ZAMBIA loses a large number of cattle due to diseases. This is because a lot of smallholder livestock farmers do not vaccinate their animals. They may not realise a need to incur costs when their animals are looking normal and may not even know how the vaccines work to improve the animals’ health.
Of the estimated three (3) million head of cattle in Zambia, 80 percent are owned by smallholder farmers and rely on communal grazing. Communal cattle exhibit high mortality rate of up to 15 percent, slow growth and low reproduction efficiency as a result of failure to vaccinate them and protect them against diseases.
Nagging livestock diseases in Zambia that require animals to be vaccinated include contagious bovine pluera- pnuemonia (CBPP), East Coast Fever (ECF), also locally known as Denkete, foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and anthrax. Others are black leg, tuberculosis (TB) and botulism. Regular occurrence of certain cross-border diseases like CBPP, ECF and FMD can automatically deprive the entire nation of lucrative international markets and deprive the country of foreign exchange.
Vaccination is a method to prevent animal diseases and hence improve the efficiency of food utilisation by the livestock. Failure to vaccinate livestock may result in animals being vulnerable to disease outbreaks that may either kill them or lead to stunted growth and inefficient use of fodder, thereby reducing their marketability. Loss of cattle through diseases inevitably creates food insecurity and accelerates poverty levels among the rural farming communities. This is because rural communities in livestock rearing areas rely on livestock for income, transport, draught power and for food.
A vaccine provides immunity to the animal for a specific disease so that the animal may not catch the disease. Many vaccines contain weakened forms of diseases that force the body’s immune system to recognise the disease-causing microorganism as a threat and destroy it. Unlike antibiotics, most vaccines cannot be used to treat an animal once infected.
A herd is vaccinated to prevent the animals from contracting a particular viral or bacterial disease.
Antibiotics, on the other hand, are curative but are not effective against viral infections. Therefore vaccines are usually the most efficient way in which to prevent viral infection. Vaccinating animals during a disease outbreak will not immediately stop the spread of the disease as it takes 2-3 weeks for immunity to develop. Therefore an animal immunised during the disease incubation period can still contract the disease.
Vaccines need specialised knowledge and equipment to handle and administer and so farmers are often technically and financially challenged in the use of vaccines. For example, most vaccines need to be refrigerated before use and also need sterilised equipment for administration.
Economics of scale may not however allow a smallholder farmer to procure and vaccinate his few animals alone as vaccines are normally sold in units of multiple doses. To rationalise vaccination costs, smallholder farmers can do better to organise themselves in zones, pool resources together and hire veterinary services.
An opportunity therefore arises for private livestock companies to partner with the smallholder livestock sector in the provision of veterinary services. For example, Musika, a non-profit making company, has partnered with commercial veterinary companies in the provision of veterinary services, among other services, to the smallholder livestock farmers in Western and Southern provinces.
In order to protect the livestock industry, Government has a duty to enforce regular vaccination of animals through legislation and perhaps subsidise the cost of veterinary services to the smallholder farmers. The option is that the nation may panic and be forced to vaccinate livestock freely at a very high cost when there is a threat of livestock disease outbreak of economic importance.
Unvaccinated cattle are disease-prone and easily transmit diseases that can kill a lot of cattle within a short period of time. It is therefore prudent and cheaper to vaccinate and hence safeguard the health of cattle and enhance their marketability.