Livestock for survival in Sudan
Sudan, the largest country in Africa, is a land mostly of semi-arid terrain and extreme temperatures. Despite this harsh environment, the majority of the population depend on subsistence agriculture, which employs over 80 per cent of the workforce and contributes 35 per cent of the GDP. However, the long-standing civil war in the south and the conflict in Darfur, adverse weather and weak world agricultural prices have meant that most smallholdings remain rain-fed and susceptible to drought, and that the majority of the populace are extremely poor. For a nation, battered by the rigours of war and climate, livestock are a valued and essential lifeline for survival.
Since 2004, fighting in Darfur has destroyed hundreds of villages, displaced over two million people and resulted in more than 400,000 deaths. Livestock remain an essential resource for most Sudanese, particularly in this western region, but husbandry is often poor, animals are vulnerable to disease and services are lacking.
The majority of livestock in Sudan are raised in traditional pastoral systems, on community rangelands. In western Sudan, during the rainy season, when access is not restricted, households migrate north with their cattle (and some sheep and goats) returning to the savannah during the dry season. Income is derived from the sale of animals, meat, milk and cheese. In southern Sudan, where rainfed, arable farming is possible, more sedentary systems exist. Livestock are also important but tend to be the smaller ruminants.
In southern and western Sudan (particularly around Darfur), USAID and Vétérinaires Sans Frontières/Belgium (VSF) are amongst aid agencies working with the Sudanese government to enhance delivery of a community animal health service, as well as to strengthen local preparedness and response to disease outbreaks. Zoonotic diseases, such as bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis, anthrax and rabies are endemic and, with the risk to public health, severely constrain limited available resources for animal health.
In Darfur, USAID partner, CHF International, recently opened veterinary clinics in Nyala, El Fasher, and Kass where consultations and medicine are offered without charge. Government veterinary clinics also operate in these three towns, but only provide free consultations. CHF has also initiated a number of successful vaccination campaigns, including for rabies and sheep pox. Regular worming in donkeys is also carried out.
In southern Sudan, VSF's six-year integrated animal health programme has continued with delivery of workshops to animal health workers, administrators, chiefs, sub-chiefs, camp leaders and cattle owners to help participants to better understand the use of pasture land, water and migration routes. Discussions include how to minimise conflicts around these issues, as well as how to improve the availability of animal health services. Project staff emphasise the benefit of consulting with tribal leaders to identify the people from their villages who are best qualified to participate and benefit from the available programs.
The programmes include initiatives to improve food security in livestock-dependent communities by strengthening basic veterinary services and establishing a network of local animal health workers. In 2006, VSF trained 875 community animal health workers in a variety of topics, and nearly 400 women in poultry and small animal care. VSF, in collaboration with local human health service providers, also helps support the education of local people about disease prevention and control and how to reduce the risk of zoonotic disease infection spreading from animals to communities. The development of privately owned animal health care businesses is supported through the provision of business skills training. Over eighty have been trained so far, while 50 animal health workers have received start-up 'privatisation kits'.
Settling for a future?
Whilst the training in southern Sudan has been well received and implemented, the continual shifts in populations make it challenging to build sustainable animal health protection capacity in the region. Trained individuals often move on to other employment opportunities, so there is always a need to refresh existing cadres of animal health workers, to continually train new people in areas where numbers are not yet adequate, and in areas where previously access has been difficult.
After years of displacement, those returning home since the North/South peace agreement was signed in January 2005 have faced conflict over cattle and properties from in-situ communities. To avoid the potential for further conflict and tension, USAID has supported negotiations involving civil society leaders, ministers, local officials and representatives of affected ethnic groups.
Whilst these peace councils have been successful in resolving certain issues, there are still tremendous challenges in achieving food security and stability within the region. Dinka agro-pastoralists, for instance, remain vulnerable to raids from neighbouring tribes, such as the Murle. However, good rains in 2007, resulting in improved pasturage, have eased some tensions over availability of water and pastoral land, and a record cereal harvest has shown that while challenges remain, a better future for the region is possible.
Written by: Treena Hein
Date published: November 2007
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