Mastitis. Empowering women. Antimicrobial resistance. Human nutrition. Nest boxes. School enrollment. Cow comfort. Human wellbeing. How are all these diverse topics related? During our time working with Africa Bridge, Vets Without Borders, and smallholder farmers in the Youth Volunteer Program, we gained a deeper understanding of these connections and got to know the importance of a One Health and One Welfare approach.
The Tanzanian farmers in the Rungwe district are quite new to farming, having only received dairy cattle in the last few years. As mentioned in our last blog, one of the topics of our seminars was mastitis. We tackled this topic using two approaches, advising on best milking procedures and improving cow hygiene by building stalls. The Co-op members were eager to implement some of the lessons to reduce the incidence of mastitis in their cows- but why is this so important? Though mastitis adversely affects the well-being of the cow, this disease impacts much more than the animal itself. Cows will produce less milk and the milk will be of poorer quality. This impacts the health, safety, and financial wellbeing of not only the farmers, but also their families and community members.
Milk diversifies the diet of Co-op families by providing minerals, essential vitamins, and nutrients that the average family may not receive from their everyday diets. This in turn helps improve family health. Healthy children may perform better in school and have more opportunity reach their full potential. If cows do not provide enough milk, the family must decide between consuming the milk themselves or making a small profit from selling the milk. Poor quality milk caused by mastitis is a possible source of pathogens that can contribute to food borne illness. The bacteria causing mastitis in cows and possible illness in people are found in the environment the cows are in contact with, so maintaining a clean cow shed and having a comfortable place for the cow to lay is a key part of the puzzle.
One aspect of our seminars trained on proper milking protocols to prevent mastitis. This consisted of a theoretical seminar explaining the importance and benefits of keeping cows mastitis-free followed by a practical session during which we demonstrated these procedures at local farms to help the farmers better understand this process in practice. The practical sessions also included the demonstration of the California Mastitis Test, which is a fast and simple test for the early detection of mastitis in the udder.
We explained the importance of treating mastitis using the correct dose of antibiotics but feel this is a great topic to expand upon in future years. Proper use of antibiotics by farmers and veterinarians worldwide is essential to reduce the occurrence of antimicrobial resistance, where bacteria evolve quickly to resist the action of currently available antibiotics. This has enormous impact on not only human and animal health, but also the environment. Currently, it is estimated that 700,000 deaths occur annually due to antimicrobial resistance but this number will increase greatly in the next 30 years, with a projected 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
The other aspect of our seminars explained to farmers how providing and maintaining stalls for their cows can minimize contamination of the udder by bacteria living in the environment. Not only do stalls keep the cows clean, but they also improve the comfort of the cow- meaning she will produce more milk! Producing more milk not only boosts human nutrition, but also provides economic opportunities to farmers. With profits from Co-op animals, farmers have been able to pay for school supplies, uniforms, or even furnish their houses with solar panels. Improved welfare for the cow will also improve the wellbeing of the Co-op families by increased health as well as greater economic and educational opportunities.
This is the principle of One Welfare, where just like One Health, the welfare of animals, humans and the well-being of the environment are interconnected. Though stalls are quite a large investment, we were able to train the extension workers from the villages in Kisondela Ward on how to construct the stalls. Once farmers have begun to profit from the milk sales through small improvements in animal husbandry, they can reinvest these profits to further improve the well-being of their cows. This is a positive cycle of profit and investment, with an eventual surplus that can be spent on family matters such as education.
The training of the Chicken Co-op members was another major focus of our summer. Like cows, chickens can also help diversify the diets of families. A healthy chicken can lay about 200 to 300 eggs a year, which either be consumed directly or kept with the hen to hatch chicks. Excess chickens and eggs can be sold for profit to support the Co-op members. Hen comfort is one aspect that contributes to egg production and hatching rates- the more comfortable the hen is, the more likely it is that she stays in her nest. Having a nest box in which hens can feel safe and comfortable is the first step to achieving this goal.
Our chick management seminars included practical sessions in which we guided Chicken Co-op members in constructing a nest box for their coop. In an unexpected turn of events, in addition to promoting animal health and welfare, gender equality also became a major theme of these seminars. During the nest box building sessions, men would automatically take the lead in planning and constructing the nest boxes while most of the women watched from the side. However, once they were given the opportunity to take part in the session most of the women were willing and enthusiastic to contribute to the project, from helping plan the nest boxes to hammering nails and sawing wood.
Again, One Health and One Welfare are shown to have a large impact on the success of international development initiatives as well as the well-being of smallholder farmers and their animals. Throughout the summer, we had the pleasure of being invited to the homes of many Co-op members and hearing how receiving the cows or chickens and appropriate training has directly impacted them and their families. Tabia Tujobe Mwakabuli is a Chicken Co-op member in Kambasegela Village who was gifted ten chickens last summer.
Tabia was selected by Africa Bridge as she is currently supporting her 19-year-old niece and her niece’s child. Now, she has 19 chicks and Tabia and her family consume the eggs for improved nutrition. Tabia is diligent in her animal husbandry and is determined to excel in the project. She hopes to start selling eggs and chickens for profit in the coming months to better support her family. We also had a chance to visit Chicken Co-op members Lupe Anudlele Mwakifumbwa and Ruth Lupe Mwakifumbwa from Lutete Village, who are currently supporting 7 children and one grandson. Though they started with four hens and one rooster in 2017, Ruth and Lupe now have about 40 chickens! They commented on how the seminars helped improve their animal care practices and how the profits they make through selling eggs and chickens contribute toward their childrens’ education.
Overall, we are very grateful to have had participated in the Youth Volunteers 2019 Program. Working with Africa Bridge this summer, it felt like we were learning as much (if not more) than we were teaching. Coming back to Canada, we have definitely gained a new outlook on the meaning of sustainable international development and animal health practices worldwide. Though we will miss Tukuyu, we are eager to apply these lessons back home and continue participating in international development in the future!