The crisis that was comingLumpy skin was sure to be a transboundary epidemic, and yet all the government did was watch.
The new fiscal year is about to start, signs are that it will be a bad one for farmers across the country. And no, El Niño—an irregular climate pattern that has already disturbed the monsoon rainfall—is not the only culprit. Nepal’s farmers have been facing an epidemic for the past four months as the deadly lumpy skin disease has affected their cattle. The disease has afflicted around 765,000 animals, of which 27,000 have died, and over 244,200 animals are currently actively infected. Not only has the disease put immense stress on dairy farmers, but it has also hit agricultural farmers, with their oxen killed at the peak of the paddy plantation season.
Officials say the loss of the dairy and animal husbandry industry will cross Rs37.5 billion and could grow manifold in the coming months if the epidemic is not checked on time. While the government claims to be working to check the virus transmission in coordination with provincial and local levels, its efforts are inadequate. Dairy and livestock farmers nationwide complain that they do not get enough technical support and compensation from the government, even as they suffer significant financial losses and logistical failures due to the loss of their cattle. The Department of Livestock Services, in a statement published a couple of weeks ago, said it had allocated a grant of Rs100,000 for each local level to deal with the epidemic. It also reportedly set aside budgets to appoint doctors at 161 local levels and technicians at all local levels. Even these inadequate commitments have come without a solid implementation plan.
When it comes to financially supporting the farmers directly, the government has a stock answer: You will get the insurance if you have your cattle insured. At a time when millions of farmers across the country have yet to access convenient insurance policies, it is unjust to ask them to fend for themselves for lack of insurance.
Authorities have said they are vaccinating the cattle, but this was a failed plan from the start. Having witnessed the epidemic sweep India last year, they should have worked proactively and vaccinated the cattle. After all, cattle trade forms the bedrock of the dairy and livestock business between the two countries, and the epidemic was sure to turn into a transboundary viral crisis, as was the case with the Covid-19 pandemic not so long ago.
There is yet another issue the authorities seem to have neglected: The potential spread of misinformation on social media, as was the case in India, concerning the impact of the disease on the milk produced. Social media was abuzz in India with false claims that milk from the cattle suffering from lumpy disease was inedible. The truth, however, is that lumpy skin is not a zoonotic disease, meaning that it does not transmit from animals to humans. It takes just one miscreant on social media to spread misinformation and thus build a climate of fear among consumers and stress among farmers. The government should work proactively and send out the right information beforehand so that the people are not misled.