In India, livestock sector losses from foot-and-mouth disease alone are estimated at around US$4.5 billion a year, according to the ADB. And since 2007, Bangladesh’s poultry industry has suffered losses from avian flu amounting to US$500 million, according to the bank.
Under the initiative, the Japan fund will finance the establishment of a regional epidemiology centre in the Nepali capital Kathmandu to issue regular information on regional and national animal health issues.
Also, a coordination unit will be established in Nepal to manage regional animal health programmes. Its functions, ADB officials said, will be supported by laboratories in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.
A web-based regional information system will be installed to issue regular animal health reports and public and private sector agencies will receive support to expand their expertise in disease diagnosis, surveillance, reporting and the investigation of disease outbreaks.
"The focus of the technical assistance is on establishing a framework for improved regional cooperation among south Asian countries in combating trans-boundary animal diseases," explained Rezaul Khan, a senior natural resources and agriculture economist with the ADB’s south Asia department.
"Farm animals are an essential source of food and income, and are farmers’ only insurance against things like crop failure and medical expenses," he added. "Stronger regional measures to monitor, prevent, and control disease outbreaks will help lift rural earnings, boost food security, and make it safer to trade livestock and livestock products across borders." Livestock accounts for almost a third of south Asia’s agricultural GDP, according to bank estimates. However, its specialists have been alarmed by the spread of animal diseases within and between south Asian countries, fuelled by a large informal trade in livestock and livestock products.
In Dhaka, Dr Mohammad Rafiqul Islam, a director of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) regional leading diagnostic laboratory, agreed, noting if south Asian countries coordinated their efforts, they could impede the spread of livestock diseases, while improving sanitary standards. "We’ve a cutting edge laboratory. We can share our expertise and experience with other countries in the region," he told GlobalMeatNews.
Khan added that as a key SAARC member, Bangladesh would also "benefit immensely from the technical assistance as the country is often seriously affected by animal diseases."
Each year, tens of thousands of cattle population in the country die or lose productivity after suffering from foot-and-mouth disease, said Dr Mohammad Nazrul Islam, director general of state-backed Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute (BLRI).
"This is a trans-boundary disease. We’re working on preventive measures," he told GlobalMeatNews.
Dr Munzur Murshid Khan, secretary general of Bangladesh Poultry Industries Association, welcomed the initiative, saying it will help check further outbreak of avian flu.
If implemented properly, "This will be beneficial to 60,000 to 70,000 poultry farms around the country," he told GlobalMeatNews.
The meat and livestock sector accounts for 17% of Bangladesh’s agricultural GDP. Under current Bangladesh growth plans, there should be annual demand for 7.5 million tonnes of meat by 2021.
A key goal of the two-year programme is to ensure south Asian countries comply with international sanitary and phytosanitary standards by 2016.
While the target appears to be ambitious, the ADB said in a project document made available to GlobalMeatNews: "Global experience shows that combating trans-boundary diseases requires regional initiatives rather than independent actions by each country. No single country will be able to control these high-impact TADs [trans-boundary animal diseases] effectively through isolated efforts."