Checking-In From Kenya!

This project is funded by Veterinarians Without Borders (VWB/VSF), The Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre, and supported by Farmers Helping Farmers. All volunteers are from VWB/VSF as well.

Muriega (Greetings) from Kenya! It has been a busy couple of weeks since we landed in Nairobi – and a time for lots of learning! From Nairobi we travelled to Mukurwe-ini, where we will be staying for the next three months. Our work this summer will be focused on improving the livelihoods of dairy farmers who are members of the Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy. This dairy has over 6,000 members and collects and processes over 30,000 liters of milk every day, which is a major driver for income for the community. The Wakulima (Farmer’s) Dairy works to serve the dairy farming community in Mukurwe-ini by offering stable prices for milk, as well as extension, banking, and veterinary services, a feed mill, and more. In the last few years the dairy has started to pasteurize milk, and produce yogurt in order to further the income of the dairy and the farmers they serve. The Wakulima Dairy is VWB-Canada’s in country partner in Kenya, and has been for the past 5 years.

The Wakulima Dairy is an exception when it comes to the services offered to farmers, but the farmers it serves still struggle to improve their milk production and subsequently their livelihoods due to lack of resources and knowledge on the best dairy farming practices. For example a typical dairy farm has one or two dairy cows, and often each cow may only be producing 5 litres of milk per day, whereas with training we see cows producing 20+ litres/day. Dairy farming, and more generally farming, is the main source of income for people in rural settings in developing countries such as Kenya.  VWB – Canada’s work aims to focus on developing farmers’ knowledge base by working to train farmers on best farming practices based on research done in this region.  By working with the Wakulima Dairy and their staff our goals are to create a long term and sustainable improvement to milk production and livelihoods in this region.

Our project this summer will focus on continued engagement and training of youth farmers, as similar to Canada, the age of the farming population continues to increase, and new young farmers are needed to maintain the dairy industry. Our work builds on the work done in Mukurwe-ini over the past five years, which includes research into best farm management practices, and two years of an extension program to train farmers on these best practices. We have a group of 40 dairy farm leaders who have been involved with the extension part of the program for the last two years, and each leader has their own group of farmers they lead and support. More on the seminars to come throughout the summer!

Typical Dairy Cow in Kenya

After we arrived in Mukurwe-ini we spent a few days meeting the local team members: Priscilla and Susan, our translators, Ephraim and Jeremiah, our drivers, as well as many people at the Wakulima Dairy that we will be working with this summer. We also had a chance to tour the dairy and the local feed mill to see how things run behind the scenes.

Here we are getting a tour of the Wakulima dairy, seeing how the milk is tested and processed

After spending the weekend settling in and preparing, our first seminars started on Monday. Every day we go out to a different host farmer’s farm, where they invite some of their neighbours to participate in a seminar focusing on dairy cow nutrition, reproduction, mastitis prevention, and cow comfort. It has been great to meet with the farmers, they are all eager to speak with us about their cows and are very engaged during the seminars. After the seminars we visit individual participants farms, and have a chance to give them feedback on their stall construction and feeding programs. We have even had the chance to wield a hammer and nails to help with making the stalls more comfortable.

Teaching a seminar for a group of dairy farmers – Priscilla is translating for us!
Enjoying Kenyan tea after a seminar

We have also had the chance to experience a very Kenyan tradition – tea! Tea here is made with loose tea leaves (grown about an hour from here), fresh milk and water, and all boiled together with plenty of sugar. You almost can’t go anywhere without someone offering you this sweet drink, which is great on a cool, rainy day!

As part of our first blog post, we would like to introduce ourselves.

Aiyanna

Teaching about improving cow comfort through proper stall design

Hi! My name is Aiyanna, I have just finished my first year of school at the Ontario Veterinary College. I am interested in practicing mixed animal medicine in the future, and so am very excited to be here this summer working with dairy farmers to improve their milk production. This is my first trip outside of North America, and it has been quite the experience so far! My favourite part has been getting to see Kenya’s gorgeous countryside – the mountains and valleys are breathtaking. I also really like meeting the farmers and seeing how interested they are in improving the wellbeing of their cows – they are very interested in the seminars, and it is so rewarding to work with them. Our in-country team has done an amazing job helping us get settled and encouraging us in our seminars, which has really helped us get comfortable with the material. I am thankful to be part of the Vets Without Borders Team Kenya this year, and I am eager to see how the rest of the summer plays out!

