Hi! My name is Adrien Nahayo, and I have been volunteering as a field veterinary adviser with the support of VWB and by Mr. Ponciano L Edouard, Mr. Kelvin, and Mr. Noel at local partner Africa Bridge in the Rungwe district of Tanzania. I have been working to build capacities of the farmers and Africa Bridge staff by providing training sessions focused on animal feeding, diseases control, and farm management.
I visited the villages of Kambasegela and Kisondela wards and held discussions with farmers and paravets working with Africa Bridge to assess and identify the skillsets of community members. Through these discussions I was also able to identify knowledge areas and skills training I could lead to improve the productivity of their chicken and cows. To build capacities of the poultry farmers, the seminars were delivered in Kisondela wards, village of Bugoba and Lutete. Under this building capacity we managed to discuss and lead training sessions the following;
Basic chicken feeding
Adults chicken nutrition
Laying hen and chicks nutrition
Chicks and eggs management
Common poultry diseases control
Farm record keeping
The attendance record was impressive. In total 140 farmers; 69 from Bugoba and 71 from Lutete village. The were more women than men at these training sessions, which was great to see. In total, 41 women in Bugoba and 33 women in Lutete village attended with men present were 28 and 38 respectively.
A key topic discussed was poultry health, and ways to detect animal illnesses. I was able to provide a seminars on poultry health and provide key ways to identify diseased poultry versus healthy poultry to farmers. A central issue was nutrition, which is linked to animal health. Leading session on nutrition, a nutritious recipe for poultry feed was provided. Additionally, a calendar for vaccination schedules and a template for farm records was provided alongside training sessions to assist farmers in best animal health practices. Before giving these documents to the farmers, they were also translated in Swahili by Africa Bridge.
At the end of training sessions on animal feed and nutrition, the farmers were convinced that there is enough animal food resources in their regions, which was great to hear. They were also keen and committed to keep farm records to better manage animal health moving forward.
I look forward to the rest of my time here in Tukuyu with Africa Bridge and VWB to support local farmers and increase local capacity on animal health.
Well, here I sit again in Tamale, Ghana, one of my most favorite places on earth. The start of many more memories and work in advancing animal agriculture with the wonderful people of the Eastern Corridor. One remarkable thing about returning to a place you love is to return to the same sights, sounds and smells, where it seems nothing has changed but continued on in your absence. And welcoming you warmly, like the touch of the suns strong rays, back into the day to day bustle of life in Tamale.
It’s been a busy month since I arrived in Accra the middle of January. I had my share of troublesome days with missed connections, lost luggage and computer problems but the good memories will far out weigh the bad. In the days since I arrived I have reconnected with friends from across the world who have embraced me back with open arms. The staff at Send- Ghana, as always, have been there for me to help in anyway they can and ensure that I am settling right back in at home. The temperature adjustment was much harder this time, as when I left my home town it was nearly -20°C and a major snow storm had met us just the night my departure. Stepping off the plane in Accra felt like I had been slapped in the face with a wall of intense heat. But as usual our bodies tend to adjust and now the 35-40 °C weather feels somewhat normal again.
Earlier this month, Dr. Joseph Danquah, another VWB volunteer, and I were invited to speak to two women’s groups in Wulensi who raise poultry together as a group effort. We spoke to both groups on aspects of animal rearing, in particular, I spoke about poultry nutrition, proper feeding supplementation. Up until now these women had been apart of a project put on by another organization and had received funding for the construction of their barns, purchasing of animals as well as provided with a commercially formulated feed. We hope that through our discussions regarding bio security measures, proper animal husbandry from Dr. Danquah and feeding requirements on my part; when the funding ends, the women can continue to successfully raise their poultry with feeds that are formulated on farm rather then the expensive commercial feeds that will no longer be provided.
We also had the opportunity to return to villages that we had visited last year to see what progress they have made in terms of animal production. This was one of the most rewarding visits I ever had. The community members were so elated to see me return and proud to show the changes that they had made in terms of rearing their animals. This really portrayed how well the knowledge that we have transferred has produced a viable change to these community members lives. I look forward to getting back into the field next week to complete more sensitization sessions, focusing on proper animal nutrition and health management. Keep following the VWB blog link for more updates from Tamale!
Farmers in Meru, Kenya are eager to improve the milk production of their cows. For the past three weeks, our group of volunteers with Vets without Borders (VWB), in partnership with the Meru Central Dairy Union, have been working to meet this goal, through education.
