The Veterinarians Without Borders young volunteer program in Tanzania has had a delayed start but everyone is finally here and eager to begin our work with the staff of the non-governmental organization, Africa Bridge. Now working out of Tukuyu, Africa Bridge has been operational since 2005 and works to empower and assist families with vulnerable and orphaned children. Their methods not only include local district officials, but also the adults and children in each ward they work with. Obtaining local input in selecting projects specific to each area allows the families Africa Bridge works with to have a greater impact and hopefully be most sustainable in the future. Each family gets to choose which of the selected projects they personally wish to be a part of. The current projects that have been chosen involve dairy cattle, chickens, and avocadoes…this is where we come in! Katy and I will be here until mid August and Megan and Dr. Gimbi (pictured below) have been travelling and mentoring us for the first weeks to help us settle in and plan our work for the rest of the summer.
By supplying families and schools with these farm animals, Africa Bridge creates a sustainable way to empower families and in turn help the communities. To ensure this project has a long-term impact, the families given donations from Africa Bridge pass on the first calf, clutch of chicks, or avocado seedlings to other families, increasing the livelihood of many village members. Currently, 156 cows and 8 bulls, 1545 chickens, and 4450 avocados have been given to households in six different villages in the Kisondela ward. In the Kambasegala ward, 550 chickens have been given out in three different villages. Since recipients are typically new to the agriculture industry, Africa Bridge provides extensive training to help farmers best take care of their animals and in turn be more profitable. Our roles will be linked to this initiative- leading training seminars, creating fact sheets, and listening to the farmers individual concerns are just a few of the tasks we aim to accomplish this summer.
We spent the first weeks of our placement getting to know the local communities and conversing with farmers to identify the current issues the villages are facing. Our first task was to help with pregnancy diagnosis of the Africa Bridge co-op cows. The reproductive status of the cows can give us a lot of information about challenges farmers may be facing. This is typically done here by rectal palpation 3-5 months after cows were exposed to a bull. It is important for farmers to know whether their cows are pregnant to optimize their reproductive performance, resulting in increased milk production and economic gain. We also had the opportunity to introduce ourselves to the communities before going back the following week for our mentoring visits.
After a few busy days of pregnancy diagnosis, we returned to the villages for mentoring visits. This involved visiting each of the villages to identify the full range of their successes and challenges, not only related to reproduction. We also visited some of the co-op chickens. This will help both us as a volunteer team and Africa Bridge better tailor training programs to be the most beneficial to farmers. We visited a few farms in each ward, then met with all of the co-op members and extension workers in each village.
Our first stop was the Kambasegala ward to visit families with chickens. When visiting these households our objective was to ask the farmers questions to assess their current situations. We found that though farmers had done a great job in the basic construction of their chicken coops, some construction modifications and adjustments in terms of management could be made to optimize their production. This becomes especially important to successfully hatch and raise chicks. We found that our observations matched the concerns that were brought up in the village meeting, but the community members also brought up some additional concerns such as handling vaccinations for their birds.
Our next stop was the Kisondela ward, where Africa Bridge has given out both cattle and chickens. Regarding the hens, there were some similar concerns in this ward compared to Kambasegela. It was interesting to compare and contrast the management styles between the two wards, and since we identified some similar challenges we have a better idea of how to make our teaching program more focused. We also visited different families who had co-op cows to ask them more about the care of these animals and the progress they have made since being given these cows about 2 years ago. Again, we found some strengths and weaknesses in their management, but this is understandable as they are new to dairy farming. The infrastructure in the area also leads to challenges, meaning that both us and the farmers have to get creative in constructing more versatile solutions that are specific to this area.
Based on discussions between the Africa Bridge staff and ourselves after seeing the different farms and receiving feedback from the co-op members, we decided the topic that would be most useful to teach about regarding dairy cattle is mastitis. Mastitis is an infection of the udder, which can have a negative impact on milk quality and milk production. Cows all over the world can be afflicted with mastitis and it can be difficult to treat so we will be teaching about different ways to prevent mastitis. Farmers in both wards have noted this being a problem. We will train on proper milking procedures and we will also help farmers construct stalls for their cows. The cow pens we observed were mostly very clean but the stalls will also help keep the cows more clean and comfortable to not only reduce the amount of mastitis but also help them produce more milk. Cow comfort may be an issue that is overlooked even in Canada, but cows that are more comfortable and lay down more do produce more milk, which will therefore help create more economic opportunities for these families. For the chicken co-op members, we have decided to focus the training seminars on chick management. This includes providing information on brooding and nest boxes, as well as chick housing and feed information. An increased knowledge of chick management will help farmers ensure high survival rates among their chicks and increase the productivity of their flocks.
We have spent time making a plan for the rest of our time here and we hope to visit each village again to train on chick management and mastitis. We feel like these will be manageable expectations and hopefully we will created training seminars that farmers will remember and they will be able to apply those lessons on their farms. That’s all for now, in our next post we hope to be able to share the progress of our seminars with the co-op members here in the Rungwe district of Tanzania. We look forward to meeting more farmers and learning more about the agriculture industry in this district.
About the authors:
Nicole is also a student veterinarian at the Ontario Veterinary College. Nicole completed a BSc (Agricultural and Environmental Sciences) at McGill University. She is interested in practicing bovine medicine in the future and hopes to be able to use her experience with livestock to make some positive impact in the Kambasegela and Kisondela wards but also learn about the practices and challenges of small holder farmers in this region.
Katarina is a student in her final year of completing a BSc in Plant Biology with an embedded certificate in Sustainability Studies at the University of Calgary. When not studying plants, she spends her time hanging out with goats at a small farm outside of Calgary. In the future, she hopes to further study sustainable agricultural methods both in Canada and around the world.