Alex

Doing a physical exam on one of the farmer’s cows to ensure it is healthy

Hello! My name is Alexandra and I have just completed my second year of Veterinary school at the OVC. I am currently interested in pursuing a veterinary career in mixed animal medicine or specializing in surgery. I am ecstatic to be a part of Vets Without Borders and feel so privileged to be here in Kenya helping dairy farmers on a daily basis. I have always been interested in outreach programs where I am able to use the knowledge I have learned in school to help others and really make a difference in their lives. My favourite part of Kenya so far is the people. Everyone I have met so far is so welcoming, so happy and so appreciative of how this program has already helped them so far. I cannot wait to see what is in store for us these next 3 months!

Elle

Hello! My name is Elle, and I am a third-year journalism student at Humber College. As a communications specialist in Kenya on behalf of VWB, I’m completing a variety of tasks during my placement, such as interviewing the community’s dairy farmers (to track the progress of VWB’s project in Kenya), assisting the local dairy co-op’s communications department and documenting the experiences had by my team. And that’s just a start!

As a journalist from Canada, working in Kenya has definitely been an adjustment. The extra travelling, working with a translator and identifying possible barriers to completing my tasks are a few examples of the changes I am working through. This will all likely be a continuous learning experience up until the day I leave, as change usually takes time (and patience!). Though it’s been gradual, I’ve been pushing myself past some of my comfort zones here and am growing as a result. Hopefully this growth is reflected in the work I help produce for the dairy co-op and for VWB back home in Canada. I know I have a long way to go and am eager to do this project justice by documenting it as best I can. The information I’ve already gathered from farmers I’ve spoken with has proven to me that VWB’s presence in Kenya is considered important and wanted by many. Here’s to a productive and adventurous summer!

We have also had 2 veterinarians, Gerald and Kelsey, with us for the past two weeks to help us become comfortable with the seminars. Gerald is a dairy vet in Canada, and this is his second time in Kenya. Kelsey is a new graduate and has spent 3 months in Kenya in 2016 working on a similar project in the Meru region of Kenya. With their extensive experience we are sure they will prepare us to do a good job this summer. We had to say good-bye to Gerald this week as he had clients in Canada waiting on his return – he will be missed, but we feel that he has done an excellent job getting us settled in Kenya and preparing us for this summer. Kelsey will be with us for another two weeks to further help us with the seminars.

From the fantastic support we’re receiving from our in-country team to the welcoming (and curious!) members of the community, our transition from Canada to Kenya has gone quite smoothly overall. Though we now feel settled in, there’s still much ahead of us this summer!

Communications Work in Ghana

I’m Karissa Gall and I’m not a veterinarian. Rather, I’m working as a communications specialist in the Sakumono office of SEND GHANA, a partner of VWB. SEND GHANA is a policy research and advocacy civil society organization with capacity-building projects that broadly focus on addressing issues of inequality and government accountability. On the ground, the organization’s projects are numerous and wide-reaching in both topic matter and geography, from fostering northern food security through food cooperatives to HIV/AIDS advocacy to national budget analysis. Have you ever heard someone bemoan the slow pace of business in Africa? That’s not a thing at SEND GHANA.

Street view of the SEND GHANA Sakumono office

Like many busy non-governmental organizations operating on limited budgets, producing good quality, consistent communications has been a challenge for SEND GHANA. Big program costs like transportation, booking event spaces, etc. are put before communications costs, which can become a bit of an afterthought. However, staff here realize the importance of comms in spreading key messages on a large scale, and sharing successes to earn funding from government and donors for future projects.

A big part of my job is creating a strategy that will engrain communications in project activities, so that comms can be done efficiently when it comes to cost and time. I’m starting by creating a communications strategy for a cocoa advocacy project. Not because chocolate fixes everything… rather, the project is currently in its preliminary stages and the timing makes sense. Once complete, the cocoa advocacy communications strategy will be used as a model for ongoing and future projects at SEND.

I’m also consulting with SEND GHANA’s brilliant IT guy on the migration of the website from Joomla to WordPress, which will make current comms processes easier and enable new online story-telling forms.

When I’m not working on the communications strategy or website migration, I assist with the day-to-day comms activities of the organization, attending planning meetings and programs, and capturing video, audio, photos and information to produce materials for social media and the website. I’m mentoring the communications assistant here in everything I do so that he will be able to sustain improved communications for SEND GHANA after my placement is complete.

Communications assistant Benedict Mensah and Karissa at NHARCON (National HIV & AIDS Research Conference)

He has already taken over responsibility of a few new processes, such as media monitoring through Google Alerts and Google Sheets, and maintaining a new #FOSTERINGFriday social media campaign that I created an infographic template for in order to share the successes of the food security project. When we’re not creating hashtags for official SEND GHANA communications, we’re creating them for our own inside jokes. #fortuneteller

I’m looking forward to sharing more updates with you soon! In the meantime, check out a couple of my first forays into so-called iPhoneography – producing multimedia with an iPhone in the absence of other audio/visual equipment.

