45-year-old Paul Mathai looks forlornly at his nearly empty cow shed. A few months ago, all the nine paddocks were occupied. Today, only three of his dairy cows are left. And he has no calves left. He lost them to the dreaded Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD).
“I first started noticing a lot of saliva in the cows’ mouths and also noticed they were not feeding well and were inactive. That is when I called the veterinarian who diagnosed FMD and initiated treatment. But within a span of two days, I had lost the cows,” says Mr Mathai who hails from Bahati sub-county in Nakuru.
Paul is one of the many farmers currently grappling with an outbreak of FMD in the county. Nakuru has especially been hit hard because there has been a recent influx of livestock from neighbouring counties of Laikipia, Baringo and Narok.
FMD is a viral livestock disease that not only causes mortality but also severely limits livestock productivity and disrupts trade of animals and animal products, leading to huge economic losses.
“Before I lost my animals, I was getting over 50 litres of milk, now, I am lucky to get even 10 litres,” says Mr Mathai.
The loss of his cows has left Mr Mathai contemplating his agricultural venture which he spent a lot of money to set up. According to him, this particular outbreak is unprecedented, particularly to farmers keeping zero-grazed animals.
Francis Muiru, also from Bahati sub-county, is still struggling to come to terms with the loss of his eleven cows. He says in the nearly eight years that he has been rearing dairy cows, he has never witnessed such devastation.
“The calves were hit especially hard. Within a short period of time, they all perished. All my high production cows went down, one after the other. I am not milking any cows now, we have to purchase milk for our own consumption,” says Mr Muiru.
Nakuru county veterinary officers are currently conducting mass vaccination of cattle, swine, sheep and goats. But for some farmers, it may be too late for them as they count their losses. Vaccination remains the most effective method of controlling the disease as treatment is usually more costly. It can cost upwards of Kenyan Shillings 2500 (US $ 25) to treat one cow.
Ruth Silantoi, a smallholder farmer in Nakuru, didn’t lose any cattle during the current outbreak. However, she spent a lot of money treating her six cows who became infected with the viral disease. “I spent a total of Kenyan Shillings 15,000 (US $ 148) to treat my six cows. This has really put a big dent on our household income,” noted Ms Silantoi.
Farmers continue to express the need for more vaccine options so that they are able to purchase the vaccine and actively prevent rather than treat the disease. As was voiced by one farmer, “I have spent so much money to buy my improved dairy cattle, if there was a vaccine I could reliably purchase to protect my animals from FMD, I would not hesitate. I would not want my cattle to go through this again, we need more options to fight this disease.”
In responding to this gap, the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed) is implementing a new project that seeks to increase the supply of FMD vaccine through augmenting the government supply with a private sector model for buying and distributing vaccines. The AgResults Foot and Mouth Disease Vaccine Challenge Project will expand the FMD vaccine offering by encouraging pharmaceutical companies around the world to develop, register, and commercialise improved FMD vaccines in Eastern Africa – specifically in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia. This will enable farmers to have more options for accessing the vaccine and be more active in the control of the disease by vaccinating more regularly even when there is no outbreak.
Written by Beatrice Ouma, Senior Communications Manager, GALVmed