Stakeholders meet to address BTEC issues

May 18, 2023

The Ministry of Agriculture and Waterways organised a two-day Brucellosis Tuberculosis Eradication forum to bring together stakeholders including dairy farmers to discuss the success and failures of the Brucellosis Tuberculosis Eradication Campaign (BTEC) program, and to plan a strategy for its improvement.

The Minister for Agriculture and Waterways, Hon. Vatimi Rayalu while addressing the ministry staff and stakeholders during the third BTEC Forum held at the Pacific Community’s Pasifika Conference Room in Nabua stated that bovine Brucellosis and bovine Tuberculosis (TB) have been a problem on Fiji’s cattle farms since 1970s.

“As a result, the Ministry of Agriculture established the BTEC program in the early 1980s and by the late 1990s we thought we had a tighter control of the disease,” said Hon. Rayalu.

However, in 2009, a remarkable increase in the number of bovine brucellosis cases was discovered in the central division. The ministry along with the stakeholders, implemented a comprehensive testing and culling program in order to manage the disease.

“With the continued collaborative efforts of the BTEC program and that of the whole cattle industry, the incidence level of TB has reduced significantly,” said Hon. Rayalu.

The first-ever BTEC forum took place in Fiji in May 2017, which brought various stakeholders together to discuss the BTEC program and the way forward for Fiji.

This forum gave the industry stakeholders a platform to discuss challenges as well as identify gaps in the ongoing eradication efforts.

He said that another element of the forum was to share experiences with international experts working on comparable programs abroad in order to stay current on contemporary eradication techniques, learn about diagnostic options, and develop a plan for the BTEC program in Fiji's future.

“One of the milestones of the initial forum was the development of Fiji's first BTEC strategy and Work plan. The second forum was held in November 2019, which now guides the implementation of the BTEC program in Fiji.”

The Fijian government has been providing more than $2 million annually in its efforts to combat this disease.

“In a long-term effort to maintain and develop TB-free farms, the government through the Ministry of Agriculture has contagiously allocated an additional annual budget for farm rehabilitation. This includes upgrades to infrastructure including fencing, stockyards, and calf rearing facilities,” he said.

In 2018, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fiji Meat Industry Board signed a TB reactor Compensation Memorandum of Understanding. This simplified the rate of compensation, whilst it also facilitated the quicker removal of TB reactors from farms and faster payment of compensation to farmers.

“The Ministry of Agriculture has been significantly investing in its capacity and capability. We have been working with our development partners in building the capacity of our testers and at the same time improve our testing facilities.”

Since 2014, the ministry has also increased the number of technicians involved in the program.  The Ministry targets to test 40,000 cattle for TB and 20,000 cattle for Brucellosis annually.

“A BTEC database called Bovibase has been developed to keep track of individual farm's disease status and other production statistics such as milk production and meat works.”

Apart from testing, the Ministry continues to advocate the efforts and ultimate objectives of the BTEC program.

“We continue to partner with the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji, Fiji Cooperative Dairy Company Limited (FCDCL) and institutions such as Fiji National University (FNU) to organise education and awareness sessions on the BTEC program for farmers, communities, and villages,” said the Minister.

Hon. Rayalu encouraged the participants to have constructive discussions and some tangible outcomes that will improve the BTEC program and benefit the whole livestock sector as well as the economy.