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Safe food, fair food: improving livestock health and livelihoods

The demand for livestock products is rising (© ILRI)
The demand for livestock products is rising

Rising demand for livestock products is providing opportunities to improve the livelihoods of smallscale livestock farmers across Africa. However, with generally low levels of hygiene throughout the value chain, this new market opportunity for farmers could come at a high price in terms of food-borne disease. In response, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is implementing a 'Safe food, fair food' programme, to improve the safety of livestock products, maximise market access for livestock keepers and minimise the risk of food-borne disease.

"Safer food can generate both health and wealth for the poor, but attaining safe food in developing countries requires a radical change in food safety assessment, management and communication," explains Delia Grace, Safe food, fair food principal investigator. "We are doing this by adapting risk-based approaches, successfully used for food safety in developed countries and international trade, to domestic informal markets, where most livestock products are sold."

The project has conducted national workshops to engage policymakers to raise awareness about the potential food safety hazards that exist along the entire value chain, from farm to fork. "Use of participatory methods at a community level provides ways in which better food safety management in informal markets in sub-Saharan Africa can be promoted," Grace adds.

Hands on experience

"In KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, food safety is monitored at abattoirs," explains Dr Shashi Ramrajh, veterinary public health deputy manager in KwaZulu-Natal. "But food safety does not begin or end in abattoirs - it starts right on the farm." After attending a 'Safe food, fair food' workshop in 2008, Ramrajh embarked on a project to provide training in veterinary health care to reduce health risks along the food chain and boost livelihoods in the province.

Livestock owners are increasingly being seen as responsible for the output of healthy livestock (© FAO/Antonello Proto)
Livestock owners are increasingly being seen as responsible for the output of healthy livestock
© FAO/Antonello Proto

To improve food safety on small farms, Ramrajh has been providing skills development training to the Nkandla municipality Livestock Association (LSA), an organisation representing 55 dip tanks in the area. The first workshop, conducted by Professor Cheryl McCrindle from the University of Pretoria, trained LSA members to differentiate between diseased, injured and healthy organs, by conducting a post-mortem examination on a goat. "This exercise made them aware of what healthy organs should look like so they would be able to differentiate a diseased organ from a healthy one," Ramrajh explains. "Farmers are then able to use their mobile phones to report their findings to animal health technicians, and seek treatment for the rest of the herd."

A local pharmaceutical company conducted a second workshop, training LSA members in identification of diseased animals. "The use of a thermometer as an indicator of health or sickness was a 'wow' moment and everybody wanted to buy one immediately," Ramrajh enthuses. "Injecting cattle to control parasites was also a show-stopper and the farmers were amazed that this treatment could result in the cattle being free of ticks within days of treatment."

To aid disease reporting, farmers have also been taught to use a score card to help them identify diseases from symptoms the cattle are showing. While the score cards have proved popular, Ramrajh explains that they have not yet been perfected. "It takes a specialist eye to diagnose some diseases so we need to continue to develop the score cards, increase the number of vets and also increase training for farmers so they are better equipped to diagnose disease," she states.

With training and new skills, rural communities can provide safe food for local markets. (© ILRI/Steve Mann)
With training and new skills, rural communities can provide safe food for local markets.
© ILRI/Steve Mann

Lack of funding

"This project has empowered livestock owners because they are increasingly being seen as responsible for the output of healthy livestock," Ramrajh adds. "This gives them a sense of being responsible citizens by enhancing food safety." But despite the success of the project and growing demand for the training, continued funding is a major concern. "There is little point in educating farmers when they do not have drugs or equipment to use. If I train farmers on the use of thermometers, then I should be able to give them one so they are able to put their training into practice," Ramrajh argues. She is aiming to provide farmers with basic tool kits containing drugs and treatments for wounds, which can be added to as training is provided. However, this will require funding, which Ramrajh currently does not have.

"Rural communities are the solution to the food security problem," Ramrajh concludes. "With training and skills development they can be brought into the market and provide for the food needs in their own area. Then you can extend that, causing a ripple effect."

Date published: November 2011


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