Have A Say, Ghana

Why 2%?

Veterinarians Without Borders in Tanzania – Dr. Gerry Smith and Dr. Amy Lowe

In September 2017, Dr. Amy Lowe and Dr. Gerry Smith arrived in Tanzania, bound for the southern highland town of Tukuyu. They were working with a partner of VWB, Africa Bridge, an organization that helps the most vulnerable children in rural villages in three wards: Lufingo, Kisondela and Kambasegela, in the Rungwe district, through supporting their families with agricultural co-ops. Africa Bridge has been operating for over a decade in this area and has made some real and sustainable difference in the wards in which they previously worked, but felt they could use some veterinary assistance in their livestock programs. Below is their story, written by Dr. Gerry Smith.

A waterfall above Matema with our guide Maika

We managed to have lots of laughs and fun along the way, something that is essential if you are to survive the challenges that come with working in contexts which are so different from what we are used to in Canada! There is no way to avoid the difficulties of working in an unfamiliar place: work culture, values, traditions, language barriers and isolation/homesickness are a reality, but we have tried to minimize those by embracing as much of the culture, language, food and drink as we could. Visiting the market, buying food, having clothes made and feeling the joy and zest for life that exists here is a fantastic antidote to seeing the desperate conditions and the daily struggles that families experience in the area where we work. We tried to explore the area on most days off, with hikes to various hot springs, mountains, rivers, rock formations and visits to lakes, beaches, coffee plantations and other local attractions.

Amy having a dress made in Tukuyu.
Ngozi Crater Lake

Some of the most rewarding moments have been listening to stories related to us by the participants in the programs; hearing the pride in a grandfather’s voice as he tells us that milk sales from his cow enabled his grandson to complete schooling and be accepted into University, the first family member ever to have done so! Or the three teenage grandchildren explaining that they do most of the work for the cow because their bibi has arthritis, but that it is OK because the cow is going to allow them to finish school and pursue their dreams. Or the single mother who has eggs to sell and plans to move her family out of the thatch/mud hut into a brick house that she can now afford to build.

Of course, the highlight of any day is interacting with the children, they find joy in everyday life and remind us to appreciate what we have. We all enter these types of projects with lofty goals of changing the world, but soon realize that the best we can do is change the situation for small groups of individuals, with the hope that if that happens enough times there will be lasting and systemic improvement.

Everyone loves stickers!
One of the first farmers we met, Neema, cares for her three grandsons, she was so kind and thankful

The most important initial steps in becoming involved in this type of project are to simply watch, ask and listen. We spent most of the first two months meeting with our partner organization’s staff, agriculture workers, veterinarians in Tanzania, government representatives, village leadership and other organizations doing similar work. We attended meetings and village visits with the Ward Steering Committees in the process of identifying families most in need of assistance, meetings with the Most Vulnerable Children Committee who are tasked with administering the program locally and training sessions with co-op members. We spent time evaluating data that had been collected on the livestock co-op production. Oh, and we also visited the farms, examined the animals and talked with the farmers – something that we thought we would spent most of our time doing as veterinarians, but which is actually only a small part of the project. We were always welcomed very warmly and thanked profusely for our participation. We were also able to hear about and witness first hand the challenges in this kind of work.

Examination and vaccination on a less than happy patient.

We worked off site for most of December and January, doing more research and consultation, compiling and organizing information to be included in the training programs and manuals, as well as developing the health program. We attended conferences and visited other veterinarians and projects in both Tanzania and Kenya. We also took time to travel and to take advantage of the amazing diversity in geography, vegetation, wildlife and people that exists in this country.

Dr. Amy had to return to Canada but continued to work remotely on the project, Dr. Gerry was able to head back to the area to finish the on-site work, returning to Tukuyu in February. We worked extensively with our Africa Bridge team to finalize the training curriculum and manuals, reviewed our recommendations for health and production and refined the data collection, monitoring and evaluation tools. The training manuals will be translated and implemented in the new ward, Kambasegela, as the project reaches that point in 2018. Other recommendations and tools will be introduced where and when possible based on timing, budget issues and cultural adaptation. The implementation of change will be a challenge, both for the project participants and the organization and will take some time, but we are confident it will make a difference in livestock health and production. The next group of volunteers will be able to build on, refine, assess and revise as needed the plans we have initiated.

