Eritrea: treating livestock means improving livelihoods

21-06-2010 Feature

Even though the 1998–2000 war between Eritrea and Ethiopia is long past, the ICRC remains active in Eritrea, treating the animals that belong to resettled people in areas that were severely affected by the conflict. The ICRC's Michael Kifle reports.

©ICRC/E. Becurezion 
  Debub Region. A veterinarian from the Ministry of Agriculture treating livestock in Golo village    
©ICRC/B. Woldemichael 
  Gash Barka Region. A veterinarian from the Ministry of Agriculture vaccinating livestock in Anagulu village    
©ICRC/E. Becurezion 
  Debub Region. A veterinarian from the Ministry of Agriculture vaccinating a camel in Mai Guduf village    

Drought is one of the major problems that affects livestock productivity in Eritrea. Normally the rainy season occurs between July and September, the dry season lasting for nine months from October to June. The availability of grazing land declines from December onwards, the most critical period being from March to June every year.

On top of drought, the 1998–2000 war with Ethiopia further aggravated the already poor condition of livestock in the border areas with Ethiopia. Animals became scattered far and wide, many were lost and many died.

 Keeping animals alive through the dry season  


The ICRC aims to reduce the number of animals that die during the dry season by implementing anti-parasite treatments. Working closely with the Eritrean Ministry of Agriculture, the ICRC is carrying out livestock treatment campaigns in over 100 villages of the Gash Barka, Debub and Southern Red Sea regions that border with Ethiopia.

To date, more than one million livestock (shoats, cattle, donkeys and camels) have been treated for endo- and ectoparasites. As Vera Eames, ICRC’s Eritrea Economic Security delegate, explained, " Treated animals generally produce more milk and meat and are more likely to survive drought, " adding, “Healthier animals mean better livelihoods. So far, our veterinary programmes have helped almost 180,000 people in more than 36,000 households.”

 Healthy animals are means of survival  


Many people rely on animals for their survival. One such is Ibrahim Saleh, village elder in Golo village, Debub region. “Thanks to the treatment of our livestock, we are now able to generate income for our family and buy food and clothing for our children by selling healthy animals, " he said.

The ICRC’s original aim, as an emergency intervention, was to treat animals against parasites once a year in May-June, towards the end of the long dry season. In 2009, following the recommendation of the Ministry of Agriculture, the ICRC began to carry out its veterinary programme twice a year, before and after the rainy season, with the aim of improving livestock production.

Teams of veterinarians from the Ministry of Agriculture and the ICRC were divided into four groups in different administrative areas, each team consisting of six to nine people equipped with all the necessary drugs. The timing of each treatment was fixed well beforehand with the village administrators. The villagers, meanwhile, knowing when the teams were due to visit, erected temporary fences which corralled the livestock and enabled the veterinary process to proceed quickly.

 More milk, more money  


A subsequent evaluation of the programme, involving interviews with livestock owners, revealed an observed decrease in ticks (external parasites) on the bodies of livestock a few days after treatment. Confirming the effectiveness of the treatment against parasites, Ali Ahmed, a farmer from Mai Guduf village in Debub region, said, " We have never seen such a fast body weight gain in such a short time. We are now producing more milk and, by selling milk products, earning money. "

 Wonder drug named the 'Fattener' by farmers  


The farmers in Gash Barka region have also appreciated the provision of such assistance and have named ivermectin (the drug) " Fattener " . " The animals are like our bank. We totally depend on them for our livelihood. With the money we get from the sale of the livestock we are able to pay tractor owners to plough our land, " said Kahsay Semere, a farmer in Anagulu village.

The reduction in endo- and ectoparasites is allowing weakened animals to make best use of scarce fodder resources in the different regions. The treatments are also helping animals to resist diarrhoeic syndromes caused by fresh fodder at the beginning of the rainy season. With these treatments, livestock mortality rates are decreasing and the condition of valuable livestock improving.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, the ICRC is planning to treat half a million livestock in the three border regions in 2010.