14 July 2003, Rome
FAOs efforts to eradicate the tropical bont tick (Amblyomma variegatum),
which killed nine out of ten head of cattle on the island of Nevis alone in the
1980s, have been successful in a large part of the Caribbean. Now the Organizations
tick-fighting campaign -- the Caribbean Amblyomma Programme (CAP) -- is targeting
Antigua, Nevis and St. Maarten where more than half of the Caribbean cattle population
is found and the tick is still widespread.
The tropical bont tick spread
rapidly in the Caribbean in the late 20th century, attacking cattle and other
livestock and causing a decline in meat and milk production. The tick causes acute
dermatophilosis, a skin infection, and the fatal disease heartwater.
Threat to mainland of Americas
The ticks rapid expansion coincided
with that of the cattle egret population in the region. The bird, which carries
the larvae and nymphs of the tick, can fly as far as the Florida coast of the
United States as well as to the coast of the South American mainland -- a threat
that makes the need for eradication of the tick from the Caribbean all the more
Since 1995, a project carried out by FAO and national governments
and funded by the United States, the International Fund for Agricultural Development
and the European Union has radically reduced the number of affected animals.
We measure our success by the number of islands that are provisionally free
of the tropical bont tick, says Carlos Eddi, an FAO expert on parasitic
diseases. Today we have accomplished this in practically all the southern
part of the region, but we still have a large challenge in fighting the tick in
Antigua, Nevis and St. Maarten in the north.
efforts to control the plague are also being made in the French West Indies. Heartwater
is endemic in Guadeloupe and Marie Galante. CAP and the Tropical Bont Tick Eradication
Programme in French West Indies are cooperating with regard to implementation
of the control phase, surveillance and data collection.
said to be provisionally free of the pest because until the tick is eliminated
from the entire region no country can be declared totally tick-free. Six of the
nine countries involved in the CAP had been declared provisionally free, but Dominica,
Saint Lucia and Saint Kitts were reinfested. CAPs Regional Coordination
Unit is currently in the process of preparing recommendations and contingency
plans for emergency responses to new and persistent or recurrent hot spots.
Cattle industry has potential
By tradition, most Caribbean cattle
owners are small-scale farmers who keep a limited number of cattle for their own
needs. In Antigua, however, where half the total population of cattle in the Caribbean
is found, the farms tend to be larger, giving this island the potential to build
up an industry and underlining the value of tick-eradication efforts.
The tourist industry is of vital economic importance to the Caribbean islands.
However, partly due to uncertainty about the quality as well as the supply of
locally produced products, practically all meat and dairy products served by hotels
Eradication of the tropical bont tick from Antigua
is an essential prerequisite for livestock production and food security, not only
in Antigua, but for the entire Caribbean region, says Rupert Pegram, CAP
Director. The success in Antigua is especially important due to the large
number of cattle there and the possibilities to develop an industry that this
Local commitment key to success
of the programme will be moved from Barbados in the southern Caribbean, where
it has been widely successful, to Antigua in the north. This will allow the project
team to focus not only on Antigua but on the neighbouring islands of Nevis and
St. Maarten as well.
The secret to the programme's success so far has
been its participatory approach. Local livestock producers, with the guidance
of government staff, take responsibility for applying the necessary treatments
of acaricide, a tick-killing chemical, to their animals. Massive public information
campaigns are carried out by the project team to encourage community participation
in wiping out the tick. A calypso song was even recorded to spread the message.
The animal owners pivotal role in the eradication effort has contributed
both to keeping costs down and to increasing the technical and operational capacities
of each country. But additional funding is still needed to complete eradication
and to prevent the tick once again causing destruction in the region and spreading
to mainland countries.
FAO Media Office
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