Gerry leading a heat detection educational session in March near Kibsa

It was so wonderful to get to return to some of the villages, do some mentoring visits, participate in training sessions, reconnect with the warm and grateful people and be reminded of the reason we do this…to improve the lives of the children in need.

 

Evaluating Food Insecurity and Malaria-Free Progress in Vientiane

By Dr. David Zakus and Debbie Spicer

Our first visit to support Health Poverty Action in Laos, supported by VWB/VSF, was an adventure we were both really looking forward to.  Leaving Toronto just as winter was beginning to take hold was a kind of relief, and landing in Vientiane after about 36 hours on the road, surely didn’t disappoint.  Arriving at night wasn’t ideal, but presented no problems.  We were met at the airport by Thomas Weigel, VWB’s representative in SE Asia, which was great, and en route to our hotel he quickly gave us some orientation which continued the next day at lunch.  This wasn’t our first time to Laos, but we had been tourists before and had not stayed for too long, though we had begun to gain a great appreciation for the country.  This appreciation has certainly continued to grow during our whole 16 days of this trip, which ended on December 13, when we left as we arrived, late in the evening.

Our first ten days were spent in Vientiane, getting oriented to the sites, sounds, food and pace of life, all the while continuing to learn about the new nutrition and malaria projects we have come to support, in both the baseline assessments and evaluation and capacity building.  A true highlight of our days in Vientiane was a whole afternoon at the house of one of the senior staff, as part of a monthly office get-together, which involved a homemade feast of fish, chicken, vegetables, herbs (often eaten just freshly picked and washed) and the ever present sticky rice, which usually comes in an individual serving basket.

A lovely HPA-VWB dinner

What a wonderful way it was to further get to know all the great staff in the Vientiane office, which is run by a most capable and likeable manager, Ronaldo Estera, from the Philippines.  We mention capable because he seems to really excel in human relations, and program development and management.  David, being a professor of health services management for some 20 years, found the office here being run with all that he holds important in creating effective teams and achieving results, in particular building a strong organization culture.

After a great orientation, which also involved a long weekend with the country’s national day, we headed to the southern provinces where we gained exposure to the local project staff and their work.  En route to Khong in Champasak province, site of the new malaria project which is supported financially by Comic Relief, we stopped at a malaria control post and met the village health and malaria volunteers in their office, which was part of the malaria volunteer’s home, and then later visited a nearby community health centre.  At both we learned about the services provided and the work accomplished.  We learned  how the workers engage the communities and how proud they are to be part of HPA’s work overall.  Continuing on, we stopped at an area of amazing waterfalls on the Mekong River, with Cambodia way in the distance, and had one of the best fish lunches we have ever had.

Arriving later that day in Khong was also exciting as the Friday evening was the beginning of a major annual boat race festival.  Khong, being a small riverside town, was exploding with people and energy including a rock concert in a big field where a giant stage had been erected.  We enjoyed more great fish and vegetables and the ubiquitous Beer Lao, which truly seems to be a national drink, all the while sitting on the edge of the big Mekong River.

Photo of the boat race in Khong

The next day, now Saturday, saw the boat races start before 9am and continue for most of the afternoon.  The highlight was watching the HPA supported village team race past us to glory finishing in the winner’s circle, and all the while paying witness, through their shirts and hats, to HPA’s ‘Together towards a malaria-free Laos in 2030” campaign. Wow, we were now getting fully integrated, wearing our t-shirts and getting noticed by many local people.

Debbie wearing her HPA malaria-free shirt

The malaria program in Champasak has many strategies, like case detection and treatment, health education and behaviour change, and it’s focused on migrant and mobile hard to reach rural populations who are the most vulnerable to the devastating disease.

Before leaving the next day we had a most delightful fish, herbs and sticky rice breakfast at the home of a local staff member, and then headed back north, through Pakse (after stopping to pick up some local coffee beans) to Khaek, the provincial capital of Khammoune province where we were to meet with local officials for HPA to finalize its MOU with various levels of government.  The meeting took place the following day, and was so interesting, with at least 35 officials all participating to finalize an agreement of how to implement a very large and complex nutrition and food security project, funded mostly by the EU but also with the People To People Foundation, SODA (a local civil society umbrella organization) and HPA itself.

Though we had to leave early to get back to Vientiane for our flight out of Laos the next day, we got a good sense of how things work in Laos and how things are to proceed, especially after a detailed meeting with HPA leadership about many aspects of the project.

As we write we’re in our final hours in Vientiane, full of appreciation, learning and respect for such a great HPA staff, their government partners, the communities to be engaged over the next few years and this wonderful country overall.

