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.

Improving vet services for small-scale producers through digital apps

Sixty-two-year-old Grace Kamau carries tattered, yellowed documents that she stores in a cupboard in her bedroom with care. These precious documents contain records about the health of her livestock. One of the documents shows when the local vet came to vaccinate her heifers against Foot and Mouth Disease. Another is for when her cow was inseminated. Grace also has numerous aging receipts of animal health products. These documents paint a vivid picture of Grace’s interaction with various veterinary officials over a period. But she rarely brings them out unless specifically requested, which means the various veterinary officials she interacted with in the past did not always get to see the history of her animals’ health but would begin by treating new symptoms.

Many small-scale livestock producers have contact with several veterinary officials but rarely keep records of their livestock’s health, often relying on vague estimates and guesses based on their past experiences to make animal health decisions. And when they do have such records, many of them, like Grace keep them manually, often stored away and rarely consulted.

Making such records easily available can immensely improve decision making at the farm. If a farmer wants to build a financially successful livestock enterprise, record keeping is a must. The records can be used to further develop the farm and the herd, and thereby the sector in the country. Thanks to increased penetration of mobile phones across the developing world, farm data is going digital to improve service delivery for small-scale producers.

“There’s tremendous opportunities that data presents. If we can combine data that exists internally and externally, we are able to use advanced analytics to predict disease occurrence, predict market size so suppliers can estimate how much product they should produce and supply and where they should supply these products,” says Dr Tom Osebe, GALVmed’s Senior Manager for Commercial Development in Africa.

The LastMile Initiative, which seeks to bridge current gaps in access, availability, and awareness of animal healthcare solutions for smallholder farmers in Africa has joined this digital revolution and launched a mobile app in 2020 that would monitor on-farm animal health services for efficient service delivery by animal health retailers and veterinarians.

At the time of the launch, Emilie Veillat, the Key Account Manager and “LastMile” application lead, at Boehringer Ingelheim noted that mobile app was not only critical for accurate data collection and monitoring, but it also helps teams stay connected, particularly in these challenging times of the pandemic.

Fast-forward to February 2021 and Grace has just been visited by Elijah Kiiru, one of the LastMile’s technicians. This time, Grace doesn’t rely on her manual records. Elijah whips out his smartphone and filters Grace’s records. Grace’s heifer recently gave birth and Elijah notes that in the app. They also go through the chicken’s history. Elijah advices Grace on vaccination of the chickens and other biosecurity measures. Grace’s information is stored securely and is readily available when the LastMile team visits her farm. They can track her visits, advisory services given and health of the animals.

“The LastMile team have helped me to organise my records. When I need information, Elijah is just a phone call away. I am happy with the progress in my farm,” says Grace.

Availability of veterinary data is crucial for providing effective and impactful services to small-scale livestock producers and the LastMile app is part of that solution, gathering information that is turned into knowledge, insights and action that will ultimately improve farmers’ livelihoods.

Written by Beatrice Ouma.

Transforming veterinary services through a digital app

Smallholder farmers in Africa have limited or no access to high quality veterinary medicinal products due to weak distribution channels, low levels of awareness about animal diseases and how these can be prevented or treated. However, smart technologies can empower those hard-to-reach farmers by being part of the solution to leverage on data, surveillance and interconnectivity. The LastMile mobile app is currently being used to collect data that improves the understanding and knowledge about the smallholder farmer sector in order to provide better informed decisions regarding veterinary care for their livestock and poultry.

How technology is transforming animal health

According to FAO, livestock related food items account for about 30% of agriculture related GDP in Africa. This is with the exclusion of other contributions such as manure, draught power and transportation. When we consider that 75% of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) human population is involved either directly or indirectly in farming activities (FAO 2013;2014), it becomes apparent that livestock farming is an important aspect of human development in the region. Livestock diseases however pose a significant barrier to growth with losses thought to be much higher in SSA than the global average of 20% (AU-IBAR). It also limits access to foreign markets through the export of live animals and livestock products.

Pharmaceutical companies generally focus their resources in the developed markets where they derive most of their revenues. For instance, the US commands 43% of the market (ResearchAndMarkets.com). This has led to gaps on the availability of animal health products in SSA that meet farmer needs as well as supply challenges to last mile level. GALVmed aims to evidence that commercial benefit could be realised by operating in this space with the aim of attracting industry players. To this end, technology is emerging as a key enabler which could transform the animal health industry in Africa.

