FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

FAO wraps up African swine fever preparedness project in the Balkans

A meeting today concludes an FAO project on African swine fever (ASF) emergency preparedness in the Balkans and also allows countries and partners to discuss the achievements and potential future follow-up activities in the five beneficiary countries (Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia).

The project and the meeting itself are a clear sign that despite the limitations in travel and face-to-face meeting due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, FAO continues to bring together relevant actors in online occasions to discuss African swine fever – a lethal, viral, transboundary animal disease of domestic pigs and wild boar, against which there is no treatment or vaccine.

“Twenty-twenty was a challenging year for all of us, but we have successfully adapted to the new situation and continued to effectively support the beneficiary countries,” said Daniel Beltrán-Alcrudo, FAO technical advisor on animal health.

The project started with an inception workshop in February 2019, where the objectives and activities were talked through with countries. Four initial missions were carried out in 2019 to assess preparedness of the five beneficiary country and identify the main risk factors for African swine fever.

Biosecurity workshops were held to reach out to pig owners, along with two training-of-trainers events, followed by one regional and three national workshops organized to discuss ASF management policy in wild boar. Also in 2019, a simulation exercise was organized in North Macedonia. A regional 4-day workshop brought together Balkan and Eastern European countries to share experiences for the management of ASF (and lumpy skin disease) outbreaks.

As a key and long-lasting achievement, the FAO manual on ASF detection and diagnosis was translated into all Balkan languages.

In 2020, with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the focus had to shift from face-to-face to online events. To this end, an online ASF preparedness course was developed, translated and delivered in the Serbian language in the summer of 2020, reaching out to 350 veterinarians. Throughout the year, three online coordination meetings allowed discussion of the project to continue with countries in spite of COVID-19 restrictions.

Various research and analytical activities were carried out, such as analysis of the pig sector in North Macedonia, an online app to report wild boar carcasses, a cost-benefit analysis for ASF, as well as data collection to analyze geographic and temporal factors to find dead wild boar.

In February 2021, the first online multi-country simulation exercise was delivered with the support of partner organizations and a new tool to survey hunting grounds was piloted. Between July and October, FAO and local hunting organizations trained over 500 hunting ground managers on African swine fever in wild boar and hunting biosecurity in Serbia, North Macedonia, and Montenegro, while a face-to-face simulation exercise was delivered in Montenegro. Posters designed for farmers, veterinarians, as well as for the general public on ASF have been translated into all Balkan languages and distributed.

“Luckily, this summer we had the opportunity to organize several events, which we had to postpone from 2020. With the support of our local partners, we managed to reach out and train key actors on African swine fever,” said Mark Hovari, FAO animal health preparedness expert. “If I have to choose one achievement that we are the most proud of, it would be the ASF online training course that was developed under this project, which has been translated into four languages and is one of the spearhead courses under the newly established Virtual Learning Centers (VLC).”

16 November 2021, Budapest, Hungary