There are three of us here: Dr. Aleta Schmah, a veterinarian with nine years of experience; Cydney Smith, with a background in dairy farming, testing milk, and advising farmers on how to improve production; and Fiona Emdin, a third-year student of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Sydney. Here in Meru, The Meru Central Dairy Union acts as the central organization for over 40 smaller co-operatives. The union regulates milk collection and milk distribution centers and provides resources to smaller cooperatives. One such resource is the co-operative and Meru Central Dairy Union extension officers, trained individuals with a deeper knowledge of dairy farming who answer questions and provide direction to farmers about crop management, silage production, mastitis prevention, and animal welfare topics.
One of VWB’s main directives while we are in Meru is to provide additional training to extension officers. This ensures sustainability of the VWB programs in this area. After discussions with extension officers and other Meru Dairy employees, a number of topics have been identified as important for further education. We held a training session with extension officers on Feburary 1st, under the direction of Dr. Schmah, covering identification of mastitis using the California Mastitis Test (CMT), mastitis management and treatment, and how to effectively educate farmers on the reproductive cycling of their cows.
Another of VWB’s mandates while in Meru is to continue to educate farmers directly. Currently, there are only 22 extension officers for over 40 co-operatives in the Meru Central Dairy Union. Despite the hard work of these extension officers, it has been difficult for them to provide education and direction to all farms because of the rapidly increasing number of dairy farmers in the region. We will be conducting sixteen seminars over the course of our three weeks here, in partnership with four smaller co-operatives. A number of seminar topics have been identified as important by previous VWB groups in Kenya. These include: cow nutrition, cow housing, mastitis management and prevention, cow reproduction, and calf care.
We try to tailor our seminars for each area, visiting two or three typical farms to determine what issues are most important to farmers in the area. This also allows us to speak to farmers about some of the more common diseases and issues they face and what common forages they use. With each seminar, we also aim to have at least half of the attendees be women, to help educate and strengthen the position of women who participate in household dairy management. Our seminars, thus far, have been very well received.
Mastitis is one of the issues faced by dairy farmers both in Canada and here in Kenya. To help address this issue, after each seminar we demonstrate how to use the California Mastitis Test (CMT) to identify subclinical mastitis. The CMT is a simple locally available test done on farm with a small sample of milk to look for inflammatory cells. If farmers are interested in testing their cows, we advise them they can contact their extension officers for this service. When demonstrating the CMT, we often identify low-grade subclinical mastitis in tested cows. Farmers are frequently extremely surprised to learn that their cow has subclinical mastitis. Subclinical mastitis presents with no visual changes to the milk and the cow appears healthy, however these low grade infections will reduce milk quality and decrease milk production in the long run. This knowledge motivates them, and the other farmers observing, to take the recommended preventative steps against mastitis outlined in the seminars.
Through our work educating farmers and extension officers we hope to sustainably improve both the livelihoods of smallholder dairy farmers through increased milk production, and the welfare and health of their animals through simple changes in management.
Our work is part of a multi-year partnership with the Meru Central Dairy Union, and funding for this work has been provided by Global Affairs Canada.
Hello Everyone, my name is Hamda Mohamed and this is my first blog post! This is long overdue, so let’s start from the beginning. I arrived in Mbarara, Uganda on July 2nd. Before reaching Mbarara, there is a couple of hours drive from Entebbe to Mbarara. After arriving in Mbarara, I met my advisor Annet, who helped me get settled in to my new surroundings. She made me feel very comfortable right away, and she invited me into her home and cooked lunch for Chris (another volunteer) and I. She was (and still is) a great local advisor and very welcoming.
I began my placement with local partners SNV and their partner, Agriterra shortly after arriving. Once my workplan was approved and the community members had been introduced to me, I could begin the implementation of my workplan. This included travelling to villages daily. Some villages were only a 20 minute drive while others would take several hours to reach.
While in the villages, I found wearing dresses provided me with better approval within the community compared to when I wore jeans. The way you present yourself absolutely impacts how well you fit into the community, and whether or not they will internalize and listen to what you are saying. Traditionally woman in the villages do not wear pants, which are Western. Therefore, the fact that I look like a local and dress within their appropriate attire makes trust and capacity building much easier.