Greetings from Ghana

By Betty Baba

Gender Advisor

It has been two months since I arrived in Ghana. I can’t believe the time has gone so fast! I expected differently, considering my tight three month schedule. But I’m so thrilled to share my experience, 18 years after my last visit to Ghana.

There is lots to tell about my arrival, settlement, what I think about the country, the life style and my experience as a gender consultant. I arrived in Accra (Kotoka International Airport) very late in the evening. I was received by the Chief Executive Officer of SEND WEST AFRICA, Mr. Siapha Kamara and the Human Resources Manager and accompanied to a hotel where I spent the next two days. On the third day my apartment was ready for me. The following week, I attended the Board meeting and as you can see from the photo below, the majority of the Board members are men.

From left:  Administrative Assistant, 2 Drivers, and the Security Man

Meeting with Mr. Siapha kamara,  CEO of SEND WEST AFRICA

Ghana, what is it like?

I am living close to the Sakumono intersection  and the Nungua  Barrier Road, a part of the Accra Tema Beach Road. The Sakumono Road is very  narrow and always congested. There are no speed ramps, rumble strips – nothing for demarcation. It’s not well protected for commuters, motorists  and pedestrians. Safety is NOT assured and one has to be watchful before crossing the street.

Sakumono Road – Nungua Intersection

Accommodation

My new abode is in a residential area and a “stone’s throw” to my office.

I have not experienced either water or electricity shortages in my new place. In my last place, I had to purchase extra buckets and extra water containers in case of water shortages. The only discomfort I experience now is coping with a noisy environment, the mosquitoes and washing my  clothes by hand, which is really very hard .

I prefer the local markets in the center of Accra, where I can buy vegetables and fruits, meat, fish, kitchen pots and pans…

Some of the imported commodities such as chocolate, cheese, French bread, wines, yogurt, mustard, ice cream, oysters… are extremely expensive.

A Ghanaian woman exhibits her ornaments in a local Trade Fair.

The Cuisine

Along the side roads, in the local restaurants, servers are always happy to help you with the food of your choice = that is extremely palatable. In addition to all these delicious, prepared street foods, you can also buy fresh foodstuffs of your choice; plantains, cassavas, papayas, red beans and rice, bananas. These are abundant and inexpensive – 50 cents for 5.

 My   work  

I participated in several staff meetings scheduled on Mondays. During the sessions a review of the previous week’s activities are presented and up-coming event plans are discussed.

My task as a Gender Advisor is to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the organization since the last three gender audits, assess the management systems and procedures in terms of whether or not they create an enabling and equitable environment for both women and men staff, and to make suggestions for improvement on the policies and  strategic plans for the year 2020.

Men dominate staff meetings

From Manitoba to Meru, Kenya

Two local veterinarians recently went to Kenya, Africa, to help make a difference in the lives of diary farmers there. Claus and Karen Leppelmann — owners and operators of Beausejour Animal Hospital and Lac du Bonnet Veterinary Service — and their children found themselves in the Meru region of Kenya back in February, where they toured local dairy farms and worked side-by-side with Kenyan farmers who make their living working in the dairy industry.

There are 42,000 dairy producers that ship milk to the dairy processor the Leppelmanns worked with, Mount Kenya Dairy. Each producer has an average of two cows each and average milk production is two to four litres per cow, per day. That’s much different than here in Canada, where Claus says the average calf is fed six litres of milk each day just to keep it properly nourished.

In Kenya, milk is commonly transported by motorcycle from the farm to the collection centre.

“The dairy industry in Kenya looks much different than it does here in Canada”, Claus notes. “Most milk is picked up from the farm and goes to a central collection centre that has a cooling bulk tank”.

“One farmer we met hauled the milk up to the road in milk cans everyday,” Claus says. “Most milk is picked up from the farm by motorcycle. Often, it will spoil by the time it gets to the collection center, and the farmers don’t get paid for it. It’s one of the hardships they can face.”

Claus and Karen Leppelmann examine a dairy cow in Kenya.

Kenya is a country in East Africa with coastline on the Indian Ocean. It encompasses savannah, lakelands, the dramatic Great Rift Valley and mountain highlands. It’s also home to wildlife like lions, elephants and rhinos — and lots of dairy cows. It has a population of just over 46 million people.

According to the Kenya Dairy Board, the dairy industry plays a significant part in the nation’s economy and provides income to an estimated 1.8 million small-scale farmers. Apart from milk, dairy animals also provide manure, other marketed products such as calves and cullings as well as other intangible benefits such as insurance.

