In a bid to revitalise the animal vaccine development and manufacturing in South Africa, which is crippled by insufficient funding and the lack of co-ordination between agricultural research institutions, the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) announced on Wednesday the establishment of the Tshwane Animal Health Cluster to improve services for livestock farming and agribusiness.
The initiative is a result of the outcry by livestock farmers and the value chain industry in South Africa that has been crippled by the country’s failure to prevent the spread of viral outbreaks that have lost the country billions of rands following the suspension of trade in sectors, such as beef, due to foot and mouth diseases, and ostrich meat, hides and feathers due to avian flu.
TIA CEO Simphiwe Duma said the South African health market, estimated at about R5bn, has also lost its niche due to perceptions that South Africa was no longer able as a country to research, develop and manufacture vaccines to cater for its market, let alone exporting the vaccines to international markets.
He said something had to be done and soon to improve the competitiveness of the local enterprises through co-operation to support their growth.
But most importantly, there was tremendous pressure to create an enabling environment for the local animal health industry to develop and commercialise safe, efficacious, affordable and accessible animal health products.
The key participating institutions of the cluster includes the Agriculture Research Council (ARC), National Research Foundation (NRF), University of Pretoria (UP), Ondersterpoort Biologics Product (OBP), and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
Mr Duma said all key members would bring different input and knowledge into the pool.
TIA was to provide funding and infrastructure for co-ordination and collaboration of participants, as well as the secretariat.
He said TIA would seek to facilitate the acceleration of commercialisation of animal health biotechnology products and facilitate transfer to industry, particularly products (vaccines) that would address diseases of strategic and economic importance.
Professor Gerry Swan said the challenge in South Africa was bigger than livestock diseases as all sectors, including fruits and vegetables farming, also needed attention.
"We have to compete out there, share our technology and catch up with the world. South Africa has no environment to do the sharing of technology and sharing of expertise."
He said international collaborations were also essential to learn from other strands of diseases that could transfer from animals to humans.
Therefore there was a need to stay updated with all kinds of diseases to be able to reduce the dangers of any transfer of animal illnesses to humans.
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.
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