During one village visit to Sanga, I held meetings with seven women leaders in their community. Within this group three woman owned their own yogurt business; there were also several female board members of the Sanga dairy co-operative present. The discussions focused on strategies for gender and youth sensitization, mobilization, and inclusion within the dairy value chain. Dairy and the dairy value chain is a central source of income for many communities here, so it is important to include women and youth who are typically excluded from income opportunities.
Local issues with the dairy value chain were discussed. One issues the women involved in yogurt production explained was a lack of support for market integration. Specifically, due to localization and lacking supports for transport and marketing of their product they experience barriers for growth. Many of these women have low income and cannot afford to implement the steps needed to market their yogurt. For example, selling yogurt in bottles is inexpensive compared to containers. However, people in the community prefer to buy yogurts in containers which results in a struggle to financially ‘break-even’ for these groups. On the other hand, it was also made apparent that these three yogurt groups were competitively vying for a market in one small area. Through our meetings we decided to take all three yogurt groups and make one united group, titled “Sanga’s Women Group.” Forming one collective group united these entrepreneurs and made it easier to implement marketing strategies and pooled funds. Sanga’s Women Group is collaborating with a local business ‘ Yoba For Life’ to assist them with marketing strategies.
These female leaders are keen to acts as ‘agents of change’ to help mobilize other woman in different areas in a similar way. They proposed the idea of travelling to field with me and advocating for the opportunity of financial empowerment as a role model group. These women had explained that extensive sensitization is required from community leaders as well. One female board member explained to me that I should rally all the female board members and ask them to join me in my youth and gender discussions. If the board members were to travel to different areas to advocate on the importance of decision-making power that is present within cooperatives, it would produce a stronger effect within these vulnerable groups because they would see the evidence for themselves.
Additionally, one female leader advised me to get church leaders involved, in collaboration with female board members. She explained that the support of pastors and husbands, would produce a domino effect of sensitizing the women as well because there would be a system of acceptance that would be felt holistically, in every aspect of domestic life.
I conducted a gender training meeting in Akatongole. The women who attended the meeting were interested in yogurt making but were skeptical about how fiscally responsible it would be to invest in yogurt making. Many women have to take out loans from their husbands which was a concern for them. The extension officer of Akatongole advised me to have another meeting in which I arrive with a successful women’s yogurt group and female board members as well. It was interesting to hear from many different sources that the women and youth in these rural areas require role models (Champion Role Model Group/ Champion role model female board members/Church leaders) to help advocate for empowerment.
The challenge has been that these church leaders/ female board members are quite spaced out geographically. These rural agrarian landscapes make it financially difficult for these change agents to travel and help sensitize the women and youth in remote villages.
I did however form nine group councils and 16 youth councils. These groups discussed a shared vision for their team in having additional income with the dairy value chain. Through the youth and women subsidies provided by SNV (a local partner of VWB) many of them were excited and are on track to increase their funds. Psychological empowerment of youth was another factor that I took into consideration for each group by discussing the innovative and fresh ideas that each member could contribute.
One thing that I kept noticing was the low number of women within youth groups and in board of cooperatives. I realized that it was hard to access women to appear in meetings due to the double burden of time present for them. Even if youth councils were free to join (compared to cooperatives), their time was still occupied. If I wanted to see and sensitize more women, I would have to travel to them individually, household by household.
Although I work hard, in my free time I hang out with my roommate who is also my co-worker and some of our local friends. We go swimming and horse back riding, and I enjoy being out with nature as much as I can. Of course, with a stable tropical climate such as Mbarara, we have all the beautiful sun you could ask for. I travelled to Lake Bunyonyi, which was also an amazing experience. It is several hours from Mbarara, and it contains the second deepest lake in Africa. It really was very relaxing being by the lake and canoeing. I had such a cathartic experience being there, it was a beautiful experience.
While teaching seminars takes up most of our days here, we also got to spend a few highly enjoyable days visiting 8 different schools in the Mukurwe-ini area to teach the students there. We teach students from Gr 6-8 about topics relating to animal health and safety to help minimize diseases in the community.
The planning for each school visit starts about a week before it actually happens, with us visiting the school’s Head Teacher to meet them, explain our lesson plan, and arrange a date and time for when we can come. We also discuss with them which classes we will teach, depending on the class sizes and whether some of the grades received the lesson from the Canadian students who came last year. The groups we have taught range from a Gr 6 class of 33 students, to 134 students from Gr 6 and 7 (there were so many students that we taught the lesson outside!)