There is a growing demand for milk and milk products in Kenya and in the export market given the growing population, increasing urbanization and an emerging middle class.

“Some producers are realizing that they can make a good living if they are serious about dairy farming. For many it’s just a supplemental income — but almost all are very hungry for knowledge,” Claus says.

He and Karen were there to work with local farmers and help them learn new practices to help them take better care of their cows and, in turn, produce more milk. “We discussed nutrition, cow comfort, mastitis, reproduction and calf raising. The farmers were very keen,” Karen says. “We showed producers how to measure and design stalls to improve the cows’ comfort.”

The Leppelmann family learned a lot about Kenya during their stay, and were able to show farmers the benefits of better farming practices.

A Kenyan dairy farm.

“One day we held a producer meeting at Mount Kenya Dairy and we had almost 200 producers show up,” Claus says. “We showed them the improvements we made at one farm that allowed us to really increase milk production. They were very encouraged by it.”

 

 

Poultry Farming in Ghana

Geoffrey Akabua is the Integrated Animal Health Specialist volunteer in Ghana. His work as a VWB/VSF-CANADA volunteer with GAPNET (Ghana Poultry Network) began in Ghana on October 15, 2016 and will end within the next few months.

Geoffrey has been working directly with smallholder farmers in the various communities across Ghana but has also been training veterinary technicians on laboratory poultry disease diagnostics, something GAPNET appreciates particularly because of the limited laboratory support in country. Of late, the number of trained technicians has been dwindling and the remaining ones are located far away from each other.

In all, 48 veterinary technicians and veterinary students, 26 women and 22 men, have been intensively trained in laboratory poultry disease diagnosis, gross pathological diagnosis (necropsy) of common poultry diseases both theoretical and practical.

This activity is of huge relevance since the veterinary technicians are located relatively close to the farmers. As a result of this farmers rely on them for technical assistance.

It has been observed after the training program that the knowledge of the technicians on poultry diseases diagnosis has improved tremendously based on comments from the farmers.

 

From the ‘Pearl of Africa’

by Dr. Laura-Anne Kutryk…

Upon my arrival in Uganda, I was quickly reminded of the fond memories I have from the first time I experienced this country 8 years go. The beautiful landscape of green rolling hills spotted with herds of cattle and goats, and endless banana plantations makes Uganda every bit deserving of its nickname “The Pearl of Africa”. The beautiful landscape is matched only by the friendly people that call this country home. I was welcomed with warm greetings, vibrant smiling school children, and my favourite local comfort food: the Ugandan Rolex (fried egg with some tomatoes, onions and cabbage rolled up in delicious chapatti bread).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

       Twesigye, he is a farm worker on Mutanoga Farm

For this placement, Veterinarians without Borders is partnering with the Dutch organization, SNV, and their ‘TIDE’ project. TIDE stands for ‘The Inclusive Dairy Enterprise’. The goal of TIDE is to enhance the private dairy sector in southwestern Uganda and help improve the livelihood of individual farm families. We work directly with farmers to help them commercialize their farms, increase profits, and improve the quality and quantity of milk produced. Through TIDE, SNV connects farmers with the resources they need to grow their businesses. These resources include practical training sessions, different dairy service providers, and on-farm investments.

The project has dedicated 3 farms in the region to be Practical Dairy Training Farms. These farms serve as examples to other farmers in good dairy management practices. The PDTFs also function as training facilities to formally train farmers in different aspects of dairy production. Each PDTF focuses on a specific topic: breeding and reproduction; nutrition and feeding; or animal health and diseases.

I spend most of my time working with one PDTF called Mutanoga Farm. Mutanoga Farm is located in an especially scenic district called Kiruhura. It is nestled amongst green rolling hills of native pasture land being grazed by both local breeds and exotic breeds of cattle. Traditionally, the people of Kiruhura are known for being cattle farmers. Historically, they were pastoralists, living nomadic lives moving their herds of long-horned Ankole cattle to different grazing areas. Today, cows are still a valued symbol in many areas of modern society. More recently, farmers have been moving away from the pastoral way of raising cattle, and more toward intensification by paddocking their pastures and focusing more on milk production.

Once a month Mutanoga Farm holds a 4 day training session to educate farmers in the skills and knowledge needed to improve the health of their dairy herds, as well as improve the quality of milk they produce, consume and market. These sessions teach about health and disease using relevant hands-on learning activities. A large emphasis of these trainings is placed on encouraging women and youth to get involved in farming as much as possible, not just to empower the most vulnerable members of society, but to also ensure the succession of the family farm as a sustainable business.

