FAO in Pakistan

Dairy Farms Receive Protection from a Crippling Disease

400,000 buffaloes and cows receive vaccination against Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) through a FAO project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

“Despite multiple outbreaks of FMD in the neighboring villages, none of our 7,500 animals have become infected since this project began,” say farmers in Greater and Lesser Cholistan, Bahawalpur District of Punjab, where FAO is implementing its project on the prevention and control of FMD with USDA funding. Since its launch in 2010, the project has provided routine preventive vaccination against FMD for 200,000 animals as well as emergency vaccination during the outbreaks of the disease for another 200,000 animals throughout Pakistan. The project works in large dairy colonies, villages, desert areas and summer pastures across the country to demonstrate how vaccination can protect animals from FMD. 

FMD is one of the most wide-spread and economically the most damaging diseases of cows and buffaloes in Pakistan. While the mortality rates among the indigenous animals are low, the disease causes huge economic losses. Infected animals stop eating, and their milk production drops by approximately 80%. The project estimates that farmers loose at least 21,000 to 25,000 Rupees in milk production per animal in 60 days of the disease alone. Equally importantly, animals never produce the same amount of milk again; production remains at 70-80% of the original amount at most.  The disease is much more dangerous for young calves and imported animals which do not have resistance to it; most of the calves and many of the imported animals die from FMD, causing a huge loss of the farmer’s income and investment into the animal. 

To develop an effective vaccine, the project routinely collects samples during the outbreaks for testing in order to determine the strains of the FMD causing the outbreaks in various locations. 

The project is working with 8 laboratories across the country to test FMD samples. To strengthen the capacity of these laboratories, the project has trained lab specialists and continues to provide supplies and equipment.  “FMD has 7 known subtypes worldwide; in Pakistan, we’ve seen at least 3 of them. The vaccine will not work unless it has been designed against those subtypes of the virus that infect our animals,” says Dr. Manzoor Hussain, National Director of the FAO FMD project.

Ineffective vaccines have been one of the main reasons why farmers have been reluctant to vaccinate their animals. Prior to the project, the country did not have the capacity to collect and test FMD samples, which is an essential step in designing effective vaccine.  Most of the time, imported vaccines   failed to prevent the spread of FMD virus strains prevalent in Pakistan. “We hope that within the next 2-3 years, the Government of Pakistan will develop sufficient capacity to continue the effort without the donor support,” explains Dr. Manzoor. 

Three years into the project, farmers are now convinced that the project’s approach is working. More and more of them are asking the project to vaccinate their animals on a cost-share basis.  The farmer pays for the vaccine, while the project covers the costs for the vaccination and provides animal tagging to help track the vaccinated animals.  “This is the first time in my life that an FMD outbreak has not caused the decline in milk production, thanks to the effective FMD vaccine,” says 80-year old farmer in Sarghoda, where the project provided emergency vaccination to stop FMD outbreak in early 2014.