DAVIS MULENGA, Lusaka
IT IS an undisputed fact that any average Zambian smallholder livestock farmer has inadequate resources to monitor, control and prevent livestock diseases outbreaks.
The wrenching story of Emmanuel Musole of Chikankata district in Southern Province typifies the huge challenges thousands of smallholder Zambian livestock farmers encounter in preventing and controlling cattle diseases.
“In 2013 I had about 16 heads of cattle. One morning I woke up and more than half of them had died from a mysterious disease,” Musole says.
It later transpired after an agriculture extension officer examined the carcasses that Musole’s herd of cattle was being ravaged by Foot and Mouth disease. Quick preventative measures recommended by the extension officer ensured that the remaining cattle survived.
Musole is not alone in this dilemma. Adding to the dilemma of livestock smallholder farmers are plethora of constraints. For example, vaccinations are not usually conducted at scheduled times due to lack of adequate resources. This increased the incidence and spread of diseases in livestock and, in turn, costs of combating the outbreaks also increased.
The number of dip tanks and other supporting infrastructure was also inadequate in most places to effectively service livestock farmers.
Determined to mitigate the livestock disease challenges, Musika, specialising in providing focused technical advice and market-driven solutions for farmers, had been helpful in working with Afrivet, a training company that develops material and methodologies needed to help farmers understand and manage livestock disease challenges.
The effort attracted the attention of University of Africa, a private open distance-learning tertiary institution that is reviewing its portfolio of programmes to include studies to address Africa’s most pressing problem of food production and related cattle disease management.
To create a different reality of effective and cost-efficient cattle disease management for smallholder farmers, the effort extended to Veterinary Network, a group of independently owned veterinary practices working to develop new standards in provision of planned livestock health and production services.
“The linchpin to the system is a user-friendly step by step diagnosis manual that equips livestock farmers, regardless of literacy levels, with the ability and invaluable skill to detect cattle diseases early and trigger veterinary response,” says project leader Dr. Danie Odendaal.
Dr Odendaal and his team are now rolling out training for smallholder farmers like Musole, equipping them with the invaluable skill to make accurate daily observations of cattle.
The training, underpinned by the easy-to-use manual, details logical and structured order of observations of ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ body systems of cattle.
“The need for veterinary support is only triggered when livestock owners observe signs of disease, and the training we are providing to them builds skills of early identification of cattle disease. This significantly allows for early detection and response capacity,” says Dr Odendaal.
According to Dr Odendaal, livestock farmers would be in a position to achieve low breakout and transmission rates by picking up first specific signs of common diseases. Among this are swelling of lymph glands, high stepping gait circling, lame and swollen legs.
“The challenge with some of the most deadly or damaging cattle diseases is that they can cause death or severe damage within 12 to 24 hours after the first signs are observed. In the absence of round-the-clock veterinary services in most parts of Zambia, this system addresses major weaknesses in livestock disease management,” Dr Odendaal says.
It is undisputed that despite the importance of the livestock industry to the development of the Zambian economy, the sector has continued to face many challenges among them is the frequent outbreaks of livestock diseases.
Livestock diseases have a devastating impact on productivity, trade in live animals, meat and other animal products. The negative consequences extend to human health and, consequently, economic development.
The detrimental impact of livestock diseases was evidenced in 2013 when the African swine fever broke out. Government spent more than K100 million to compensate farmers whose animals were slaughtered as a way of containing the disease.
It is against this backdrop the significance of the early warning system for cattle disease comes to bear on the US$1.5 billion livestock sector that accounted for nearly 35 percent of agriculture’s share of the national gross domestic product (GDP).
Further illustration of the importance of the system lies in the fact that the livestock sector contributes to food security through production of food stuffs such as beef and dairy products. It is also a big foreign exchange earner, provides employment and serves as a major agricultural input in form of manure.