Senegal/Guinea-Bissau: livestock are a resource to be cared for
The ICRC is working to improve the health of livestock in the Senegalese region of Fogny and in northwestern Guinea-Bissau, where the animals are critical to economic security.
In the Western Fogny region of Senegal, where there are tens of thousands of heads of livestock, breeding is critical to economic security. Unfortunately, security concerns make it difficult for government officials and veterinarians to visit the region.
Here, as in other parts of Casamance that have been plagued by two decades of armed violence, animals are not properly cared for and nationwide vaccination campaigns cannot be implemented. This translates into a heightened risk of epidemic for the livestock and lost revenues for breeders.
In response, the ICRC has set up a programme to help the breeders. It is aimed primarily at improving veterinary care in these regions. "Our goal is for the breeders to achieve a higher standard of living. We hope to do this by improving the health of their livestock, which are their source of revenue and savings," said Ilda Pina, the ICRC’s programme coordinator in Ziguinchor.
"Goats and sheep are the primary source of savings for breeders," confirmed Abdoulaye Sané, from the Ministry of Livestock in Bignona. "The animals are sold to cover both current needs and unplanned expenses, and it is important to maintain their health through proper care."
Training, and a motorbike
The ICRC selected five veterinary assistants from the community who have been working with the veterinarians and government officials for the past ten years.
"Given the particular circumstances of this region, these veterinary assistants must be able to work independently – more so than elsewhere in Senegal. Hence the need to strengthen their skills through training and provide them with a way to get around easily, which we achieved by giving each of them a motorcycle," said Ilda Pina.
Previously, the veterinary assistants would travel on foot or by bicycle, yet this prevented them from reaching the most remote areas. With motorcycles they can now get to animals that have been out of reach for years.
Every month for six months the veterinary assistants are going to provide free diagnosis and advice services on given days in two particularly isolated villages. They will also implement vaccination campaigns in the most remote areas.
These efforts will eventually allow them to map out the most common diseases in the region, a fundamental step towards eradicating the outbreak of disease. In Senegal, ten diseases are under permanent epidemic monitoring. Without the needed veterinary staff on site, however, it would be impossible to properly monitor these areas of Casamance.
"By treating herds that have so far been neglected, the veterinary assistants are helping preserve the lifestyle of breeders in Fogny. And this in turn mitigates the effects of the unsafe conditions plaguing the region," said Ilda Pina.
Primary source of income
On the other side of the Senegalese border, the northwestern corner of Guinea-Bissau is a poor, remote area inhabited by over 2,000 families. Among them live around 6,000 Senegalese refugees who have fled the violence in Casamance.
These people make a living by harvesting cashews and fishing. Most families also own a small herd of pigs, sheep or goats.
Johao Ntchuda, who owns 15 pigs, said: "We don’t have ricefields here, and so, apart from cashews, pigs are our only source of income. During the dry season, these animals are the only thing we can sell in order to buy a little rice."
Pigs play a prominent role in the life of the community as well. In addition to providing households with income, they have an important symbolic, cultural and ritual value.
Yet these animals receive little or no veterinary care. "We do not have the necessary resources to work in that area," said Carlos Mendez Silva, a young veterinary surgeon with the Ministry of Agriculture’s epidemiology section. Pigs are highly exposed to parasites and disease and therefore run an increased risk of an outbreak, which for the breeders translates into a significant loss of income.
Impact on public health, as well
Like in Casamance, the ICRC helps breeders in this region, but this time through the deworming of pig herds. Eusebio Da Silva, who runs the ICRC’s programme, said: "Our main goal is to help boost household income. Parasite removal helps boost growth and reproduction among the pigs. But there is also a significant impact on public health, because we are helping eliminate the vector by which certain parasites pass from animals to humans."
Around 30 volunteers from the Red Cross Society of Guinea-Bissau conducted a livestock census in May 2010. After being trained and divided into teams, they dewormed the pigs under the technical supervision of the ICRC and a veterinarian. They have treated around 12,000 animals to date.
The programme’s success can also be attributed to the involvement of the authorities and acceptance by the communities concerned. Still, some distrust can be felt among breeders who are not in the habit of having their animals treated. Paulo Lopez, a Red Cross volunteer and radio host on Kassumaï FM in São Domingo, seeks to overcome this reluctance through awareness-raising broadcasts aimed at these communities.
Johao Ntchuda, the herder, is optimistic: "Thanks to this campaign the animals will gain weight, and this will increase their value on the market."