Barbados, like the rest of the region, has been placed in a state of readiness, following the confirmation of the African Swine Fever in the Dominican Republic last month.
And, while the disease is not presently in the island nor poses a threat to public health or animals other than pigs, Government has activated its machinery to prevent its entry and or to mitigate its impact.
Plans to ensure that the country is in a state of readiness were approved by Cabinet, following an emergency meeting on Monday, and confirmed by Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Indar Weir, during a virtual press briefing this morning, from Ilaro Court.
He was supported by Senior Veterinary Officer in the Ministry, Dr. Mark Trotman; Chief Agricultural Officer in the Ministry, Keely Holder, and acting Chief Economist, Robert Saul.
Mr. Weir outlined that the preparedness measures for Barbados include the formation of a Technical Committee on Emergency Agricultural Diseases, which was established within the Ministry.
The technical committee will comprise officials from the Ministry of Health and Wellness; the Ministry of Public Works and Water Resources; the Office of the Attorney General; the Ministry of Tourism and International Transport; the Ministry of Environment and National Beautification; the Ministry of Home Affairs, Information, and Public Affairs, and representatives from the Royal Barbados Police force.
“That committee is going to be working all around the clock to make sure that we get all of this work in, and then we will continue our surveillance presence at the airport where we will have people on standby, just in case we have to do a drill down on passengers when they arrive and are carrying items that they should not be carrying, or equally have been on a farm prior to arriving in Barbados seven days out,” Mr. Weir said.
He explained that the standing committee would address matters relating to laboratory equipment to ensure that there was enough equipment to carry out the tests. In addition, the human resource capacity at the Veterinary Services Department would be increased to assist with the execution of field and laboratory work.
Other preventative and mitigation measures outlined by the Minister include increasing biosecurity measures and implementing changes to Barbados’ immigration cards to allow people to indicate whether or not they were on a farm seven days before arrival in the country.
The Agriculture Minister stated that while there was some disruption to the island’s economic sectors, particularly tourism, as a result of COVID-19, the agricultural sector remained stable and showed signs of growth.
But, he warned, nothing was guaranteed and nothing is forever, and the sector also faced pressure from various events, such as the effects of climate change, droughts, floods and the rising costs of feed and water.
He cautioned that an outbreak of African Swine Fever on the island could be severe, as it could wipe out the entire pork industry, particularly among those involved in backyard farming, and place significant pressure on Government.
Mr. Weir stressed that farmers need to ensure that they carried out appropriate farming practices, and noted that a public education programme was already under way through the Ministry of Home Affairs, Information and Public Affairs.
“We are certainly increasing our information at the airport, which is the main port of entry, as well as the seaport, so you will see signs when you enter the airport, or the sea port, giving information about the African Swine Fever and what you should or should not do,” he said.