FAO in Afghanistan

FAO Builds Regional Peace and Fights Animal Disease Through Science Diplomacy


Istanbul, Turkey – On the 27-28th of June 2018, Chief Veterinary Officers and other animal experts from the Governments of Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan met in Istanbul, Turkey for the second multilateral meeting on Transboundary Animal Diseases (TADs) in the Central/Southern/Western Asia regions. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Afghanistan hosted this meeting as part of an ongoing series of regional meetings on animal health issues, all funded by the Government of Japan.

The meeting began with remarks from Mr. Tomio Shichiri, FAO Representative in Afghanistan. Mr. Shichiri acknowledged the Governments of Japan and Turkey for their support in hosting the meeting, and then spoke briefly about the causes and effects of animal health problems, from environmental to social.  He noted that “livestock health isn’t just about health – its’ about all of our economies.  Livestock trade is very valuable to our nations, and has the potential to be a major contributor to GDP as human populations grow, and as we continue to develop the livestock industry in a sustainable, climate-friendly manner.”

Delegates from each of the five nations spent much of the meeting in working groups themed around epidemiology, quarantine, and laboratories.  In these groups, government staff from neighboring countries worked face-to-face with each other to find solutions to TAD challenges. Challenges included issues such as poor-quality vaccines, insufficient resources for mass vaccination campaigns, nonexistent expiration dates on imported animal products, meagre national budgets for animal health, and illegal animal trade across remote national borders.  While the issues at times were contentious, the delegates were largely able to propose solutions agreeable to all of the parties.

For example, while all countries had their strengths and weaknesses, Iran generally had the most capacity around laboratory issues, and therefore offered to serve as the regional reference laboratory and training center for laboratory staff. Likewise, Afghanistan offered to share its’ case definitions for priority diseases, and Uzbekistan offered to give everyone training on establishing and running quarantine stations.

The topics that received the most attention were cross-border movement of animals, and regional information sharing.  As for the former, delegates proposed developing bilateral standard operating procedures for cross-border movement, while acknowledging difficulties in controlling animal movement in any region of the world with remote, mountainous border zones regularly traversed by nomadic herders. As for the latter issue, meeting attendees agreed that FAO Afghanistan would set up a Secretariat for regional TAD coordination. Through this Secretariat, animal experts from each of the five countries would share information, develop joint work programs, and plan future regional meetings.  Another outcome of the meeting was that a concept note for an expanded program on combatting TADs would be produced and circulated among the attending countries for their comments and later submission to funding bodies.

Mr. Edris Raouf, Head of Delegation for Afghanistan, noted that the animal health world needed to cooperate regionally and adhere to the “One World, One Health” approach that is now widely used to address health threats at the animal-human-ecosystems interface. “These diseases know no boundaries, therefore strong cooperation across our human-drawn international boundaries is the only path to eradicating these diseases regionally,” he added.

A theme oft-repeated throughout the meeting was that cooperation through scientific issues was a path towards increased regional peace. Healthy, happy societies are less likely to turn towards crime or  extremism; as part of this health comes from having reliable, nourishing sources of food, including safe animal products.  And, ensuring smallholder farmers have stable livelihoods from their healthy animals stabilizes a society by providing them with decent work and income.  As one participant noted at the end of the meeting “this isn’t just about science, this isn’t just about food security, this is about peace-building.”