Young white chickens sit in open-air cages on a po
  • Parliament's portfolio committee on agriculture, rural development and land reform has raised concerns about the "minuscule budget" for biosecurity threats.
  • SA has four separate avian flu outbreaks active in the country.
  • SA lost its foot and mouth disease-free-zone status in 2019.
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A government programme set up to manage biosecurity threats – such as SA’s current avian flu outbreak – has a “minuscule” budget of just R3.3 million for the next year.

This is according to the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development’s 2021/2022 annual performance plan, presented to Parliament last week. The portfolio committee on agriculture, land reform and rural development released its report on the performance plan on Tuesday, raising concerns about the “minuscule” sum allocated to, amongst other things, helping SA combat the highly contagious avian flu and foot and mouth disease (FMD).

According to the annual performance plan, the department’s biosecurity sub-programme “provides measures relating to effective and efficient management of biosecurity threats relating to the agricultural sector”.

The annual performance plan acknowledges the importance of biosecurity for food security and economic growth.

And yet, just R3.3 million has been budgeted for “biosecurity” for the 2021/2022 year. This will increase to R3.6 million in 2022/2023, and to R4.1 million in 2023/2024.

SA's biosecurity programme has a
The biosecurity programme has a budget of just R3.3billion.

Biosecurity as a separate sub-programme at the department is a recent addition, as of this year. Previously, it was folded into other programmes within the department.

Separating biosecurity from other programmes as a standalone one was welcomed by the committee, which said this step would, “put more focus on effective and efficient management of biosecurity threats to the agricultural sector.”

But the lack of adequate funding for the biosecurity sub-programme was worrying, the committee said.

"The focus on biosecurity as a sub-programme was welcomed but there is a concern with the small budget allocation of R3.3 million..."

An outbreak of avian flu in the country was announced by the department on 13 April this year, when the disease was found at a commercial chicken farm in Gauteng. As Business Insider reported, a week later, avian flu was detected in at a farm in the North West.

According to the department’s annual performance plan, the outbreak could have started earlier. This specific strain, known as H5AI, was detected in ostriches in November 2020, according to the department. There are three other active avian flu outbreaks in the country, including the outbreak (of a different strain) that began in 2017; a separate strain detected in ostriches in July 2020, and a fourth strain also detected in ostriches, where the pathogenicity of the strain has not been determined.

In the same report, the department says FMD, which occurs in cloven-hoofed animals, has “devastating effects on farming communities and the entire country”. SA was regarded as an internationally accepted FMD-free zone, but it lost this status when three separate outbreaks occurred, starting in January 2019.

“None of these outbreaks have been resolved yet,” the annual report states.

“The minuscule allocation to the biosecurity sub-programme was noted with concern in light of the continuing FMD challenge and most recently, avian influenza. Both diseases have a negative impact on export revenue, sector employment and sustainability. Despite previous assurances from the Department to efficiently address the FMD outbreak to enable the country to regain its FMD-free zone without vaccination status from the World Organisation for Animal Health, the challenge remains,” said the portfolio committee this week.

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