Technology can be used to build infrastructure and tools linking players in the industry. As an example, GALVmed has partnered with cloud-based, animal health product distribution company Cowtribe, to supply rural agrovet retail shops in Ghana which have historically been underserved, with quality animal health inputs competitively. A business to business (B2B) e-commerce platform called Zhulia is allowing agrovets to order animal health inputs with just a tap of a button. Through this platform, orders can be aggregated immediately leading to quantity related discounts translating to lower cost of goods. This also allows for developing of route plans for delivery of the ordered products as agrovets will be mapped in real time. Agrovets can now better manage their inventory, manage sales, enjoy competitive pricing and other related benefits as this has created an ecosystem of actors in the industry.

Data analytics can also unlock tremendous value for animal health industry players. A combination of online behaviour, media reports, GIS and internal data could be used to predict which products will be needed when, where and by who. It could also predict disease outbreaks which could be useful in informing proactive interventions. Signals from internet searches and media could also serve as early indicators of safety of certain products.

As digital health technologies continue to become an integral part of the solution, those working in the livestock sector need to adapt, as such technologies have the potential to greatly increase access, control quality, safety and cost-effectiveness of animal health inputs.

Written by Beatrice Ouma.

The changes we want for women small-scale producers

The International Women’s Day is globally celebrated on March 8 and it is an important occasion to reflect on the challenges that women face every day around the world. This year’s #IWD theme was #ChooseToChallenge – for a challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.

At GALVmed, we believe in women’s empowerment through initiatives that strengthen their capability to become active agents of livestock management and animal health. For women to be able to reach their full potential, there are still many things that need to change in the livestock and agriculture enterprise. We #ChooseToChallenge the animal health landscape to drive change towards a better future for women small-scale producers.

What would we like to see change in the animal health landscape for women small-scale producers?

Access to effective veterinary medicines and vaccines is the guarantee of better livelihoods for women in low-and-middle-income countries. Animal health tools, services, and awareness allow them to better take care of their animals, securing an income and reinforcing their role in their communities, all of which will ultimately lead to social and economic empowerment.

What would enhance women small-scale producers access to economic gains from livestock?

Read more about how livestock can help women break the cycle of poverty.

Change agents: The women making a difference in their livestock communities

Livestock is an important entry point for promoting women’s empowerment.

In the rural areas of the state of Bihar, India groups of local women, known as Pashu Sakhis, are trained to provide basic animal health care to their communities. In 2019, GALVmed and its partners, Veterinary Social Business division of Hester Biosciences Limited, and Bihar Rural Livelihood Promotional Society (BRLPS) held a joint training program for the Pashu Sakhis on the importance of vaccination, deworming and basic goat husbandry practices. 

For Pashu Sakhis’ potential to be fully realised, access to veterinary services is crucial. GALVmed-Hester South Asia initiative aims to strengthen the distribution mechanisms which will increase the supply of quality veterinary medicines and vaccines so that women can continue to take better care of their livestock and improve the livelihoods of their families.

Empowering women through livestock

When it comes to livestock, it has been documented that although women assume much of the responsibility for labour, they rarely derive economic and social gains from the livestock, especially from large animals such as cows, whose ownership is closely associated with men. But the narrative is slightly different for small animals such as goats, sheep, pigs and poultry. Women are more involved when it comes to decisions regarding the care of small stock. These animals give women access to family income (the sale of small ruminants can provide an emergency source of cash for medical treatment or school fees, while daily milk provides a regular flow of cash income often used to purchase food and household items).

In northern India, in the states of Utter Pradesh and Bihar, livestock such as goats provide a lifeline for many rural women.  Twenty-five-year-old Saraswati Devi from Chapati village in Kishanganj in Bihar uses income from livestock to take care of her five-member family’s needs. She recently sold off two goats to repair a leaking roof, replacing the grass thatch with cement roofing.  

“Livestock gives us an annual income of about forty thousand rupees (USD 550). This income helps me to manage my household better”, says Saraswati.  

Small animals like goats and chickens are often nicknamed “ATMs” because they are convenient sources of cash. “As long as I have some goats in the yard, I can turn them into money whenever needs arise”, adds Saraswati.

In the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh, Shivkumari is also rearing goats, which are her family’s primary source of income. While Shivkumari’s husband engages in other agricultural activities, the responsibility of taking care of the goats falls squarely on her. She makes decisions such as when to vaccinate the animals. She knows her decisions directly impact the household.