When the day comes, we get dressed up (no scrubs on these days!) and head to the schools. The students are usually gathered and ready when we arrive, though sometimes the Head Teacher insists we have some tea before we start.
We always start the lesson by singing a song with the children, because they are usually very shy of us at first. Singing a silly song with lets them interact with us in a stress-free way, and by the end of the song everyone is smiling and laughing. Even the teachers join in sometimes!
Once everyone is happy and relaxed, we start our lesson. Alex teaches about Zoonotic diseases and how to recognize a sick animal, as well as about safety around cattle to prevent injuries. Elle teaches about proper hand-washing to help prevent illness, and about understanding dog body language. Aiyanna teaches about ways to avoid dog bites, what to do if you are bitten, and about rabies prevention.
The students are all very focused on our lesson, and are constantly writing to get down all the information we are telling them. We make sure to have some interactive parts to the lesson as well, and once the first brave student puts up their hand to answer a question, the classroom becomes a sea of waving hands, every student eager to give an answer.
After we finish the teaching portion of the lesson, we go through some case studies with the students based on what they have just learned, talking about ways to recognize a sick or rabid animal and what to do in that situation, and ways to act around dogs to prevent bites.
At the end of every lesson, we emphasize that the knowledge the students have gained from us should be shared with their friends, families, and communities. It is our hope that through this, our teaching will reach a greater number of people than what we could possibly reach alone, and thus help everyone in the community be safer and healthier. Even the teachers often say that they have learned something, and that they will share it with their families as well!
After these are done, we ask the students if they have any questions for us about the material or about Canada. There are usually many questions about what life in Canada is like, if it is always cold there (they are surprised when we tell them that Canada is currently warmer than Kenya!), and about our studies.
This summer, our lesson plan at one of the schools changed a bit, when the Head Teacher asked us to talk about Rift Valley Fever with their students. Kenya and the surrounding countries are currently experiencing an epidemic of this Zoonotic disease, which causes fever and flu like symptoms, and in some rare cases can cause severe illness in humans. This disease is mainly transmitted through insect bites, but can also be contracted from eating the meat or milk of an infected animal.
The students were very attentive during this portion of the lesson, and were eager to learn about ways that they can keep themselves and their families safe during the outbreak. We emphasized the importance of using mosquito nets and recognizing when an animal is sick to avoid contact with it, as well as making sure milk is boiled and meat is well cooked before eating it.
School visits are always the highlights of our week when we go, we love meeting and interacting with the students, who are always so excited to have us! The visits also give us the chance to reach out to and teach a different demographic than we do when visiting farms (the children are almost always in school when we visit farms for seminars).
By the end of the day, it’s hard to tell who is smiling more – us or the children!
It’s hard to believe that our time in Tanzania is almost over! Throughout July and the beginning of August, we have continued our calf management seminars with the Africa Bridge team in Kisondela ward, educating co-op members in all six villages. We found that the farmers were particularly interested in learning more about calf housing and the numerous benefits it provides.
Fortunately, we were able to return to 3 of the villages, Isuba, Mpuga, and Bugoba, to facilitate calf pen building sessions. Many co-op members gathered at one farm in each village, and over the course of the day, built a calf pen according to the directions we provided during our seminars. They were able to build these pens using local materials such as bamboo for the floor and walls, and grasses and leaves for the thatched roof. It was very rewarding to see co-op members putting the training they’ve received into action, and we hope that they will continue to build these pens throughout the rest of their farms and villages. Calf health is essential to Africa Bridge’s calf pass-on program, and these pens are an important step in ensuring the animals will have a good start to life and be beneficial to the families who receive them.
In addition to our calf management training, we have attended and taught at a few of Africa Bridge’s other sessions. We taught the empowerment workers, para-vets and school teachers in Kisondela ward about heat detection, breeding and abortion in dairy cattle, with the goal of obtaining higher conception rates and shorter calving intervals.
Aside from our work in Kisondela, we provided practical training sessions on chicken nutrition and nest box building to co-op members in Kambasegela ward and taught about the importance of establishing a vaccination program for Newcastle disease, a viral disease endemic in Tanzania that can easily kill entire flocks of chickens if adequate preventative measures are not taken.
