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 ……… 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.


Working in the present to support the future

It’s been two months since we landed in Tanzania and in our time here, we’ve notice that there is an awful lot of both local and international NGOs. One of the most difficult parts of working with any of these NGOs is trying to develop a sustainable program.
The first step to ensuring sustainability is to learn what the community needs. We believe the most effective way to do this is through a method we lovingly call “shut-up and listen”. Creating a sustainable program means building trust with local communities and having a baseline knowledge of their challenges to maximize opportunities.

20170622_125849Sustainability means that a community will be self-sufficient once the NGO is no longer working in the area. Here we see the villagers of Ndubi putting theory into practice. After teaching the co-op members about New Castle disease, Ponciano (striped sweater) co-op coordinator of Africa Bridge (AB), asks Juliana Frank (purple dress) to lead the vaccine preparation and distribution.

Africa Bridge (AB) is putting this principle into practice through their Most Vulnerable Children program. The program’s goal is to equip the caretakers of vulnerable children with the skills and resources necessary to be able to provide for them in the long term. The first step is to choose which ward to work in by meeting with district council and determining the number of vulnerable children in that ward, as well as the economic status of their caretakers.

IMG_0030Seen here are over 100 children from the Lufingo Ward getting ready to start celebrating International African Child day (June 16). These are some of the most vulnerable children that Africa Bridge tries to support through dairy, poultry and avocado programs.

The next step is called Future Search, which involves meeting with children and adults within that community and understanding their needs. Following this, AB develops a Work Plan individualized to the needs of each village. The work plan involves electing a ‘Most Vulnerable Children’s Committee’ made up of village members as well as developing dairy, poultry and avocado co-ops. It is up to each family to decide which co-op suits them best.

20170622_120631Every training session is an opportunity to hold a community meeting. Here we see the members of the Ndubi village poultry co-op discussing a recent difficulty they had with poultry management. We were there with Africa Bridge staff to facilitate discussion but ultimately it was the members who decided on the best solution.

Once co-ops are established, AB begins a comprehensive training program that goes on for more than two years. Villagers are taught the appropriate management system for their chosen livestock or crop, disease management, and housing. AB ensures that each session is a mixture of both theory and practical application. While AB’s goal is to help vulnerable children, the training session is open to anyone in the village.

IMG_0934Visual aids go a long way in helping improve a training session. In this case Angie is showing the farmers of Mpuga village a video of chickens with New Castle disease, one of the leading causes of chicken mortality in Tanzania.

Bupe Jakobo, secretary summarizes at end of lecture in Isuba villageAt each training session, the village selects a secretary to ensure that they have a reference to turn to after the session. Here we see Bupe Jakobo, the secretary of Isuba village, summarizing that day’s training session of New Castle and Gumboro Disease.

Once a village has begun to become self-sufficient, AB spends less time there and prior to graduating a ward they perform a follow up. This includes activities like visiting villages with disease outbreaks and performing pregnancy diagnosis on dairy cows.

20630278_10212164667527267_1570705481_oCheyenne performing a pregnancy diagnosis through the guidance of experienced Africa Bridge staff Noel (red shirt) and Ponciano (grey sweater). This is part of the follow up in Kagwina village where Africa Bridge has been working for almost 5 years.

The final step of AB’s sustainable program is paying it forward. AB aids farmers by providing them with dairy cows, poultry, and avocado seedlings. In each case the farmers are expected to ‘pay it forward’. In the case of the dairy co-op the first two calves that are born must be passed on to other members of the village.

IMG_0031Paying it forward is the driving force of the dairy co-op. Seen here are Joyce Jimwambande’s cows. She is the co-op’s treasurer and has successfully passed on 2 of her calves to other co-op members.


International development is often slow and riddled with setbacks. However, we believe that Africa Bridge is working hard in the present to support the future.

Goats for Women!

Today is Goat Pass-On day; one of the most hectic and exciting day of our placement! We have been working tirelessly with our partners in Uganda over the past few weeks to provide medical care to their livestock.

IMG_9268IMG_8706In this photo our supervisor Dr. Clair Card and partner Vivian Namale are preparing medical supplies for the day. Each goat is vaccinated, dewormed, tagged, blood tested, and recorded into our system.

