JOHANNESBURG – Lesotho wool and mohair farmers allege that their government is faking an anthrax outbreak to scare South African and international markets from buying their products.
South Africa has imposed a ban on Lesotho imports of live animals and by-products such as wool and mohair after that country reported an outbreak of anthrax.
The South African Department of Agriculture said it was aware of the allegations but it couldn’t independently verify outbreaks in another country, and therefore all import permits were revoked until Lesotho implements mitigating measures in place.
Three weeks ago, animals started dying in three villages outside the Lesotho capital Maseru, and people were presenting with symptoms of anthrax.
Lesotho Principal Veterinary Relebohile Mahloane said he could confirm the anthrax outbreak in that country.
“We base ourselves on science, when we received reports that 20 animals had died we went and got three cattle – two had died, one was alive – and we found signs consistent with black quarter. But after four more deaths, we sampled and confirmed bacteria that causes anthrax,” Mahloane said.
As required, Lesotho reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and notified South Africa, and South Africa’s director of animal health Mpho Maja imposed a ban on Lesotho imports.
“In order to protect our livestock industry, we had to suspend trade until they get the situation under control and perhaps re-evaluate if the controls are satisfactory,” Maja said.
Maja said while the ban was in place all trade in live animals and their products was not allowed.
“Everything that comes into the country of agricultural origin – in this case live animals and products – need to be accompanied by a veterinary import permit which we issue.
“When the consignment gets to the border it goes through agricultural checks to make sure that it complies, and customs inspection to make sure that duties have been paid. In this case, nothing will be allowed into the country because of the suspension.”
FARMERS DENY ANTHRAX OUTBREAK
But Lesotho wool and mohair farmers alleged that their government had faked the outbreak to discourage markets from buying their produce and once again force them to sell through a Chinese-owned broker who’s struggling to pay them.
Wool and mohair farmer Khotsang Moshoeshoe said they hadn’t seen any signs of the outbreak.
“We got information that government is faking an outbreak that will scare off the international community to allow our commodities because we won a case against them that would have given us the rights to export our produce and bypass the Chinese broker,” he said.
In South Africa, the Department of Agriculture said it was aware of the allegations but didn’t have jurisdiction to independently verify in Lesotho, a sovereign territory.
Mahloane said farmers outside affected areas would not see the outbreak because it was limited to a small area and was under control.
“Our official report says the outbreak is around the Mazenod area but the rumours say the whole country is infected. We have cordoned that 10km radius and banned movement but because of misinformation, South Africa panicked and I believe that’s how they imposed the ban,” he said.
Mahloane said it would be irresponsible to fake an outbreak because bans entail heavy losses on the exports of products, especially wool and mohair, which is the mainstay of Lesotho agricultural exports.
“The first mitigating factor is to curb the spread, and the second mitigation is vaccination that we are starting on Monday, and then we are going to report weekly to OIE and South Africa to give them confidence that we are on top of things,” he said.
South Africa said it would review this ban when Lesotho implements mitigating measures.
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