“Should we lose any goat due to an illness, we lose a lot of income, about forty to fifty thousand rupees per year. This is money we use to educate our children and meet other family expenses. I therefore take very good care of our goats”, says Shivkumari.

Livestock is an important entry point for promoting women’s empowerment in rural areas to enable them to break out of the cycle of poverty. For this potential to be fully realised, access to veterinary services is crucial. GALVmed is working with Hester Biosciences to strengthen the distribution mechanisms which will increase the supply of quality veterinary medicines and vaccines so that women like Saraswati and Shivkumari can continue to take better care of their livestock and improve the livelihoods of their families.

This blog was written by Alternatives and  Beatrice Ouma.

How are we communicating with farmers in times of COVID-19?

COVID-19 has disrupted the way we do business. With travel restrictions in place in many countries and the need to protect each other against the disease, extension services for small-scale producers (SSPs) have been curtailed. Physical farmer trainings and awareness activities have reduced significantly or in some instances been stopped entirely. The GALVmed-Hester South Asia Initiative has taken advantage of the high penetration of smartphones in rural India to keep in touch with SSPs through channels such as social media.

On the trail of PPR & SGP in India

Small ruminants are constantly threatened by diseases such as PPR and Sheep & Goat Pox (SGP). The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), estimates that 80% of the world’s 2 billion small ruminant population in Africa, the Middle East and Asia are threatened by PPR, while Sheep & Goat Pox has a mortality rate of 50% and equally presents significant losses for any livestock keeper.

GALVmed is working with Hester Biosciences to improve vaccination and help raise awareness about the two diseases and the need for routine vaccination through the GALVmed-Hester South Asia initiative.

What livestock mean for small-scale producers

Millions of people around the world rely on small-scale agriculture and livestock farming for their livelihoods. For these families, livestock are assets which translate into vital essentials such as food, housing, education, or health assistance. Within this reality, outbreaks of livestock diseases can be detrimental to the livelihoods of these producers.  

We travelled to Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India where GALVmed is implementing animal health projects with our partner Hester Biosciences, to meet some small-scale producers and find out more about them. Who are they? What do livestock mean for them and their families? And how do they use their livestock income?

Soni Pal is a 19 years old sheep farmer from Gosaura Khurd village. Livestock for Soni means better education. ‘’We can build a better future for ourselves from the income we get from rearing sheep,’’ says Soni.

Similarly, we meet Lal Chandra Pal who says his small sheep farming business has contributed to a better life and education for his children. Lal Chandra proudly shows off his flock of sheep while expressing the importance of these animals to him and his family. For Lal Chandra, the herd has to be well taken care of in order to continue securing income and to guarantee his family’s well-being.  

Lal Chandra Pal with his herd of sheep

In the same village, we also met with a buffalo owner, Krishna Devi, and Sohaga Devi, a goat farmer. Earnings from the animals not only help with their family’s education, but also help to meet their daily expenses, enabling them to improve their lives. “The additional income from goat farming helps us have a better quality of life. It is therefore important that we keep them in good health”, explains Sohana Devi.

Sohana Devi feeding her goats

“I hope to earn a good income from milk. The income will help us give the children better education.” – Krishna Devi

Livestock plays a very important economic and socio-cultural role in the rural villages of developing countries. Rearing of goats and sheep is a common practice in many states of India, and small ruminant diseases such as Sheep and Goat Pox (SGP) or Pest des Petites Ruminants (PPR) can be devastating.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that PPR virus can infect up to 90 percent of an animal herd, and the disease kills anywhere up to 70 percent of infected animals. On the other hand, SGP’s mortality rate is up to 50%, and it is estimated that the total yearly cost of the disease is USD 48 million. Both diseases present significant losses for small-scale producers and have a deep negative impact on the worldwide economy.

When it comes to animal health products, lack of sustainable distribution systems, accessibility gaps, and ineffective and costly medicines are some of the biggest constraints that small-scale livestock producers face in LMIC. Animal health and economics are closely linked, and we cannot understand one without the other. The socio-economic impact and burden of animal diseases not only affect people directly involved in the livestock business but echoes into the whole world. In fact, approximately 70% of all food produced in the world comes from small-scale agriculture, making it an absolute priority to ensure that the small-scale producers in LMIC can access high-quality vaccines and medicines to prevent animal diseases and their consequences.

This blog was posted as part of the camping ”Who are our small-scale livestock producers?” aimed to recognise their importance and value