IMG_8665Prior to the pass-on day, we take blood from the goats to make sure they are Brucella negative. Once they are confirmed to be disease free we get them ready for transport for pass-on day. (Photo above of Vivian Namale and Nikki Sheedy)

IMG_8707As well as handing out goats, pass-on day is also the day when all the new paravets graduate. These individuals provide basic medical care for the goats in the communities to ensure the success of the program and develop their own business. In the image above, Ibrahim Nuwabaine, one of the superparavets helps train the new paravets and pass out the goats.

IMG_9271Two goats are ready to go to their new home. Once they have kids (baby goats) two will be passed on to another woman in the community to help start more farms. All other kids will be kept to grow the farm.

IMG_9267At the end of the day a total of 55 goats were passed on to 31 women and families and 6 new paravets graduated to begin serving their communities.



Our team supervisor Dr. Shauna Richards has arrived! Shauna is a veterinarian from Nova Scotia who just finished her PhD at UPEI. Her PhD is based on data collected on rearing dairy cows in central Kenya, so we are excited to utilize her research findings and learn from her many experiences here in Kenya. With her guidance, we have started the teaching phase of our project for the summer: educating farmers about calf care. Each day, a different community member hosts us on their farm to teach a seminar. They each invite 10-15 neighbouring farmers to attend and learn. Our seminars focus on calf nutrition, housing, management and disease prevention practices as well as mastitis prevention and body condition scoring for cows. After the seminar, we offer to visit the attendees’ farms and provide specific advice on how to best improve their farms for both their calves and cows. At some farms, we are able to assist with minor reconstruction of housing. Each farm poses a unique set of challenges for us to assess and for the farmer to overcome.

Margaret Njoki is one of the members of the Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy Ltd. She is 32 years old and a mother of two. Since Margaret has been very diligent in utilizing the advice she received from last year’s VWB team to make substantial improvements to her barn and stall for her one cow, Njata, we wanted to highlight her farm and the effort she has put into it. Margaret started farming two years ago to help provide income for her family. She is the main caretaker for Njata and was recently been able to purchase a bull. Margaret’s farm was not immune to this year’s drought, but she has seen an increase in milk production and a decrease in mastitis in her cow as a result of last year’s training. Over the past year, Margaret has seen an improvement in her cow’s health and she feels much more confident in feeding and deworming Njata properly. When we asked Margaret for the best advice she could give to youth interested in dairy farming, she suggested planning ahead, budgeting, and investing in the cow now so it will pay off later. We were delighted to hear Margaret’s suggestions, as they support many of the key concepts we are teaching in our seminars.

Aside from our veterinary work, our time here has allowed us to learn about other aspects of life in Kenya. Another Canadian organization working in Kenya, Farmers Helping Farmers, is affiliated with Days For Girls, an Ontario-based non-profit that provides reusable feminine hygiene products to girls in developing nations. We were able to attend a school visit with Farmers Helping Farmers volunteers to promote the value of women and dispel myths surrounding menstruation and hygiene.We distributed kits containing reusable pads and taught the girls how to use and care for them properly. These reusable kits will prevent girls from having to miss school and other opportunities while having their periods. Feminine hygiene products are often not readily available, especially in rural areas, so we are hopeful that these kits will be useful for the girls.

Shortly before Shauna arrived, we were able to go on a safari in Amboseli National Park. This park is located in southeastern Kenya, near its border with Tanzania. It is known for its spectacular views of Mount Kilimanjaro and its elephant population of around 1000. We enjoyed seeing a wide array of Kenyan wildlife, as well as the different landscapes across the country. During our trip, we were also able to visit a Maasai village and learn about their way of life as well as their cattle rearing practices which differ greatly from those in the Mukurwe-ini area, where we have been learning and working.

Although we have much more to say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Check out the photos below!

This project is supported by VWB-Canada with Global Affairs Canada funding.

