens to be in the communal grazing land. They further argued that dipping and vaccination without decimating the tick is an exercise in futile.

Addressing residents in the villages this week, area Veterinary Officer Bathusi Baeng informed the irate farmers that the department was on high alert as the disease continues to spread unabated, with cattle mortalities rising.

Further to the assessments made and issue escalated to the senior officials in the ministry of Agriculture, and also engagements with local authorities, councillors and Member of Parliament, he said recommendations from farmers on how best to control the disease has been shared with government.

“Your suggestions on destroying the bont tick in its habitat, which happens to be grazing area for your cattle has also been shared with our superiors,” he told farmers.

Baeng further promised farmers that the department will undertake a dipping and vaccination exercise of the cattle in the area soon, in an effort to control the disease. This exercise, he opined, can only be effective if all farmers bring their cattle.

He said the low cattle turn out always has the undesired effects as, it defeats the purpose to which these campaigns are intended to achieve. It has however since turned out that the disease is also causing similar challenges for farmers in the Gumare and Tubu areas.


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