SPC facilitates international conference for animal doctors
Animal welfare, our duty of care to animals we raise, was one of the issues discussed at a forum of animal production and health specialists in Nadi, Fiji.
From Vanuatu, Livestock Director Lonny Bong and Senior Officer Nambo Moses along with Christopher Bartlett from SPC-GIZ presented at the conference. Bong, Moses and Bartlett highlighted the current state of livestock production and activities in Vanuatu and the ways that the sector is being impacted by and adapting to climate change. They presented the results of an adaptation project for pigs on Pele Island.
‘Animals feel pain, anxiety and discomfort in much the same way we do and it is proper for us to recognise and respect this in a meaningful way. It is now the norm in many developed countries that consumers insist that the animal products they consume are derived from farm systems that practise good animal welfare.’
These remarks were made by the President of the Republic of Fiji, His Excellency Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, in his opening address to more than 120 delegates attending the 15th Australasia/Oceania Commonwealth of Veterinarian Associations (CVA) Conference, being held this week (2 - 6 September 2013) at the Tanoa International Hotel, Nadi. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community Land Resources Division is facilitating the conference, which is being hosted by the Government of Fiji.
Animal welfare issues are the mandate of the World Society for the Protection of Animals. Other issues being raised at the week-long forum include increasing efficiency of animal production, soil erosion from cattle farms, meeting the increasing demand for animal protein, and training for veterinarians.
Ratu Nailatikau explained, ‘Raising livestock is integral to Pacific Island social and cultural systems and livestock feature prominently in many traditional ceremonies. The concentrations of livestock, in particular of pigs and poultry in some of our very small island countries, are amongst the highest in the world. They play a major part in the provision of food and in maintaining good nutrition and therefore human health, and also often equate with security.
‘Animals are important to us humans in many ways – not just as food. Precious endemic biodiversity, including animals of all types, shapes and sizes, are essential components of our natural ecosystems, which are in turn critical to our life here on earth.’
Animals are also valued for their companionship and security roles, and in special niche sectors such as horseracing, petting zoos and wildlife parks or reserves. All these provide increasing opportunities and benefits to more and more people.
The Pacific livestock sector is generally smallholder, with over 60% of households keeping livestock. People raise livestock mainly to meet socio-cultural obligations, with informal trading a prominent market feature. However, Pacific livestock do not generally receive priority in terms of policy and financial resource allocation. For this reason, some of the gains made elsewhere in livestock production technology, e.g. in nutrition, genetics and breeding, and disease control, have not been possible to fully access.
In his welcoming address, CVA President Dr S Abdul Rahman noted the critical role of veterinarians to positively influence the future health and welfare of all animals, including humans.
‘Veterinarians have a direct role in contributing to improving poor farmers’incomes and nutritional status, in particular by improving animal health, nutrition, reproduction and economics of production,’ he said.
Dr Rahman emphasised the important role women play in the raising and management of animals, which often goes unrecognised and unrewarded. There should be greater opportunity for women to obtain advice and hands-on training in livestock care and production.
‘As urban areas expand, now averaging 3% growth per year, there is closer proximity between human and livestock populations in many countries, thereby increasing the risk of transmission of zoonotic diseases. The role of veterinarians is becoming increasingly important to combat these diseases. Other areas, such as disaster management, environmental sustainability and continuous professional development, also need the attention of the veterinarian.’
Sharing of animal genetic resources strengthens collaboration amongst Pacific islanders to improve animal production. Former Fiji livestock specialist Mr Peter Manueli, who headed the breeding programme for Fiji Fantastic sheep, said that the sheep were bred specifically for tropical Pacific islands. Samoa and Tonga in recent years have both received breeding ewes and rams to establish their national sheep industries. Both nations now boast 700 sheep herds each, with proper management practices in place to increase herd numbers. Fiji, as of 2012, has a sheep stock of 12, 900 on 380 farms. Dr Leyden Baker, a retired quantitative geneticist, provided very valuable advice and guidance to farmers in the region who are thinking of introducing new breeds into their livestock populations, especially sheep flocks.
SPC Animal Production Specialist, Mr Nichol Nonga, gave a presentation on a project to evaluate indigenous genetic material of Pacific island pigs and poultry. The project has found significant diversity in animal genetic resources. Genetic material with origins in Asia accounted for two thirds of the pigs evaluated. Significantly, some places, e.g. Niue, have unique clusters of genetic material. The study of indigenous livestock breeds found no genetic influence of commercial chickens.
The notion that only commercial farms are efficient was dispelled in a presentation by the chairman of the Fiji Crop and Livestock Council, Mr Simon Cole, who said efficiency applies to all farms, not just big farms. Increased output can be achieved by increasing the efficiency of animal husbandry practices, rather then more farming, said Mr Cole. One of the practices is improving the mating process of pigs to realise a full litter at birth. Another is to introduce feed concentrates to cattle.
On Friday, the last day of the gathering the conference visited some prominent developments in northern Viti Levu such as Yaqara and Fiji Water. Delegates visited the Fiji Agriculture Show in Lautoka on Wednesday.