#KenyaBelieveIt #HakunaMatata #VWB #CowsForLife #VetsInTheMaking

photo1 - Copy (2)Visiting the dairy with our supervisor Dr. Shauna Richards (photo centre right).

photo2 - Copy (2)Our happy but hot team after our successful first day of teaching the calf seminar on our own!

photo3 small- CopyAlina working with our translator, Priscilla, to teach a small group of farmers the importance of navel care for calves.

photo4 - CopyKelly helping Shauna as she explains teaming up to Theresa Wairimu, one of our new farmers, in preparation for calving. Steaming up is when increased amounts of concentrate and forage are fed in the weeks leading up to calving in order to increase peak milk production. On weekends, when the neighbourhood kids are not in school, they love the excitement of new visitors!

photo5Margaret Njoki (left) is talking with Megan and Alina about why she started dairy farming.

photo6 Margaret started farming so that she could contribute more to the family income and provide more for her two young children.

photo7Megan helping to distribute the colorful Days for Girls kits to some of the eager students at Karaguririo Primary School.

photo8 Girls in grades 6, 7, and 8 at Karaguririo Primary School were happy to show off their new kits!

photo9Cattle are very important to the Maasai people. In their culture, the Maasai zebu breed is a symbol of wealth as well as a vital source of many products used for everything from consumption to housing.

Not all Superheroes wear capes…some wear Kitenges

If you are looking for women with super powers, look no further. This blog from Team Tanzania is packed full of Tanzanian women who balance being super moms as well as super farmers!

We will begin with Elisa Kanga, a Super Woman like no other. She is the Village Executive Officer of Lwajilo village, a rarity in rural Tanzania,who commands respect from the rest of village council. She was very welcoming and left us feeling at home during our first ever village visit. It is clear that one of Elisa’s super powers is her ability to keep this village moving towards a sustainable future. The village has a variety of vaccination programs including poultry, cattle and even canine, as well as a women’s group which Elisa is involved in. The focus of this group being to support women on livestock husbandry.

image001smallSeen here is Elisa Kanga carrying her youngest child in a traditional Tanzanian wrap. Standing next to her in support is her husband Steven Kanga, the Village Chairman of Lwanjilo

Next up meet Severena Chai, the wonder window. Superpower includes: raising 3 young children on her own, caring for 2 dairy cows and a calf, and carrying a sack of potato on her head without breaking a sweat. We met this busy woman through IADO’s round potato planting program in the village of IlemboUsafwa whereshe was very keen on seeking advice to increase her cow’s milk production and welfare.


Severena Chai, claims her sack of potato and carries it on her head like the wonder woman that she is. This is no easy feat, Cheyenne and Angie tried doing it and couldn’t even get the bag off the ground.

Meet Laheli, the real MVP of round potato farming. So much so that she was invited to teach about ecological farming practices in far away villages. She is what most Agricultural NGOs would classify as a Super Farmer. Cheerful and assertive, she didn’t let any of the men in the program push her around.


Here Laheli is proudly displaying her plot of land that she’s prepared for sowing her next round of potato seedlings.

A super hero in the making, Monika Bandari was a very active participant in our poultry management training. She did not hesitate to ask questions and even volunteered to be Ikhoho village’s focal person. As focal person she will be receiving extra training and ensure the sustainability of the poultry vaccine program by making sure her village gets the vaccine even after our work there is done.She currently has 10 chickens but cannot wait to apply what she has learned from the training and grow her flock.

woman small

Monika seen here shortly after she’s chosen by her fellow villagers as focal person.

We don’t want you thinking that we are biased towards picking Super farmers. We know that there are also super women found in the markets of Mbeya. We are lucky enough to meet Mama Sofi, whose super powers include helping lost Canadians navigate the busy Kobwemarket. It also helped that she spoke excellent English and had a great sense of fashion, how else could we have found these beautiful kitenges?

katenges small

Left to Right: Angie, Mama Sofi and Cheyenne posing after Kitenge 101 training. Kitenges are traditional, informal Tanzanian clothing worn by women. They can do everything in them from cooking and cleaning to going out shopping.
We’ve met so many fantastic women and we know there’s plenty more to come. Take a look at these Super heroes in training where almost the entire front row is full of eager young ladies.


Students from Swaya secondary school posing with Angie and Cheyenne after successful completion of poultry program, the goal of which is to enable youth empowerment for self employment.