We also attended meetings in Kambasegela ward to discuss ideas for a new project aside from the dairy cattle, chicken and avocado farming projects that Africa Bridge currently has available. Some ideas mentioned included fish farming, dairy goats, cricket farming and beekeeping. It’s important to implement a project that co-op members are interested in and passionate about, to help ensure good participation and a positive outcome. We are sure that whatever project the Africa Bridge team and the members of Kambasegela ward decide on, it will be of great benefit to the community.
On our last day working with Africa Bridge, we travelled to the city of Mbeya to attend the annual Nane Nane festival. This yearly exhibition is attended by thousands of people from across Tanzania. Its purpose is to provide education about various agricultural practices and products throughout the region. Farmers and companies bring animals, crops, machines, tools, and other products for displays and demonstrations. There was a lot to see at the festival and we were very impressed by the large variety of plants and animals on display. We hope that as Africa Bridge’s programs grow, they will be able to expand their projects to include some of the farming practices and products we saw at the festival.
As our time in Tanzania draws to a close, we would to thank the wonderful team at Africa Bridge for their knowledge, kindness and willingness to collaborate with us. We have learned so much from them, not just about farming, but about Tanzanian life, culture, and customs. We look forward to keeping in touch with them, and hearing about the continued success of their projects. We are very thankful that Veterinarians without Borders chose this organization to be their in-country partner, as we believe there have been many valuable teaching and learning experiences during this partnership. We will always remember the wonderful times we’ve had and the friendships we’ve made during our time in Tanzania, and we hope that we’ll be able to come back again one day.
This project is made possible by funding from Global Affairs Canada.
It has been very busy this month in Mbarara! Between meetings, farm visits, school presentations, and vaccinations, all of the volunteers have had their hands full this June.
Katelyn and Carina continue their work with SNV/FAOC to educate students about the importance of including milk in a balanced diet. They travel to many schools, sometimes visiting over 10 in one day! The work is rewarding when they are able to see the children’s smiling faces.
Olivia and Nikki also carry on with setting up the dairy business centers, presenting their progress in SNV’s TIDE business meeting. Not only were their ideas well received, but they were able to gain a better insight into some of the problems faced by the local farmers through invited speakers. The day was long, but very informative!
However, they were able to step outside the office and get their hands dirty by visiting a nearby demonstration farm, Rubyerwa Dairy Investments LTD. The business development officer, Wilber Begumya, welcomed the volunteers warmly before giving them a full tour.
Bimonthly, local farmers are invited for several training days where they are able to learn about farming practices and animal husbandry, so that they are able to improve the productivity on their own farms.
Pictured above is Uganda’s famous ankole cattle, with impressively large horns. On the right, you can see a cow which was gifted a bell around its neck, signifying it as the 100th addition to the herd.
Both Nikki and Olivia were able to take part in the demonstrations, including those around artificial insemination and cattle management.
Pictured above volunteer Olivia preforms rectal palpation on a jersey cow with instruction from technician Paul Nabaasa. The procedure is important both in placement of the sperm during AI and in checking the pregnancy status of the cow after insemination has taken place.
Finally, the month was wrapped up by the beginning of the goat vaccination campaign, spearheaded by Carina and Katelyn.
Blood draw, physical exam, and vaccination was preformed on over 300 goats spanning 3 communities, with many more to come!
After blood collection, the volunteers carry out brucella testing to identify the goats that carry brucellosis, a disease that is prominent in Uganda and causes many issues in regards to farm productivity.
Wυntεεŋa (Good afternoon) from Yua, Ghana! We’ve been in Yua for a month and a half now, and can’t believe how fast the time is passing! As per our last blog post, we had a busy first week here, getting the ball rolling on all the activities we had planned to help the community. Now that we have almost completed all of them, we can delve deeper into the components behind them.
Upon our arrival, we realized that vaccines were of the greatest interest to community members. According to the farmers, their sheep, goats, and fowl were dying in large numbers from preventable diseases, particularly during the months of March and October. Luckily, we arrived right before the next predicted bout of illnesses, thus we spent most of our time
administering vaccinations in order to help as many Yua members as possible. Administered vaccines included: Newcastle disease for fowl, Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR) for sheep and goats, and Rabies for dogs.