Esther Alumba discussing importance of involving family in the farm business, especially wives and children

Besides helping to train farmers, my other duties on the farm involve working with the farm owner and his workers to identify areas that can be improved and helping to implement these changes. As well, I help to diagnose and treat any individual animals that require care. This has proven to be a bit of a learning curve for me, as the diseases and health issues here tend to be quite different than the pressing dairy issues I am used to facing in Canada.

Laura treating a cow for East Coast Fever

Infectious tick-borne diseases are the major production-limiting issue facing dairy farmers in Uganda, particularly a fatal illness called East Coast Fever. Ticks are so prevalent that farms have to spray their cows on a weekly basis with ascaracide to control tick infestations. Obviously, this has environmental and health implications, but with cows frequently dying from East Coast Fever, Anaplasmosis, Heartwater Disease and Babesiosis – all of which are transmitted by ticks – many farmers have limited options. Compounding this problem is the limited extension services available to farmers, and poor access to sound veterinary advice. As a result, there tends to be an overuse and misuse of veterinary drugs. This is very concerning given the looming reality of worldwide anti-microbial resistance. Growing resistance and decreased effectiveness of the available ascaracide products has led to efforts to develop local natural herbal remedies to combat the tick problem.

Animals being inspected for tick number

The tropical climate is a major contributing obstacle to milk production. The introduction of exotic breeds to increase milk yields – particularly the familiar Holstein-Friesian – that are not well equipped to living in tropical environments has posed more challenges. Although these exotic breeds have the genetic potential to produce large quantities of milk, they lack important traits that the local indigenous breeds possess. This is especially obvious in their lack of resistance to ticks and their associated diseases, as well as their susceptibility to heat stress which is a constant challenge when you live on the equator. TIDE aims to train farmers in breeding practices that promote cross-breeding of exotic and indigenous breeds to optimize milk production and resistance to local challenges.

Through nutritional education, farmers are taught about making silage and other methods of feed preservation to counteract the fluctuations in milk production seen by the changing seasons. With the current low-input systems that most farms use, the only form of nutrition is through grazing. When the rainy season comes, there is usually enough grass to sustain milk production. However, during the dry season grass can be very limited, and as a result milk production and overall animal health drastically declines. By teaching methods of feed preservation, farmers can continue to be productive year-round.

Typically, cows are milked by hand into pails. The milk is then transferred into milk cans which are then transported by boda (motorbike) or bicycle to the nearest collection centre. Quality control is a major issue as there is little regulation over the marketing of milk, with most milk being consumed in the raw form, and very little testing of milk quality parameters or drug residues.

My time on the farm has opened my eyes to the day-to-day life of a dairy farmer in Uganda, including some of the daily struggles they face. Through the TIDE program, we are working to give farmers the resources needed to allow them to address many of these issues. Training sessions teach them basic skills about nutrition, breeding and animal health; and promotes the establishment of improved feeding practices, methods of water collection and distribution, and intensified grazing management. Although the goal is to commercialize the dairy sector, we realize it must be done in a way that is environmentally sustainable. With this focus in mind, the project helps farms implement biogas digesters so they can use manure as a renewable energy source to fuel their homes and provide nutrient-rich fertilizer for crops, reducing the reliance on firewood and charcoal. As well, farmers are encouraged to establish solar energy systems to pump water throughout their farms.

Since arriving in Uganda, I have been constantly learning, and it has made this placement very interesting. Besides learning about the many challenges facing farmers here, I have also been getting accustomed to cultural differences and trying to pick up words and basic conversational phrases in the local Riankole language.

I am optimistic that by training farmers we can impart the knowledge and skills necessary to improve livelihoods and develop sustainable and profitable dairy farms in Uganda. I look forward to continuing this work over the next few months!

Africa Bridge and Treatment for East Coast Fever

By Dr. Gerry Smith

Dr. Gerry Smith has been a veterinarian for 34 years, mostly in large or mixed practice. He is currently in Tanzania working as a Field Veterinary Advisor with Africa Bridge with the objective of improving field practical knowledge of poultry and dairy health. In the past, Dr. Smith has served as a Director for Western Drug Distribution Center in Edmonton, AB. (a purchasing group and distribution center for veterinary products and supplies) and a Director  for the Spray Lake Sawmills Recreation Park Society in Cochrane AB.

Dr. Gerry Smith and Noel from Africa Bridge treating dairy heifers for East Coast Fever.

