Mystery disease affecting Eastern Cape livestock linked to climate change?

Changing weather patterns have caused new mystery diseases to crop up among livestock in Eastern Cape, causing lethargy, skin conditions, loss of appetite, and even death. Picture: Supplied

Changing weather patterns have caused new mystery diseases to crop up among livestock in Eastern Cape, causing lethargy, skin conditions, loss of appetite, and even death. Picture: Supplied

Published Feb 19, 2023


By Lindiwe Pakati

Heavy rainfalls and extreme heat have affected the Eastern Cape hard, causing damage to the agricultural and farming sectors, especially due to the instability of the weather.

Eastern Cape’s economy depends heavily on agriculture; according to data released by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD), the Eastern Cape hosts the largest percentage of the country’s livestock – 38% of its goats, 30% of its sheep and 25% of its cattle.

It is the most important province in wool and mohair production in that it produces more than 15 million kilograms of wool a year and more than half of the world’s mohair.

However, extreme weather conditions have badly affected farmers and livestock producers. As a result, some of their livestock are dying, and most are infected with infectious diseases. Farmers believe this virus is caused by these extreme weather conditions causing insects and bugs that can harm the livestock or be dangerous.

In an interview with RACR (Rural Action for Climate Resilience), a few farmers say that they have noticed a lumpy skin disease in their livestock.

The virus affects cattle and is transmitted by insects that feed on blood, such as flies, mosquitoes, and ticks. It causes fever and nodules on the skin and can lead to death.

Nzaliseko Fuzile from Zibhodla village in Mqanduli is a young farmer; he explains to RACR that climate change resulting in extreme weather conditions have caused a new virus which makes cows, sheep, and horses to experience swelling, begin limping, and to lose appetite.

“Doing my research, I found that this virus is not easy to cure, and some injections are not working; the only injection that seems to give relief is penicillin, and now it’s very scarce due to high demand.”

Zibhodla tells RACR that he believes this new virus is caused by too much rainfall and extreme heat conditions, preventing the grass from becoming healthy, and in some cases, decomposing bodies of animals are causing bacteria to bloom, causing disease.

“I plead with the government to assist all the communities that are affected by this virus so we can at the same time prevent the ones that are not yet infected.”

Zibhodla explains they are unable to isolate the infected cows or sheep, exposing healthy livestock to the risk of infection.

“We would truly appreciate it if the Department of Agrarian Reform would assist us by sending vets and medications or injections; seeing a lot of your livestock as a farmer die every day does hurt a lot.”

The farmers want the government and the department to intervene. They tell RACR that they cannot afford the necessary medications for this virus, and they also plead that the department goes to their communities to educate people in rural areas about these extreme weather conditions and viruses that attack livestock and help them find ways to prevent spreading any further threat to their livestock.

Weather expert Garth Sampson says heatwave conditions are more likely to persist, affecting poultry and other livestock.

“More naturally, chickens have died with load-shedding as the fans for breeding houses were off, and most livestock can only survive if they have sufficient water and shaded area.”

There is no doubt climate change is set to pose further risks to the lives of animals and humans, but for the farmers in Eastern Cape, the reality of climate change is far too tangibly felt.

* This story was produced through the Youth Citizen Journalism Fellowship, an initiative of the Rural Action for Climate Resilience project which is co-funded by the European Union and the Heinrich Boll Foundation.