– Newcastle disease is a contagious viral disease, that is transmissible to humans. Unfortunately, no treatment is available for the disease, but it can be prevented through prophylactic vaccines. The vaccines administered are called I-2, which are manufactured right in Ghana! We have been able to immunize approximately 2000 fowl, which include some chickens and guinea fowl.
– PPR is a highly contagious viral disease that, in Ghana, affects mostly sheep and goats. There are no available treatments for the disease, although supportive care can be given in order to aid the animal in recovery. Unfortunately, lack of funds and resources in Yua prevent farmers from being able to afford supportive care for their affected livestock, resulting in large amounts of deaths. This is why vaccination against PPR is so important for the community. We vaccinated around 1400 sheep and goats, reaching 190 different families throughout the community.
Lastly, Rabies is a viral disease that is transmissible to humans, as well as other mammals, and has no treatment available. Dogs, being a large vector for rabies, are free to roam around the community, resulting in increased risks of dog bites. Recently, there has been an international focus on eradicating rabies globally by the year 2030. In order to take part of
the global initiative, we saw no better place to start than with Yua! We vaccinated 60 dogs against the virus in the community.
While vaccinating, we were able to educate the farmers on the disease and give them some background on the organizations that brought us to them. Community members were very thankful, and came in large numbers to take advantage of the great project put forward through GAPNET and Veterinarians Without Borders.
Our next big project has been creating a fowl-rearing protocol in order to decrease deaths in young keets. Farmers have repeatedly mentioned losing large numbers of chicks at very young ages, and are unsure as to why. In order to come up with a solution, we set up an experiment where we raised half the chicks under optimized conditions within the means of community members, and the other half were raised under traditional methods in Yua.
Traditional methods allow the chicks and their mother to roam free throughout the day, to forage for their own food and water. At night, they are given shelter, and small amounts food and water. As they roam immediately after hatching, large amounts of chicks tend to die due to starvation, predation, exhaustion, and heat loss. In contrast, optimized conditions allow the chicks to be in an enclosed and safe area with their mother for the first two weeks of rearing. The chicks are then also provided with food and water, while the mother provides them with heat. All of these provisions allow the chicks to survive through their most vulnerable life stage. We are currently a week and a half into our experiment, and have yet to lose one chick using our optimized protocol.
On our time off, we were able to explore the area and spend time with the community. One of our most interesting adventures, has been to visit the Paga Crocodile Pond, where we met a 78 year old crocodile, and saw dozens of others. The crocodiles in Paga are not domesticated, but they maintain a positive mutual relationship with the locals of Paga.
Our local guide, Issaka, invited us to his sister-in-laws graduation ceremony. The ceremony was quite different than what we see in North America. Rather than robes, diplomas and hand shaking, graduating in the Upper East involves a large dancing event! Family members and friends dance up to the graduates, and give them monetary gifts to start their
businesses. We had a great time listening to Ghanaian music, and seeing the locals dance.
During my first two weeks in Uganda, I have been doing a lot of learning. I know, I know, I am supposed to bring expertise here…but I think before I can help in a foreign country, I need to understand what is happening. So here I am, in the second biggest coffee producing country, drinking tea and talking about how it is to milk cows in Southwestern Uganda.
To be immersed in the culture, I am staying at Rubyewra Dairy which is one of the Practical Dairy Training Farms. In collaboration with SNV (the NGO hosting me here), these farms created 4-day courses for farmers to improve their knowledge on management, nutrition, and breeding of dairy cattle. I had the chance to attend one of the training during my first week, where I was happily surprised by the amount of information that was given to farmers over the 4 days.
While everyone in the class was learning about management, nutrition and reproduction, I was learning about the challenges of milking cows in Uganda. Most of the milking cows in Uganda are local breeds (Ankole and Zebu), which seem to be more beef than dairy cows with a daily milk production of 2 to 4L. To be able to meet the milk market that has grown in the past years, producers are now using exotic breeds… And by exotic, I mean what we are used to: the good old black and white Friesian, or the pretty Jersey (which are known to produce over 30L per day in North America and Europe).
The problem with exotic cows is that they are not very well adapted to Ugandan conditions… and maybe Uganda is also not really adapted to them. Here is why: I first learned about the four Ugandan seasons: the wet season (March to June), the dry season (June to September), the very wet season (September to December), and the dry season (again, December to March). And let me tell you, they don’t call it dry season for nothing…We’re in the middle of it now, and I think the humidity level is probably -15% (true story)! As Ugandan dairy cows find their feed on pastures, the nutrients available for cows during the dry seasons are so limited that ͞exotic cows have no possibility to reach their milk production potential.
