Rewilding the Anthropocene

Work Package 7

The Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) Assemblage

Work Package 7

The Foot-and-Mouth (FMD) Assemblage

In the recent history, foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) has emerged as one of the most economically important transboundary animal diseases. Affecting mainly farmers from the Global South, international trade in beef is strictly regulated through standards for disease control that are dictated by the Global North, whom only allow beef to be imported from countries or zones considered free of FMD. In Southern Africa, these standards are particularly problematic due to the widespread presence of buffalo, which are considered the maintenance host of the FMD virus SAT serotypes, and can transmit the disease to susceptible cattle and many other cloven-hooved animals. While veterinary cordon fences have been erected to separate buffaloes and livestock, only part of the country has consequently enjoyed FMD-free status and been provided subsequent access to premium markets. For farmers living in areas close to wildlife areas populated by buffaloes, market access remains restricted, resulting in a situation is that is highly inequitable.

From an environmental perspective, the situation is no less problematic. While the veterinary cordon fences have effectively blocked the movement of the virus, buffalo and cattle, it has done so too for wildlife species beyond buffalo. As the fences intersect wildlife migratory routes and dispersal areas, they have resulted in mass mortality events by cutting off the way to water and/or forage, as well as having negative effects in the form of habitat fragmentation and increased poaching. With the establishment of the KAZA TFCA, which aims to connect conservation areas and re-establish wildlife migration routes and movement, these negative effects of the veterinary cordon fences received renewed attention, and are identified as one of the main challenges for realizing KAZA’s vision.

Widely regarded as panacea, an alternative approach to disease risk management, based on the concept of commodity-based trade (CBT), has been proposed by scientists and KAZA proponents alike. This approach is based on risk management along the value chain (from farming to processing) instead of relying on the total separation of buffalo and livestock, and would allow farmers outside FMD-free zones or countries to access premium markets, as well as facilitate the removal and/or realignment of veterinary cordon fences. Policy discussions and projects piloting cattle rearing and processing in compliance with CBT standards are now well on their way in the region.  

This work package will study the roles of conservation and animal health interventions in the emergence of CBT and the production of the KAZA landscape more widely. Focussing on the institutions that play a role in these developments, and their interactions with their subjects, the study will connect the historical conditions of CBT’s emergence to visions of its future, and engage the challenges that exist in the present. This work package will address the following key questions: 

1. How has the scientific understanding of buffalo as maintenance host of the FMD virus emerged, and how has this impacted disease control efforts?

2. How have multispecies relations (particularly cattle husbandry) been impacted by FMD and disease control efforts?

3. How have conservationists and the emergence of the KAZA TFCA challenged FMD control measures?

4. How does CBT transform multispecies relations and visions of the future?

The research will draw from ten months of ethnographic fieldwork and archival research in Botswana, engaging with policy-makers, scientists, NGOs, veterinarians and farmers. A substantial time period will be spent in Habu, a small village at the edge of Botswana’s Okavango Delta, to produce an ethnographic account of the experiences of people confronted in their daily lives with FMD, disease control measures and CBT developments. 

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