Saudi Arabia banned livestock exports from the Horn of Africa between February 1998 and April 1999, as a result of an RVF outbreak in Kenya and Somalia, and the scale of the economic losses at that time is indicative of what is to come. Pastoralists in Somaliland, Somalia, Zone V of Ethiopia and Eritrea, where most of the Gulf imports originate, saw the volume and value of livestock exports tumble.
For the second time in less than three years livestock producers and traders in the Greater Horn of Africa are facing the devastating consequences of Rift Valley fever (RVF). An outbreak of RVF in southern Saudi Arabia and Yemen (the first reported outside Africa) in September and October 2000 has left dozens of people dead and hundreds infected. As a consequence six Gulf States - Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates - have now banned livestock imports from nine African countries, principally in the Horn. Although RVF is endemic in the affected countries (see map) none has reported a recent RVF epidemic. Although they are therefore not experiencing the direct impacts of the disease, the livestock trade embargo will undermine a precarious regional food security situation.
The economic impacts of this ban are likely to be massive. Saudi Arabia banned livestock exports from the Horn between February 1998 and April 1999 as a result of an RVF outbreak in Kenya and Somalia, and the scale of the economic losses at that time is indicative of what is to come. Pastoralists in Somaliland, Somalia, Zone V of Ethiopia and Eritrea, where most of the Gulf imports originate, saw the volume and value of livestock exports tumble. Exports from the major livestock-dealing port of Berbera in Somaliland dropped from nearly three million head in 1997 to just over one million in 1998, equivalent to around US$100 million of lost exports. It is estimated that half of these livestock originated in Somalia and half in Zone V of Ethiopia. Prices of livestock fell by around 30 percent in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia as a result of the ban. Other Horn countries included in the ban were only marginally affected as the Gulf is not a significant importer from these countries.
Trade of livestock between the Horn of Africa and the
Arabian peninsula (Port of Berbera, Northern Somalia)
PHOTOS COURTESY OF MARC BLEICH
The current ban may cause even greater economic losses. Previously Horn of Africa countries were able to redirect exports to alternate Gulf markets - an option unavailable this time as more Gulf states have joined the import embargo. The Sudan, which normally exports hundreds of thousands of livestock to the Gulf, has also been included on this occasion. Many of the areas affected also coincide with extremely vulnerable and food-insecure areas currently receiving emergency assistance.
A quick lifting of the ban is unlikely - the last ban lasted 18 months. The current ban could run the three years recommended by the OIE, in spite of the fact that the epidemic will naturally subside with the coming dry season in the Gulf. The potential to redirect livestock exports is limited for a number of reasons, including poor economic competitiveness, quality standards and the regional preference for meat of the local breeds. In these circumstances what can be done to minimize the disruptions to pastoral livelihoods?
Testing small ruminants for brucellosis before export (Puntland, Somalia)
PHOTOS COURTESY OF MARC BLEICH
Source: Famine Early Warning System (FEWS); more information on FEWS is available at www.fews.net.
2 Editorial Note: This is probably true in certain ecosystems but requires much more development to become an operational early warning system.