A message from Prof. Ahmed El-Sawalhy, Director, African Union – Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources.
Wildlife is an important resource in Africa, contributing to ecosystem goods and services, food security, sustainable livelihoods, ecotourism, resilience, and economic growth. The African Union, concerned by the unsustainable use of African wild fauna and flora, has developed the African Strategy on Combating Illegal Exploitation and Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora [ASCIE&ITW&F Strategy] in Africa. As clearly stated in the Strategy, the livelihoods and socio-economic development of communities in both rural and urban areas depend heavily, especially in the Rain forests, on the use of wildlife, thus the loss of African wildlife directly or indirectly affects the livelihoods of African people. Additionally, the illegal trade in Africa’s natural resources deprives the continent of revenues, hindering economic growth.
The vast and rapid changes to our landscapes, food production practices, and other large-scale environmental changes have resulted not only in impacts on wildlife biodiversity and ecological dynamics but also have demonstrated profound implications for human health. Changes in climatic conditions, shifting pathogen host ranges, altered interactions with natural environments to meet the demands of Africa’s growing population and other environmental changes are driving increased disease incidence and burden for endemic and emerging zoonotic diseases, as well as non-communicable diseases. The close relationship between biodiversity and emerging diseases has been demonstrated over the years through diseases such as pandemic influenzas, Nipah, SARS, Ebola and currently the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ongoing pandemic has been reported to have originated from wild animal trade in China, with the pathogen suspected to have originated from bats and passed to humans through pangolins. Numerous pangolins are shipped out of Africa annually, through trade. Wildlife trade means taking and selling dead or living plants and animals and the products derived from them. Some of these are legal. But much of it is not; the U.S. State Department estimates that wildlife trafficking is the third-largest type of illegal trade, after drugs and weapons. Animals such as the African grey parrots and the Rock Python may be wanted as pets. Meat from wild animals may be in demand as a delicacy. Through trade, this meat is distributed beyond the hunters and their families, which places millions of people at the risk of the diseases as meat veterinary controls are not implementable along the chain as it is in slaughterhouses for domestic animals. Many animals from protected species are killed for meat and most of the hunters are poachers and therefore are avoiding all types of control. Animal skins and hides may be sought for rugs or as leather for handbags or shoes. Animals and their products may also hold medicinal properties that can be exploited for the benefit of human beings and used as status symbols or decor. Plants, including wood from trees that are already excessively logged, are in demand for furniture or ornamental or medicinal purposes. Indeed, one of the objectives of the ASCIE&ITW&F Strategy is to promote the participatory approach with economic development and community livelihoods through sustainable use of wild fauna and flora. Wildlife trade is big business, with wild plants, animals, and products made from them sold around the globe, legally and illegally. Illegal trade can lead to excessive extraction, and therefore this kind of trade is unsustainable. The economic impacts of emerging diseases are high, running into hundreds of billions of dollars, and they are linked to underlying threats to wildlife conservation and other drivers of disease emergence such as demography and changing climatic patterns.
Achieving the African dream of an integrated and prosperous Africa necessitates adopting an integrated One Health [Public, Animal and Environmental Health] approach to the management of diseases and leveraging on the health impacts in order to mitigate the underlying threats to biodiversity and stable ecosystems. This requires effective implementation of wildlife and ecosystem health functions among the African Union Member States. It is noteworthy that in the ASCIE&ITW&F Strategy, Africa commits itself to promote compliance, by African Member States, with international treaties that are developed to promote the protection of wild fauna and flora. Currently, out of the tragic experience from the COVID-19 Pandemic, international organizations such as the WHO and Civil Society Organizations, are calling for drastic measures to prevent future pandemics, which may arise from unsuitable contact or use of wild animals. Indeed, some of these organizations are calling for an end to wildlife trade altogether, out of fearing future pandemics and catastrophic destruction of ecosystems.
In commemoration of the 2nd World Food Safety Day (WFSD), the African Union Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) and the FAO/WHO Coordinating Committee for Africa (CCAFRICA) organized an online meeting on 5th June 2020 to raise awareness on food safety. The meeting was held under the theme “COVID-19 Pandemic and Food Safety – Building resilient national food control systems for consumer protection and safe trade”. The objective of the online meeting was to provide a platform for Competent Authorities in Africa responsible for food control to share information on impact, challenges, lessons in food control as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and Identify best practices and mitigation measures for operating resilient national food control systems. The meeting was attended by 86 participants from 30 African countries, 2 RECs (ECOWAS and COMESA), AU-IBAR and African Development Bank. Prof. Ahmed Elswalhy, Director AU-IBAR opened the meeting, Dr. Kimutai Maritim, CCAFRICA Coordinator also addressed participants.
WE the Member States of African Union, Regional Economic Communities, Development Partners, Food Producers, Processors and Marketers and Consumers;
RECALLING the momentum created from the previous WFSD celebrations, and desirous to collaborate in unison to focus efforts on reaching state and non-state actors as well as those directly involved in food systems on the continent in order to raise the profile of food safety at all levels;
TAKING COGNIZANCE that unsafe food poses a significant threat to human health and well-being and can hamper agricultural transformation, market integration, and economic development;
RECOGNIZING that foodborne diseases make 91 million people ill and cause 137,000 premature deaths annually and that this translates into productivity losses of US$95 billion a year in developing countries alone;
AU-IBAR convened an Online Consultative Meeting on the Impact of COVID-19 on the Animal Resources Sector in Africa and Identification of Mitigation Measures on 21st May, 2020. In attendance were 150 participants from 50 countries (of which 47 were African Union Member States (MS)), 5 Regional Economic Communities (RECs), Representatives of specialized regional institutions in animal resources (including livestock, fisheries and aquaculture), Representatives of the European Union (EU), African Development
Bank (AfDB), Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); Representatives of Continental and Regional Agribusiness Associations and animal resources value chain actors, Representatives of other AUC technical agencies (AU-PANVAC, AU-PATTEC and Africa CDC), AU-IBAR staff and Consultants.
Opening remarks were made by
- The Director of AU-IBAR Prof. Ahmed Elsawalhy who detailed the mandate and achievements of AU-IBAR since its inception in 1951 in animal resources development in Africa. He particularly cited the critical role AU-IBAR has played, in convening and organizing stakeholders, resource mobilization, building institutions and strategic partnerships, human resource development and technical backstopping, for more coordinated and effective response to some of the biggest challenges the continent’s animal resources sector has faced in the past including epidemics.
- The Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Republic of South Africa who is the current Chair of the African Union Specialized Technical Committee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Water and Environment, Her Excellency (H.E) Ms Angela Thoko Didiza, made reference to the Declaration on Food Security and Nutrition passed at the AU Ministers of Agriculture virtual meeting convened on 16 April 2020. In it the Ministers urged MSs and stakeholders to better expound on the ramifications of COVID-19 and articulate coordinated mechanisms for bringing it under control at all levels.
- The African Union Commission (AUC) Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture H.E. Ambassador Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko commended AU-IBAR for leadership in convening the Meeting. Highlighting the unprecedented loss of jobs that could plunge millions of Africans back into extreme poverty, and the possibility that African could for the first time experience a recession, she reiterated the importance of the agriculture sector for addressing the impacts of COVID-19. This calls for an understanding of the socio-economic impacts and implementation of appropriate mitigation measures in the agricultural sector on which most of Africa’s economies are dependent. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which represents the single biggest market globally, rationalizes a continental approach. Ambassador Sacko emphasized the AUC commitment to implement continental actions and called upon partners to provide support to ensure food systems are resilient to prevent a food security crisis. She called for solidarity and coordination as no single country can address the crisis alone.