Brace yourselves, the future is female.

Greetings from Mukurwe-ini!

Over the past 2 weeks, the Kenya team has been working with the veterinarians and extension officers from the Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy Ltd. The dairy is the Kenyan partner of Veterinarians Without Borders and Farmers Helping Farmers, and plays a vital role in the economy of the ever-growing Mukurwe-ini. Currently, over 6000 farmers sell their milk to the dairy, and it provides rewarding employment to many Kenyan women living in rural areas.
The dairy has a strong support system for its farmers, including laboratory tests, extension officers, and veterinary services. The lab provides routine testing of milk, similar to what is done in Canada, to ensure quality of milk products.

The dairy’s extension team educates farmers on components of animal health and welfare including nutrition, housing, and management practices. They advise farmers on small adjustments they can make to cattle housing to optimize comfort, feeding to keep cows a healthy weight, and milking practices to maximize production. Currently, the extension officers are focusing on educating farmers on the benefits of silage production to help feed their cattle consistently over Kenya’s two dry seasons when fresh food is harder to come by. The extension team supplies a chaff cutter to farms on a rental basis, as well as labour for the day, to help farmers make silage.

When working with the veterinary services team, we responded to calls from the community and treated animals as needed, under the supervision of Dr. Patrick Githae Gatheru. These treatments include preventative measures such as deworming, as well as treatments of illnesses with the use of antibiotics, vitamin and mineral supplements, and a little TLC. We were also able to observe some artificial insemination of cattle, a common practice in Kenya.
Next week, we will begin our project focusing on calf care. Our goal is to educate farmers about how to best feed, house, and care for their calves. We want to emphasize that calves given a good start to life will grow into higher producing cows, increasing income for the farmers.

Be sure to check out our favourite photos below from the past 2 weeks!
Thii nawega!
(Goodbye in Kikuyu)


This is the milk receiving dock at Wakulima Dairy. Most farms do not produce much milk with only a few cows per herd, so the dairy uses 20L milk cans to collect from each community. 


This is our team (Alina left, Kelly center and Megan right) on one of our first days out with Dr. Githae Gatheru, one of the vets from the Wakulima veterinary services team. Although it is taking some time to adjust to the heat, we have been enjoying every minute of our experience here.


This week, we went with the extension team from the dairy to help with small scale Napier Grass silage making. First, the Napier Grass is cut using a gas powered chaff cutter, then molasses is added to aid with fermentation, then the chopped silage is packedtightly into plastic bags, each weighing 200-250 kg.


Megan and Kelly following Dr. Githae Gatheru to a farm where we watched an artificial insemination. Many of the farms we visit are only accessible by foot, and are surrounded by the many beautiful landscapes of Kenya. 


Kelly and Megan measuring out a common preventative deworming medication in order to maintain health for this cow and her unborn calf.


Individual calf pens on one of the farms we visited. This raisedhousing system helps to improve calf welfare by preventing calf to calf contact, and reducing the potential for infection by parasite or bacteria from the ground. 


Happy Cows = Happy Megan!

Final Thoughts & Goodbyes

Text and photos by Katy White, UCVM Veterinary Student and VWB Intern, and by Julia Nguyen, OVC Veterinary Student and VWB Intern

The internships with the Wakulima Dairy group are a joint initiative of Veterinarians without Borders and Farmers Helping Farmers, an organization of globally-minded people from Prince Edward Island partnering with Kenyan farmers and families. This project is also supported by the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre.

Our project here in Mukurwe-ini has come to an end. It is bittersweet to be finishing our time here as we have had such a great summer. Filled with many amazing adventures and lots of good work, we feel very lucky to have been selected as interns this year. We are happy to have completed such a successful project and met so many amazing people. However, these last three months have flown by and we can’t believe the time has come to say goodbye. Through our youth project we gave seminars to nearly 400 people on 40 farms. 55% of the people who attended the seminars were women and 51% were youth. The 40 youth farmers we worked with saw improvements in their milk production, and the majority of them have become really engaged in getting more youth in the area interested in dairy farming.

