Impact of Foot and Mouth Disease on small-scale producers and the hope for better solutions

Lawrence Njane who lives in Kahuho village, Kiambu county in Kenya has been keeping dairy cattle for the last two decades after retiring from civil service.  During this period, he has encountered various livestock diseases and has been dealing with them with the help of animal health experts in his locality. But something unique happened to his livestock in 2019 which he says he has never experienced before. A particularly devasting outbreak of foot and mouth disease swept through his village and destroyed his and his neighbour’s livestock businesses and killed many young calves.

Foot and mouth disease is highly contagious, spreading very quickly especially in farms belonging to small-scale livestock producers due to lack of effective biosecurity measures. During outbreaks such as that witnessed in Kenya in 2019-2020, productivity of animals in the affected regions is severely impacted and restrictions on cattle movement affect both intra-country and regional trade.

Lawrence, who owned 14 heifers prior to the outbreak, has now been left counting his losses after losing four calves and selling off most of his heifers that became non-productive. He is now left with only two heifers. Even though he was not milking all his cows before the outbreak, his milk production has reduced from 70 liters per day to a mere 18 liters per day.

“Prior to the outbreak, I was averaging an income of about Kenya shillings 80,000 (US$ 730) per month. I was servicing a bank loan which I had taken to buy some land so I could increase the feed production for the animals. Now I am averaging just Kenya shillings 14,000 (US$ 127). This disease has set me back drastically,” says Lawrence.

But Lawrence is not about to give up livestock farming. He is hoping that a more reliable solution, such as a better vaccine, can be developed and be made widely available so he can continue with his passion and livelihood without having to worry that his investment will go down the drain.    

In 2020, AgResults launched an eight-year, US$17.68 million prize competition that supports the development and uptake of high-quality FMD vaccines tailored to meet the needs of Eastern Africa. The Project is encouraging the development of a private sector model for buying and distributing high-quality FMD vaccines, to complement public sector efforts so that farmers like Lawrence have better accessibility to effective vaccines to protect their cattle.

“If there was reliable access to a vaccine that will protect my cows from FMD, why would I not buy it after sinking my life savings in this business?” asks Lawrence. For now, Lawrence and his neighbours are left to manage the symptoms, not knowing when this most infectious disease may strike again.

Written by Beatrice Ouma.