Subregional Office


 for Eastern Africa (SFE)



Taming the “goat plague” in the Horn of Africa

Addis Ababa, 28 September 2012: FAO, the African Union - Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and partners met this week to map out strategies to curb the threat caused by the deadly Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR) and other Transboundary Animal Diseases (TADS) affecting small ruminants. Actions aimed at putting in place a regional initiative in the Horn of Africa (HoA) that would prevent and control the spread of PPR - also commonly referred to at the “goat plague” - across borders were recommended.

FAO Coordinator for Eastern Africa, Dr Castro Camarada, highlighted the urgent need for a systemized approach to prevent and control this plague. “There is an urgent need for the international community to join forces against PPR because of the key role sheep and goats play in national food and nutritional security, income security and livelihood resilience in countries across the world as well as the damage the disease causes to livelihood of the poor in the least economically developed nations”. 

Deadly disease threatening a vital resource

Small ruminants such as goats and sheep provide their owners with a vast range of products and services. They provide milk, meat, skins, and wool throughout the year. They are cheaper to buy compared to larger animals, they reproduce rapidly and are easily sold for cash or exchanged for other staples. In addition to this, they adapt well to pastoralist and agro-pastoralist agro ecological systems common in the HoA.

In just over a decade, the HoA has suffered three droughts, followed by severe crises. In the most recent events of 2011, communities’ livelihoods were seriously affected as drought prevailed in the region. Several farmers were left with no option to sell their livestock to both feed their families and fulfill their other commitments.

The entry, presence or spread of any small ruminant disease within the settings and dynamics of the HoA, would be devastating for the livelihoods and resilience of the communities. PPR has been seen to cause anywhere between 10 to 100 percent losses due to mortality in susceptible flocks.

With its ability to quickly spread through borders, the “goat plague” poses a significant threat to livestock keepers and small ruminant populations. “The HoA is just recovering from the effects of drought and these animals are among the only resource that the communities have left. There is a risk that the disease could hit particular spots in the region or indeed rapidly spread to new countries. Protecting and promoting resilience of the communities to withstand the effects of drought has to be central to responding to the needs of the people, and the control and prevention of PPR and other small ruminants TADs is an appropriate tool contributing to this”, Dr Camarada stressed. 

Working together is the key to success

Eliminating PPR is key to poverty reduction in the world’s most vulnerable countries and should directly benefit the livelihood of millions of livestock farmers and smallholders in the affected countries. A concerted effort to urgently stop spread of the goat plague is required to mitigate the economic impact of the disease on people relying on small ruminant for subsistence.

Dr Baba Soumare, Chief Animal Health Officer at AU-IBAR noted that just like rinderpest eradication, working together and fostering synergies among institutions is the key to success. “Following the eradication of rinderpest, PPR is increasingly becoming the object of major concerns because of its potential impact on productivity, livelihood, trade and food security. The experience of rinderpest eradication has proven how critical regional coordination is to effective disease control strategies. Regional coordination and cross-border strategic intervention are, no doubt one of the major lessons learnt from RP eradication”.

In strengthening the population's resistance to future crises in the HoA, the European Commission set up an initiative called ‘Supporting Horn of Africa Resilience’ (SHARE). Ms Nicoletta Avella, Program Officer responsible for support to IGAD in the EU based in Djibouti, noted the importance and potential gains of working together. “Common components on PPR control and prevention under the SHARE projects make sense only if there is a harmonized, coordinated approach, aligned with the continental strategy. However these components will need to be embedded in a long-term vision, with a strong commitment and implementing role at national level”.

The EU is committing Euro 11.5 million for regional interventions in addition to other more targeted programmes at country level.    

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