Blog 9 - 1Image 1: Feeding a blind rhinoceros at the Ol Pejeta animal sanctuary was one of the many adventures that added to making our trip a memorable one!

We have high hopes for the future of this project in the coming years. The extension team at the Wakulima Dairy have been instrumental in helping us reach out to farmers, and we were lucky to have them join us on several farm visits. Through the help of a recent donor we were able to buy Mastrite (an udder wash and teat dip) for the youth farmers who excelled through our project. The hope is that their farms can be used as demo farms where the extension team can continue to hold seminars over the next year keeping the youth engaged until a new group of interns returns next summer.

Blog 9 - 2Image 2: Katy teaching about cow comfort at the last seminar of the project. 

The work we did on farms was truly rewarding for us. There is a sense of satisfaction that comes from giving someone knowledge that will help them to create a sustainable and stable future. However, as much as we were rewarded through our teaching, we also found that each and every day contained a learning opportunity for us. On a personal level we both found that our communication skills improved a lot. Learning to interact with people who don’t share your language or culture can sometimes present challenges. However, with patience, a good sense of humor, and an excellent translator nearby; any language or cultural differences soon melt away. We also became much more proficient in our cow handling and milking skills. Without a chute system, convincing a temperamental dairy cow that you have her best interests at heart while you are trying to take her temperature can make for an interesting afternoon. With three months of practice, we have found we are much more practiced in the art of “cow whispering” and can milk with the best of them!

We also learnt a lot about the challenges of small scale dairy farming here in Kenya. As we mentioned in a previous blog post, dairy farming in Kenya is a full time job. Farmers have to be up at 5:00am for the first milking, spend the morning getting their children to school, complete all the necessary chores on the farm, and gather forage for their cow before the next milking around noon. They often also have another job that they then go to, or have to tend to the many other animals or crops present on their farm. Working these types of hours can be discouraging when you are getting a poor milk return from your cow. However, the Kenyan farmers we have worked with are some of the hardest working people we have ever met. This mixed with their passion for dairy farming and interest in improving is bound to help them see improvements in the future. Especially if programs like ours continue to help educate farmers in the small changes they can make to see large returns in milk production.

Blog 9 - 3Image 3: One thing we will definitely miss about Kenya is all of the delicious fresh fruit!

On a broader scale we also learned about working in international development. The youth project was based on the premise of One Health. Creating a healthier future for communities, by creating solutions for animal, human and environmental health. This project really showed us how making simple changes on a small scale can make a big impact in a community. By improving the welfare of single cows on small scale dairy farms, you can improve monthly income for an entire family. When the education that helped make that change is spread through the community, you start to see economic stability spread throughout the area. The partnership with the Wakulima Dairy was formed over 20 years ago. Small improvements to single farms may have seemed relatively inconsequential then, but now the Wakulima is a booming dairy that processes 35,000 kg of milk every single day. With over 6,000 farmers it has helped make Mukurwe-ini a great place to live for Kenyan farmers. It truly shows that small changes with the right goals can make big difference to families and communities in developing areas.

As with any project in a developing country, we could not have made these last three months happen without the help of many people. This project would not have been successful without the help of the staff at the Wakulima Dairy, especially their extension team. The extension team selected our 40 youth farmers, helped us coordinate getting project supplies, and assisted in ensuring our seminars run smoothly. We are so thankful to have them and Gerald Kariuki, ex-coordinator of the Dairy, helping us with any issues we faced that seemed a little over our heads.

Blog 9 - 4 (1)Image 4: Posing with the staff of the Wakulima Dairy at our farewell party. The support of these people was instrumental in making our project a success. 

Our team in the field consists of our translator Priscilla Muthoni, and our driver Ephraim Mutahi. We are so thankful to them. Without their help many farmers would not be able to understand us, and we wouldn’t have been able to navigate to the many different villages we travelled to. Together we have shared many laughs, and got to know each other well. They have become our Kenyan family and our days were made brighter by working alongside them.


Blog 9 - 5Image 5: Katy, Ephraim, Priscilla, and Julia with our trusty transportation “The Hustler”. Without these two, our work would have been a lot less fun, and a lot less productive!

