FAO, ECOWAS move to tackle bird flu in West Africa
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on Monday in Abuja orchestrated meeting of animal scientists, veterinarians and other experts across West Africa to address the spread of bird flu in the sub-region.
In an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), the Team Leader, FAO Regional Office, Dr Berhanu Bedone, said the initiative was in collaboration with ECOWAS.
Bedone said the experts would also proffer solutions to other challenges facing the livestock sector in the sub-region.
He said that participants and representatives from almost all ECOWAS member countries demonstrated their commitment to the development of livestock in the sub-region.
“The major animal disease to be discussed today is the highly pathogenic Avian Influenza; it affected Nigeria about a year ago and the disease is still here.
“It also affected Ghana, Cote D’Voire, Burkina Faso and very recently Niger and Togo and our neighbours in Cameroon are also affected.
“One of the important issues to be discussed at the meeting is the full functionality and sustainability of the Animal of the Animal Health and Animal production networks.
“Cognizance of the role of the networks, FAO takes it very seriously as it continues to support ECOWAS to derive its benefits.
“The role of the livestock sector in food security and nutrition, poverty reduction and economic prosperity through sustainable use of natural resources is immense.
“In a region like West Africa with abandon livestock resources, increasing importation of livestock products is disappointing,’’ he said.
Earlier during the opening of the meeting, the team leader reiterated FAO’s commitment to support for all efforts geared towards livestock development at regional or state level.
Bedone said with the rate of population growth, the demand for animal products will increase drastically, saying that the livestock authorities should be ready to face a formidable challenge.
He said the meeting was an opportunity for experts to deliberate on how to close the gap between the demand and supply of animal products and reduce the rising import bills in the sub-region.
Also speaking, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh said Nigeria’s population is about 170 million and is projected to be over 200 million within the next two decades.
Represented by the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Dr Shehu Ahmed, Ogbeh said the demand for food including animal products would rise tremendously.
To meet the expected demand, the minister said there was need to maximise the production and productivity level of livestock resources in the country.
Citing a recent survey by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Ogbeh said there are about 19.2 million cattle, 39.3 million sheep, 16.3 million goats, 6.7 million pigs and 153 million poultry in the country.
According to him, the livestock sub-sector accounts for about 25 per cent of Nigeria’s agricultural GDP and 5.8 per cent of National GDP; conservatively valued at over 50 trillion naira.
He said Nigeria’s livestock sub-sector has high potential for growth but it was not being realised because the production system is largely extensive.
Ogbeh said extensive practices do not allow the proper nutrition required for growth and production and as a result, there are under productivity.
He said that was the case in most ECOWAS countries as production is below the genetic potential due to inadequate pasture, poor reproductive management and animal diseases.
The minister said the Federal Government was working hard to address challenges in the livestock sub-sector in line with its plan to diversify the economy from oil to agriculture.
He said farmers were expected to treat agriculture as a business within government’s new agricultural promotion policy known as the `Green Alternative.’
Earlier in his welcome address, Dr Gideon Mshelbwala, the Director, Veterinary Services, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development expressed gratitude to the organisers of the programme for choosing Nigeria to be the host.
He said there are many challenges facing the ECOWAS sub-region such as lack of policies and legislative framework, trans-boundary animal diseases, scarcity of animal feeds, access to market among others,
Mshelbwala said the objective of the meeting was to discuss the emergence issues with regards to animal health in member states and suggest way forward.
The director said the meeting was apt as it could not have come at a better time considering the challenges facing the sub-region.
Mshelbwala stressed the need for an effective coordination to enable member state address the sub-regional challenges to ensure food security and improve livelihood of farmers.
He said Nigeria is very conscious of the great threats of the seasonal movement of livestock across the region in search of pastures and market.
He said movement of animals leads to clashes between farmers and herdsmen and encourages cattle rustling, saying that there is need to find lasting solution at the regional level.
Mshelbwala said that the recent outbreak of bird flu in Nigeria and neighbouring countries had affected the poultry industry and the socio-economic status of poultry farmers.
He said there was need an effective surveillance and efficient laboratory networks that are well funded, based on regional approach for lasting solution.
“It is therefore pertinent for ECOWAS regional member state to work together and also key into the values of global regional disease control programmes to ensure the control and eradication of these diseases,’’ he added.
NAN reports that the experts were drawn from Nigeria, Niger, Liberia, Cape Verde, Senegal, Cameroon, Mali, Benin, Cote D’Voire and the Islamic Republic of the Gambia.
Others are Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Sierra Leon, and Guinea.
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