Aimed at higher livestock produce in the region, including Sri Lanka
Text and pix by Harsha Udayakantha Peiris
The two-day inception workshop of the SAARC Component of Regional Cooperation Programme on Highly Pathogenic and Emerging Diseases (HPED) in South Asia commenced at the Galadari Hotel in Colombo on 30 September, with the objective of preventing and control of HPED in South Asia.
Three priority transmitting animal diseases, namely, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and Peste Petit de Ruminants (PPR – a decease prevalent in goat population) have been mainly identified as highly pathogenic and emerging diseases among livestock industry and animal husbandry in the Asian Region.
Livestock is an integral part of agriculture economy of Sri Lanka for centuries and the symbiotic relationship has been enhanced by the religious and cultural influence of the country.
Expressing views at the occasion of the inauguration of the two day workshop, Deputy Minister of Livestock and Rural Community Development H. R. Mithrapala who was also the Chief Guest of the event said that the consumption of livestock produce had increased dramatically over last two decades with production.
“For instance we produced 860 metric tonnes of poultry meat in 2005 and that figure has grown to 990 metric tonnes in 2009,” he said. The Minister also said that taking the factor of food security, which is a global concern in this era, the Government was concerned that it was a serious issue and had taken each and every possible step to secure the food safety and security of the country.
The Government in its policy document ‘Mahinda Chinthana – The Way Forward’ focuses to achieve self sufficiency level in livestock produce by 2015.
Expressing views over the theme expressed, the Secretary of the Ministry of Livestock and Rural Community Development A. H. Gamage stated that the country was, at present, self sufficient in poultry and eggs. He said that dairy was producing 33% of the requirement and plans had been made to increase it to 100% within a period of five years.
The dairy industry has a potential in contributing to the development of the economy of Sri Lanka, as milk production has been a traditional industry which has survived thousands of years, playing a key role in infant feeding and alleviating nutritional poverty in all age groups. The dairy sector is also important due to the extensive employment opportunities the industry offers.
Expressing further views, Gamage said that the country had produced 1,099 million eggs and 990 metric tonnes of poultry meat in 2009 and that it was appreciable because the produce had been achieved among the threats of trans-boundary diseases such as Avian Influenza.
Trans-boundary diseases are the most difficult deceases to be prevented in the globalisation environment. They cause unbearable damages to the livestock industry, in turn causing huge losses to the booming economies of the countries in the region.
Riaz Hamidullah, Director – SAARC Secretariat in Nepal, in an exclusive interview on trans-boundary diseases, said that the diseases, also known as disabling diseases, cause extensive situations in the livestock population. “They keep the animal production very low,” he said.
Hamidullah also said that one regional support unit, a regional epidemiological centre, three leading reference regional diagnostic laboratories had been established in Nepal, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh respectively and the European Union had granted Euros 4 million for the next three years to make all their functions operational. He added that the ADB had shown great interest in granting aid for the programme since alarming global situations would be created if highly pathogenic and emerging diseases are not completely eradicated, though they are born regionally.
The project agreement in this regard has also been signed between the SAARC Secretariat and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.
Hamidullah stressed that Sri Lanka, as a country that is emerging from the conflict, now has huge potential to develop its livestock and dairy industries, mainly to overcome its dependency on imported fresh and powdered milk products.
He added that further studies of the white revolution in India and Pakistan would be effective in enhancing and being self-sufficient in the dairy industry in Sri Lanka. In 2008, SAARC countries attempted to create the SAARC milk grid in the same context.
Although the livestock sector of India and Pakistan contribute nearly half a share in the agriculture GDP, each year India loses 10% of its annual dairy milk production due to Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD).
Sri Lanka is now in the process of producing FMD vaccines locally and has been identified as a great leap forward by a SAARC country in assisting to completely eradicate HPED in South Asia. The coordinated activities in this regard with the regional support units and the laboratories that are established in nearby countries which will also be of much benefit to Sri Lanka in the future, in getting the other needed vaccines and medicines for an affordable price rather than importing them from the West or Europe.
The medicine and vaccines produced regionally will have more common features in relation to efficiency and ability to cure, prevent and eradicate the threats of HPED in the region.
The programme will also train epidemiologists and veterinarians in epidemiology and disease diagnosis on contemporary methods which in return will strengthen the national laboratories established in this regard.
Bringing vital remarks and introduction to the project, Dr. Subhash Morzaria – Regional Manager of FAO Regional Office in Bangkok – stated that in consideration of each and every issue arising from the developing threat of HPED in the region, it could never be addressed country wise but in a wider regional context as they need no border restriction to spread across the countries and more coordination and cooperation is expected from every country in the region to totally eradicate highly pathogenic and emerging diseases that stand a serious threat to the emerging socio-economic development process in the region.