We are very thankful for those who have made our stay in Kenya feel like a home away from home. Samuel Karanja is our wonderful chef who ensures we are well fed during the busy work week. In addition to experiencing his amazing meals, his friendship and company allowed us to feel as comfortable and as safe as possible. We are truly happy and thankful for his work. We also must thank Ruth Wathiha, a wonderful woman that hand-washes our laundry. She is very kind, sweet, and a loving mother of two boys. Her work for us is almost invaluable, as we work long days and get quite dirty on farms. We very much appreciate her work and the warmth with which she welcomed us to Kenya.

Blog 9 - 6Image 6: Julia, Samuel, and Katy on Julia’s last day in Mukurwe-ini. We are sad to say goodbye to Samuel’s amazing cooking and good company!

Blog 9 - 7Image 7: Julia, Priscilla, Ruth, and Katy. These women are inspirational both in their work and home lives. Their families are lucky to have such amazing women taking care of them, and we feel privileged to know them.

We would not have been able to travel to Kenya and participate in this service project without the support of the following charitable organizations: Veterinarians Without Borders Canada, Farmers Helping Farmers and The Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre. We are thankful for their partnership and support in facilitating the growth of student veterinarians, like ourselves, and One Health initiatives in developing countries. Finally, thank you to all of our friends, family, and donors that have supported our project during the last three amazing months. Please know that this project was more than we could have hoped for, and that your support helped make real change for the families we worked with here in Kenya. It is with hope that we look to the future and say not Kwaheri (goodbye) to Kenya, but instead Tutaonana (see you soon)!

Blog 9 - 8Image 8: Thank you to everyone who supported us on our journey to and time in Kenya! It wouldn’t have been possible without each and every one of you.

The Ex Lewa Dairy Co-op

Katy White, UCVM Veterinary Student and VWB Intern
Julia Nguyen, OVC Veterinary Student and VWB Intern

The internships with the Wakulima Dairy group are a joint initiative of Veterinarians without Borders and Farmers Helping Farmers, an organization of globally-minded people from Prince Edward Island partnering with Kenyan farmers and families. This project is also supported by the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre.

This week we had a change of scenery and spent three days in the region of Ex Lewa visiting dairy farms in the area. The community began as a settlement project back in the 1970s. Farmers Helping Farmers volunteers have been visiting and doing work with the Ex Lewa Dairy Co-Op and their farmers since 2010.  Currently, the Ex Lewa dairy has 300 members actively selling milk and they collect an average of 1600 L of milk per day which is sold to the larger Meru Central Dairy. The Ex Lewa Dairy is much smaller compared to the developed dairy operation we are used to working with in Mukurwe-ini. Though there are fewer farmers in Ex Lewa, the practice of producing milk as a source of income is growing. They have great potential in being able to profit from dairy farming since farmers have large plots of land, therefore the ability to grow good quality forages for their cows and even make silage for the dry seasons.

Blog 8 - image 1Image 1: The vast fields for farming in Ex Lewa contrasted the dense green hills in Mukurwe-ini.

Blog 8 - image 2Image 2: Julia discussing mastitis prevention and cow comfort with Leah translating during an on-farm seminar.

We spent our days in Ex Lewa visiting dairy farms, making small improvements to cow stalls, and holding seminars for interested farmers. Most farmers in Ex Lewa are grazing their dairy cows, which presents management challenges and animal welfare concerns. We centered our seminars on the benefits of changing to a zero-grazing system. Zero-grazing systems allow the farmer to control the environment of the cows. They can ensure that the stall is kept clean and comfortable, preventing mastitis and increasing milk production. They can also ensure that the cows are given ready access to high quality forage, and are offered free choice water. Cows that are out grazing during the day have an inconsistent diet and water access is limited. The farmers here are doing well with the system they have but by making the switch they would see a big increase in their milk production. We were very impressed by the interest farmers have expressed in dairy farming. They are obviously very active in trying to improve their milk production and so by implementing some of the small changes we recommended they are likely to see large benefits.

Blog 8 - image 3Image 3: Julia discussing the minor changes farmers can make to their cows’ resting stall to improve cow comfort. In the photo, she is demonstrating the “knee test.” We ask farmers to fall to their knees within the stall to test if the stall base is too hard (knees get hurt) or too dirty (knees get wet).