Farmers now need to plan ahead and have extra silage, grains, protein sources, minerals, which they never had to do with their Ankole cows. Moreover, they need to make sure their cows have access to water (I know this sounds very basic, but it is not an easy task to make water accessible to your cows in every pasture they go grazing)!
During the training sessions, instructors emphasize the importance of building water points, and to making silage in preparation for the dry seasons. This is when I realized what ͞mechanization of agriculture meant. Personally, I grew up in a world where there was a tractor for everything. Seriously, plowing, tilling, disking, harrowing, planting, spraying, harvesting, chopping, mixing, transporting, etc. The only thing left was rock picking, but I think there is now a rock picker! Here… well, let’s just say there’s a tractor for nothing. It’s all man power that accomplishes work on farms. For example, it takes 40 people for a whole day to make a small silage bunk.
When I use man power, it is not a figure of speech as most people involved in agriculture are men. I’ve come to realize that women are not raised to be involved in agriculture or businesses. There are, obviously exceptions. For example, the almost 75-year-old woman who owns the farm where I live runs the family business on her own. I also met a few other women involved in farms, but I have to say they are rare. Organizations such as Veterinarians Without Borders and SNV have for mission to integrated women in agricultural enterprises and support their empowerment.
Another great challenge exotic cows are facing in Uganda is diseases. Many tick-borne diseases such as East Coast Fever (Theileria parva), anaplasmosis (Anaplasma marginale), and babesiosis (Babesia bigemina) are highly prevalent in Uganda.
Unfortunately, exotic breeds are not resilient to these infections, and there are many losses associated to them. The control of these diseases is primarily done with the use of acaricides to prevent ticks to attach to cows and calves. As all animals on the farm need to be thoroughly sprayed twice a week, it is a very intensive workload or a very expensive investment to install a spray race on the premise.
The last challenge I want to present here is more for me than for the cows… While Ugandan dairy farmers are facing multiple challenges such as weather, nutrition, water, diseases, etc., my role here is to assess the breeding strategies in use, and to make recommendations for the future. As a veterinarian and an epidemiologist, I was trained to use data to make decisions. There is however, no data available in the country, whether for production, reproduction or health. It is consequently very difficult to evaluate the impact of the strategies adopted by farmers, other than with the ͞gut feeling. Luckily, I have a few resources in my back pocket, which I’m planning to use to help supporting my recommendations.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep on giving a hand for milking (literally, there is no milking machines here), taking care of the calves, and interacting with local farmers for the two weeks I have left in this beautiful country.
This past month, we have travelled to two districts in the Northern region of Ghana to meet farmers in rural communities. The road was often rough but our driver expertly avoided the potholes that the rain created in the dirt road. We departed early every morning for the communities so we could meet the farmers before they left for their farms.
Cows on the road in the village.While we greeted the members of the community in the local language, chairs and benches were brought and placed in a circle under the shade of a tree. Ghana has a large diversity of ethnic groups and languages and it’s a fun challenge to learn the proper greeting for each community we visited. In respect of the local custom, we accompanied our guide to greet the chief of the community to explain our presence, and to receive his approval before we spoke to the farmers. Once the members of the community had assembled, we began our presentation.
We shared information about good animal husbandry and spoke about providing shelter, feed and water to the animals. We also provided sensitization on disease prevention and control and proper maintenance of a shelter. By implementing these animal care practices, we hope that farmers will be able to increase their animal production as well as their income.
Following our presentation, we invited farmers to share their experiences with animal husbandry and we found their stories inspirational. Some of them had already improved their animal care practices and reported increased production, and were able to sell their meat and eggs at the market for additional income.
Although the communities showed a great interest in animal production, they also faced significant constraints. Major challenges preventing the start or expansion of animal production include limited access to water, medicine, veterinary services and start-up capital. High mortality rates due to disease also prevent the growth of their herd or flock size. The community members asked many questions and we did our best to address their needs and discuss possible solutions that could be implemented. We always tried to respect the local culture and way of thinking as we shared ideas.
We hope that sharing knowledge and skills with farmers will enable them to improve their animal production. By empowering farmers, they can become their own agents of change, and promote sustainable development in their communities to help improve their livelihoods.