Cape Town – A five-year construction delay and a R400m funding shortfall for a new foot and mouth disease (FMD) facility has dealt a blow to South Africa’s efforts against the potentially devastating livestock disease.
Agricultural Research Council CEO Dr Shadrack Moephuli told Fin24 that the construction of the new facility was due to be completed in 2015/2016 and that financial constraints have had a negative impact on the implementation of objectives.
“The latest estimated date of completion is 2019/2020, should the ARC be successful in sourcing the additional funding required to complete the project,” he said.
FMD is an infectious and sometimes fatal viral disease, which causes lesions on the mouth and feet of animals including cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and game.
Dr Misheck Mulumba, senior manager of research for animal health and protection at the ARC, told Fin24 that FMD was a “trade disease” and that an outbreak usually resulted in trade bans from other countries as well as severe economic losses.
In 2010, the ARC received R188m in funding from National Treasury to implement an FMD business plan.
The business plan had three objectives including the development of a production process based on “suspension cell culture technologies” optimised for the production of the Southern African Territories (SAT) type FMD viruses, the design of a vaccine factory to accommodate the production process, and the construction of the new factory.
By March 31 2015 R130m was still unspent as a result of the delay in the “process development and the design of the facility,” the ARC’s 2014/14 annual report stated.
According to Moephuli, the estimated cost of the facility based on the design was R550m “so ARC has a shortfall of R400m”.
“We cannot award a construction contract without funds or an assurance [that] government will pay,” he said.
In September, South Africa was on high alert after an outbreak of FMD in Zimbabwe and a southward migration of cattle due to drought in the region.
At around the same time the Mail & Guardian reported that Zimbabwe ran out of money to vaccinate its domestic animals to curb the disease.
Mulumba said Botswana was the only country in the SADC region with the capacity to produce and sell SAT vaccines to other countries in the region, including SA.
According to Mulumba, the delay in the development the FMD facility not only left SA livestock vulnerable, but also meant a loss of potential revenue from sales.
During the 2014/15 financial year the ARC experienced a 300% decrease in its net surplus (which includes external income) from R137m to R34m.