Blog 8 - image 4Image 4: We made changes to this cow stall. First, we removed end boards to ensure enough head lunge space for the cow. Then, we adjusted the neck rail based on the cow’s height and position within the stall to prevent the cow from passing too much waste at the back of the stall. And finally we ensured the stall base, had soft tilled soil with straw bedding on top of it, to provide cleanliness and comfort for when the cow is resting.

Blog 8 - image 5Image 5: A group photo after a successful seminar! We also distributed dairy handbooks to the newest members of the Ex Lewa Dairy.

We billeted at a dairy farmer’s home, her name is Mercy Makena. She has a very warm and welcoming home. What made us very happy to learn is how well she is managing her cows. She is very knowledgeable about many of the topics we discuss on our on-farm seminars. She works very hard to make sure her cows have access to water and forage all the time. We made minor changes to her cows’ resting stalls by removing end boards and adjusting the neckrail, and after one day she informed us the cows were seen resting more throughout the day! This made us very happy to hear and she was very grateful for our work and recommendations. We even recommended her as a demo farm to the chairman of the dairy, as she will make a good role model for other farmers in the area. With only two cows she is an excellent example of how good care of two cows can be much more profitable than mediocre care of many cows. One morning we saw how much she is excelling when we took her milk to the local milk collection site about 1 km away. All the farmers in the village take milk to the same collection point so we met many of the farmers in the area. Mercy was among the top sellers in terms of kg/cow/day. Her hospitality and love for dairy farming has made our stay in Ex Lewa a great experience, as well as increasing our love for Kenyan food!

Blog 8 - image 7Image 6: One morning, Katy and I walked the full milk can to the collection site. This is one of the ten milk collection sites for the dairy. While waiting for the milk truck, we greeted other children and farmers bringing their morning haul to the collection site.

Blog 8 - image 6Image 7: In these photos, milk is being weighed, recorded and then pooled into larger cans.

Blog 8 - image 8Image 8: Mercy Makena, our lovely billet host, dedicated mother of two girls, and passionate dairy farmer!

Fridays with Feddy

By Shauna Thomas,  VWB intern and OVC veterinary student.

Feddy Nambooze, widowed at 32 years old without even a high school degree and five children to look after. For any woman across the globe this sounds like a terrible situation, made worse in countries where widows are stigmatized and out casted from society as failures. The unfortunate reality in Uganda is that this situation is far from the exception to the rule; one could go so far as to say it is normal. In our time here in Isingrio district, Uganda, we have met countless widows who have worked unfathomably hard to provide for their family, and fight against the stigma so unjustly cast upon them. From the moment we met Feddy, we could tell she was something special and every encounter since then has only grown our respect and adoration for her. Fortunate for us, she invited us to her home one Friday night to talk and spend the night as her guests. A captivating women, humble by spirit and hardworking by nature, this is her story……

Photo 1Feddy Nambooze, 60 years old.

Although modern day Ugandan society is still highly oppressive to women, it has made moves in a positive direction. Thirty years ago, however, Feddy, a 14 year old girl having just completed grade seven, was coming home to the reality that she would no longer attend school no matter her drive or desire to learn. A family of 9 children, five girls and four boys, her father (as most men at the time) felt that it was a waste of money to educate girls and only the boys would complete high school.  At the age of 20, Feddy was married with one child on the way. After 12 short years and five daughters, her husband passed away leaving her widowed and the sole provider for her children. At the time, her family was living in a town called Ibumbo in a house built the local way. Made out of mud, sticks and grasses, her two room house would leak and wash away when it rained. When asked about her mindset at the time she admitted it was hard to feel anything positive, saying it was “the worst time of her life”. Thankfully, she persevered and was able to move herself and her children to her current location in a village named Kyabutoto.

