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Smallpox threatens cattle sector in Homs

A cowshed in the countryside of Homs - 20 November 2019 (SANA)

A cowshed in the countryside of Homs - 20 November 2019 (SANA)

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The livestock sector in rural Homs is threatened by the outbreak of smallpox, which is leading to the death of cattle in the region as agricultural directorates ignore the requests of the breeders for aid.

On 5 December, the head of Department of Animal Health in the directorate of agriculture, Faleh Abdul Samad told al-Watan, a Syrian daily newspaper, that the epidemic, known as lumpy skin disease (LSD), started to spread three months ago, causing the death of 3,000 cattle.

Abdul Samad said that about 60,000 cattle are raised in the area of the Orontes River Basin, and about fifty percent of which was infected.  In order to protect the cattle against LSD, Sheep pox virus (SPPV) vaccines were used for all cattle in the area due to the great similarity (about ninety eight percent) between the sheep-pox strains and the strain that causes LSD in cattle.

Animal breeding, especially cattle, is the main source of income for many residents in northern and western countryside of Homs, as animal breeding generates an acceptable income and provides the required essentials— pastures, fodder, and a market to sell products.

This pandemic causes tremendous economic loss, including losses in production of meat and milk. Moreover, the smallpox leads to a significant decrease in the body weight of the infected cattle and their milk supply as well as it contributes to abortion and pregnancy losses.

People’s trend to raise livestock

Livestock became more popular after 2011 because a large number of employees in the region were dismissed from government institutions and lost their source of income.

Moreover, the support provided by the non-profit organizations, during the opposition’s control of the areas which lasted until May 2018, had a great impact in consolidating the work in the livestock sector. In fact, the non-profit organizations used to provide people with fodder, cattle, semi-free medical services and constant care for livestock, especially cows.

Smallpox driving cattle breeders to sell their cattle

Despite the gravity of the situation in the livestock sector, the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform did not support livestock breeders, pushing them to go to private vet clinics.

Khaled, a veterinarian from the Hula region, told Enab Baladi that the smallpox virus is seriously threatening the cattle, especially in the area of Tel al-Shour. The smallpox- infection rate has reached more than 70 percent, and a large number of cows died.

The veterinarian explained that LSD – Smallpox is a viral cattle disease that is transmitted through mosquitoes. He stressed that failure to give the necessary vaccines on time by the agricultural extension services exacerbated the situation and turned it into an epidemic that ravaged cattle herds.

Abu al-Abd owns a cattle herd in the village of Granada in Homs countryside. Unfortunately, one of the cattle was infected with smallpox. Despite the vet’s follow-up of the cow, the cow died because of the disease, which forced him to sell the rest of his cattle herds to the butchers fearing that the disease might infect the rest of his cattle.

“The disease suddenly appeared, and we did not know that the situation would go this far” Abu al-Abd added, speaking about his loss of his only source of livelihood.

Many breeders were forced to sell their cattle, as did “Abu al-Abd, for fear of infection and the absence of real efforts to seriously combat the epidemic.

Nasser, a cattle breeder in the countryside of Homs, was forced to sell his cattle after one of his neighbor’s cattle died because of smallpox.

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