KIRUHURA FARMERS GET IN ‘DO IT YOURSELF’ DRIVE TO SAVE CATTLE

Ankole 11. Lake Mburo district, Nyabushozi, Western Region, Ugan

A team of volunteers known as Kiruhura Vanguards is traversing the district talking to farmers, local leaders and other stake holders in a bid to stem cattle mortality due to resistant tick borne disease.

Kiruhura is a predominantly farming Community. They rear animals and till the land for a living.  It is from these two activities (animals & crops) that they derive most of their livelihood.  In the last 5 or so years, the animals and crops have been attacked by diseases. Banana wilt and tick-borne diseases.

I talk more on cattle diseases given that I am a cattle keeper.  There are three major tick-borne vectors in Kiruhura. East Coast Fever (amashuyo), bovine-anaplasmosis (kashanku) and babesiosis (omusito).  A cow can suffer from one or several of these diseases and they are not new. What has changed is that farmers moved away from the more resistant local breeds to the exotic Diary herd – which makes commercial sense. But these are very susceptible & demand high quality care.

A combination of factors has exacerbated tick resistance. Adulterated drugs, proximity to Lake Mburo National park where wild game mix with cattle herds, the largely unsprayed goat herds that roam from farm to farm etc. While this situation was tolerated by our indigenous long-horned cows, exotics have not. Farmers have lost cattle in thousands. Dr. Bameka, the District Vet tells me that overgrazing is also an extenuating issue, given that underfed cattle are more susceptible to disease. “Farmers treat their cows when they fall sick, in most cases they will get to a Vet when the cow/s are not responding to their own concoctions of drugs, in most cases it’s too late to save the cattle”

The Kiruhura communities who predominantly vote NRM feel that Government has done little to assist them. Growing up in Kazo county, herds were predominantly local, the ankore long horned. We had a fully fledged Sub County Veterinary Officer.  I remember his name Dr. Tibyabakwe.  At present, the person in charge is an animal husbandry officer, a Diploma holder. Farmers say that he is over-stretched and can’t cover Kazo, where he is allocated. Repeat this situation across the district which has 18 sub counties and you can clearly see the problem.

Farmers largely get by, including treating their own animals. The District Veterinary Officer (DVO) says that problems are many including care of animals at the farm.  “People here are very attached to their animals, but they are equally stubborn.  They think they know it all and rarely listen to Veterinary advice”. When I challenged him that it’s because farmers have no choice but to take the situation into their hands, the Vet said: routinely I get farmers ‘bipping’me, when I call back, I am asked to give animal treatment advice on the phone. I say I need to visit the farm, they say they have no fuel for me to go, they insist that I instruct them over the phone on what to do”

The Vet says using injectables and acaricides in the way farmers deem fit is a major problem. He reckons that this, combined with fake drugs on the market has brought about tick resistance. Recently out of desperation, farmers are mixing concoctions of antibiotics to treat their sick animals. The same with acaricides. Some have resorted to mixing anti-killing toxins with acaricides in a bid to kill ticks! The situation is pretty desperate. There is also no uniform animal care on farms.  Farmer ‘A’ may spray his cattle once a week, but his neighbor ‘B’ may spray every 2 weeks.  Large herds of unsprayed goats roam from farm to farm unrestrained. This I have personally observed in my neighborhood – uncared for goats decimated thousands of my planted trees!  Most farmers in the District do not spray their goats.  Those who do a good job of regular spraying are let down by those who don’t.  The total sum is serious issues that need a multifaceted approach, majorly, government interventions.

I asked the DVO how many trained personnel are available to farmers in Kiruhura.  He said only 3 Veterinary Doctors.  If you include animal production officers and animal husbandry officers with Diplomas the total for Kiruhura is 12. A Google search for cattle numbers in Kiruhura sprung up a 2008 national animal census indicating 188,686 cows then. There are a lot more now, so you can work out the ratio of vet to cow. It’s incredibly difficult to see quick fixes but certainly, Government needs to pay attention. Fortunately, I am reliably informed that both the President & Hon. Joy Kabatsi, Minister of State for Animal Husbandry are taking keen interest.

Lack of sufficient animal husbandry & personnel, unregulated acaricide trade (fake drugs), lack of Farmers training on modern techniques including improved cattle feeds, the mix of wild game and cattle near Lake Mburo are some of the key issues Government could fix. There was a time when Government obtained funds to implement the National Livestock Productivity Improvement Project (NLPIP), what became of it?  Can’t distressed communities such as those in Kiruhura get direct interventions from such projects in MAAIF?

Dennis Katungi – Communications & Media Relations Manager UMC

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