All too happy to move on from talking about that time in her life, Feddy described to us in detail the steps she took to get from a bare, hilly plot of land to the concrete, decorated house she has now. To begin, she innovatively decided to dig up the hills to use the clay for bricks and to flatten the land at the same time. At this time her family had built another temporary local grass house until they could afford anything more. As an early member of the women’s group in Kyabutoto, she was one of the first people to be a recipient of the goat pass on project (2006). She explained how she sold the initial goats to pay for her daughters’ school fees, as many of our beneficiaries do. What has separated her from many others in the project is her forward-thinking. Using her group’s revolving fund (microfinance scheme), she invested in four more goats, selling and buying as needed after this. Although many people in Canada may interpret this investment strategy as the obvious/logical next step; it is not often the first choice made by women in rural Uganda. For people who live so day-to-day due to extremely limited funds and resources, the idea of taking out loans and investing in something long-term like goatherds is a challenging concept. This initiative allowed her to have enough money (although nothing extra), to support all five of her daughters through high school and then each into a trade (tailoring, salon etc). The way she spoke about putting her daughters through school was very matter-of-fact; for her, education was not a question, it was fundamental to a successful life.

Photo 3Feddy’s house to the left with the Isingiro district in the distance.

By this point in the conversation I had already lost count of the number of times she spoke of and emphasized how thankful she was to have been a goat recipient from the VWB pass on project.  From the start of her goat rearing time she had one goal: to have a home with electricity. She explained how room-by-room from 2006 to today she built the beautiful three-room concrete home we were sitting in. We were fortunate to get to take this walk down memory lane with Feddy, seeing her facial expressions and tone of voice change as she recounted her successes as well as her shortcomings. Especially notable was the look of pride she emitted when she pointed us to the light bulb in the ceiling and said all her hard work had paid off.

As a humble person by nature, it was harder than expected to get Feddy to talk about all of her training and current positions. The key to that box was when she pulled out a notebook and we started asking specific questions about the notes she has written and instructions in the book.  The secret to it was that she clearly didn’t want to talk about herself, but if asked about what she did for other people or the work a group she led was doing, she had endless things to say. A great leader is someone who is confident in themselves but focused on the greater good of a group. A list of the leadership position Feddy holds follows: Kyabutoto chairperson and Paravet, Nyamuanga secondary school board member, Parish co-ordinator, PTA representative, Village health team worker, Kakona health center nutrition facilitator, social worker trained in child protection and most recently a councellor for Kaberebere Town Council. All of these responsibilities she has on top of being the sole provider for herself and Rosette, the grandchild she looks after. It took me a few moments to pick my jaw off the floor after hearing just how many roles of responsibility she holds. Prior to this, I just believed she was a hardworking woman with some serious drive and a good head on her shoulders; when really she is the female version of Superman! Maybe a tad dramatic but when you see first hand how someone has worked so hard from the ground up all the way up to the top, you can’t help but be heavily inspired.

Photo 4Genuine conversations, genuine smiles.

Flipping through her training books, we stumbled across a chart with traits listed and a scale of 1(best) to 5 (worst) beside them. Feddy explained how every night she sits down and rates herself on each of the traits. She reflected that, “You can’t be 100% at everything, but you can certainly try.” We were shocked to see how low she had ranked herself in many categories such as empathy, confidence and availability. Thinking about it now, It has became clear that this is part of the key to her successes; never being completely satisfied forces her to seek education when possible, seize every opportunity given and continually expand her horizons. Alternatively, she says her key to success is always putting into practice what you learn, for many of us this is easier said than done. This 60-year old woman, without so much as a high school degree, is my definition of a life-long learner.  Throughout the entire conversation with Feddy, I was searching for her to slip some word or phrase that would capture her personality and move any reader the way she has inspired me. In reality, this wasn’t possible. To try to capture someone; their struggles, their triumphs, their complexities, in a few words strung together would only take away from their story. As we were wrapping up to leave Feddy’s, her youngest daughter (a 20-year-old named Claire), piped in that the only role model she ever needs is her mother. It struck me then that someone dosen’t have to be well known to accomplish great things, something as simple as being a single person’s role model is one of the greatest legacies you can leave. So many strong women across the world are examples of these everyday unsung leaders. A simple conversation on a Friday evening allowed me to meet one of these very special women, and her name happens to be Feddy.

Photo 2Feddy’s list of qualities and her ranking of herself in her reflection journal.