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Traceability for small-scale livestock farmers in Africa

A dorper ram marked with the Intervet ID tags (Rachelle Cloete)
A dorper ram marked with the Intervet ID tags
Rachelle Cloete

With emerging farmers struggling to meet the requirements for the export market, South Africa is experimenting with a new technology which could lift even small scale farmers to export status. Intervet ID tags, which have been introduced on a voluntary basis to small scale farmers in Northern Cape, are part of a global traceability system. Livestock are fitted with bar-coded ear tags, linking each animal to a central database* containing information such as sex, weight, treatment history and change of ownership. When animals are sold, new owners can download free software to become part of the traceability chain, thereby accessing the available information.

According to Rachelle Cloete, a co-founder of the technology, the system will also be of use to small-scale farmers who lack access to computers. For these farmers, a book-based written version of the system is available, enabling them to become part of a managed livestock supply chain. "We deal with farmers with as few as three livestock and it is amazing how they are adopting the technology. Through their unique numbers on the tag, they are able to maintain the data. If there is a disease outbreak, it will be easier for it to be tracked and controlled." Cloete is hopeful that within five years, emerging farmers in the Northern Cape will have obtained export status through the system.

Tracking livestock movements

Kenya is currently trialling a traceability system based on computer chips, which are swallowed by the animal and linked to a satellite-based global positioning system. A system being piloted by Practical Action in Mandera district, north eastern Kenya, connects livestock to a database which not only identifies the animal, its owner, district, movement permits, and vaccination records, but also keeps a record of the animal's movements. Having access to such information will not only help cattle herders in meeting the requirements for meat and livestock exports, but could also allow quick action to be taken in the event of cattle rustling.

Rams arrive and are tagged and scanned into a central database (Rachelle Cloete)
Rams arrive and are tagged and scanned into a central database
Rachelle Cloete

One concern, however, is that cattle rustlers will use the system to their advantage, tracking the movement of animals using their own computer software. Having a system of passwords may help to prevent this but, according to Abdul Haru, Area Coordinator for a vulnerability reduction programme in northern Kenya, it would also be important to link the system to the peace committees and government security forces operating in the region, which includes parts of Somalia and Ethiopia. The high cost of the system, he concedes, has also been a setback. However, the system could not be rolled out without government support, because of its implications for security and policy. Haru is hopeful that the government and the regional bodies will support the initial investment, which is far less than the cost of cattle rustling per year. For the farmers, the chips will be very cheap and could be used and re-used for over 30 years.

An appropriate technology?

Patrick Ole Pampa, a pastoralist who owns at least 40 cattle says the technology will need to be strongly advocated if it is to be adopted, especially among Maasai pastoralists. "We are used to the common means of identification, like branding the animals. Changing will be a bit difficult. But maybe if the concept is well explained to pastoralists, some might opt to use it." For himself, he thinks that he would opt to change to the technology if it were affordable and could help him recover stolen animals.

According to Minister of Trade and Industry, Mukhisa Kituyi, the new traceability technology could play a big role in helping to control disease outbreaks, such as the recent spread of Rift Valley fever in Kenya's North Eastern province. He notes that for Kenya to penetrate the EU market it is compelled to adhere to food and feed regulations which include animal traceability, adding "The government welcomes any technology that would act as a traceability tool. The system would also protect the citizens of export countries."

*GMPBasic Patented Livestock Traceability Program

Written by: Ebby Nanzala

Date published: July 2007


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