Today we saw why we are here and who we hope to help. Africa Bridge, VWB/VSF’s partner organization in Tanzania, identifies families with the most vulnerable children then sets up co-ops of dairy, chicken or avocado with these families and their community. They provide the animals or trees, training, resources and follow up support so that after 5 years the families can continue on their own. Dr. Amy Lowe (another Canadian volunteer) and I were able to assist the District Veterinarian and his crew, along with some of our Africa Bridge colleagues, in vaccinating some of the dairy heifers for East Coast Fever. The facilities and environment are more rudimentary than in Canada. I got involved in the restraint of the animals and left the needle and ear tag work to Dr. Amy Lowe, Dr Kibona and Kimose. Many of the families are headed by single women –  in one of the pictures below is a widow with her three young boys. To see the care she gave and the pride she took in her heifer, the participation of the boys, the way she clasped our hands after and said ‘asante sana’ and “ndaga” many times ………..no words.

VWB/VSF, Africa Bridge and the Tukuyu district veterinary team preparing for a day of treating cattle.

Our project is a joint effort by Veterinarians without Borders Canada and Africa Bridge. The program is designed to provide sustainable support for those in the community who are most vulnerable. Yesterday we visited one of the projects in its initial phase in the Kambasegela Ward, which is comprised of three villages and the surrounding farmers. In order to select those families most in need, a committee of community members is elected, trained in data collection. They then visit families who have been identified by this committee as being vulnerable. Any other households noticed during the visits who may not have been identified are included in the data collection. The household I visited was one of those, not on the list but, quite in need. From this data, the families are ranked by degree of need and, depending on the budget, a number of them will be selected to participate in the co-ops. The land is beautiful and fertile with abundant water. Crops include banana, cocoa, cassava, potato, tea, avocado and maize. Production from the land is limited by traditional practices and insufficient money for seed and fertilizer. As the families grow the plots of land become too small to support a family as it is divided from one generation to the next. Many challenges ensue –  property disputes, absentee land owners, a generation of young men unwilling to work on the farms, HIV/AIDS and many other factors.

Crops grown by an Africa Bridge co-op participant.

The agricultural co-ops provide income to the families through the sale of milk, eggs, meat and avocados to allow members to better care for their children, send them to school, obtain health care, etc. Our role as veterinarians, is to provide guidance in developing and refining the health care/management program of the animals and to help train the co-op coordinators and Ward Livestock Officers in animal care. These communities are very invested in this process. Members attend training classes and do data collection, supervision and the administration of the program on a volunteer basis, many of them walking 10-15 km to participate. One of the Livestock Officers told me that transportation is one of the biggest issues she faces. If she gets a call to help a farmer she has to hire a taxi (usually a motorbike) and even then, especially in the rainy season, often cannot get to the farm in time.

 

Youth Participation in the Dairy Value Chain – Uganda

Esther Alumba is a Canadian Gender Advisor volunteer that has been in Ugandan since January 2017. She has been working with the Uganda Crane and Creameries Co-operative Union (UCCCU) to engage youth in the dairy co-operatives in Mbarara in the South-Western region of the country.

Profile pic - Esther Alumba

In accordance with one of the objectives of the Uganda Crane and Creameries Co-operative Union (UCCCU), Esther and the gender team are making sure young farmers’ groups are formed within various co-operatives through mentorship activities undertaken by the main co-operatives. So far six youth groups have been formed with more to come before the end of the year.

Ibadan Young farmers (3)Ibanda Young farmers association

The rationale for youth interventions is based on the fact that there are fewer and fewer youth interested in farming. As the older farmers age and become weaker, the younger ones (their sons) are expected to be taking responsibility for the farms. Instead they are not interested and more and more are growing up without the dairy farming skills, passion and knowledge their parents had. This gap is a threat to UCCCU and to dairy sector because there is no clear strategy for continuity and sustainability.

Some of the issues around dairy farming include:

  • The work is a challenge and there is no technology in place yet to make it easier.
  • There is reduced labor to milk the cows.
  • Farm workers are not motivated because they cannot earn as much from farming as they would like to.
  • Quality control of milk is a challenge with hired farm labour.

Given the above stated issues, there is a need for the government and partners in the country to have a strong strategy for the future.

Ishongororo young farmers (4)Itojo Young Farmers’ Association

What VWB/VSF is doing to enhance youth involvement in the dairy sector

  • Helping youth to understand the opportunities and challenges that are present in the sector so that they can be able to make informed decisions.
  • The youth are being encouraged to take lead in the dairy sector space, for instance being in cooperatives management. This will enable their voices to be heard and policies that favor their growth implemented.

Itojo young farmers groupItojo Young farmers association

Ishongororo young farmers (2)Ishongororo young farmers