Senegal: improving cattle health to boost economic security
Christophe Driesse, ICRC coordinator for economic-security programmes in Casamance, joined veterinarian Hans Peter Giess for a three-week case study of animal health in the Fogny region of Senegal. Their aim was to gauge the importance of veterinary care to the survival of local communities. We interviewed them to find out more.
Why did you decide to focus on Fogny?
Fogny is one of the regions worst affected by the conflict in Casamance. Security is poor and residents are sometimes forced to flee, at the risk of losing their cattle. We met one stockbreeder who had to escape to Gambia in 1998. He owned 110 head of cattle back then. By the time he returned to Casamance, 40 had disappeared and some had been stolen.
Stockbreeders in Casamance have no access to veterinary services, since government-employed vets avoid visiting such a turbulent area. Their cattle therefore miss out on national vaccination campaigns. A network of local veterinary assistants has been established, but their effectiveness is limited since they receive little, if any, State support and travel is difficult. We spent three weeks meeting assistants, government-employed vets and local stockbreeders to get a better understanding of the situation.
What impact does a lack of veterinary care have on cattle and their owners?
Parasitic diseases are rife; they are responsible for half of the cattle's health and weight problems, which in turn affect their milk production and sale price. A lack of veterinary care therefore has a negative impact on the growth and productivity of the cattle, and on their life expectancy at birth .
Today, a middleman can buy a sheep for 25,000 CFA francs – around 38 euros – and then sell it for double on the market at Touba Mori, about one hour from Fogny. He uses the fact that security is poor and villages are isolated to boost his bargaining power. A trader may even go to the unstable areas himself to buy sick animals cheaply, get them treated by a vet and then sell them at a much higher price. The stockbreeders have no choice but to sell their cattle well below market price. It is therefore clear that a lack of veterinary services in Fogny is responsible for a major drop in the stockbreeders'income.
How important is stockbreeding to the livelihood of the local population?
Very important; it is a factor of their survival. It seems that most families own two or three head of cattle, a dozen goats or sheep, and poultry. One reason is that animals, and particularly oxen, are needed in farming and rice-growing.
But above all, stockbreeding is a form of investment. Healthy animals can be used to cover any exceptional costs in the inter-harvest period, when people are living off the reserves from the last harvest while waiting for the next. In Casamance, this period falls between the months of August and October. Moreover, stockbreeding looks set to become increasingly important in the future.
Many stockbreeders believe they will become increasingly dependent on their animals, as rice production ap pears to be falling. Locals put this down to water becoming more saline in certain zones, and to young people moving to the cities, leaving ever fewer hands available for rice-growing. When rice production drops, the families sell animals to survive. Given this instability – also the case in cashew-nut and groundnut production – these communities will have to rely increasingly on cattle for food security in the future.
How does the ICRC plan to remedy this situation?
This was the first time we had carried out such a survey since 1998. We believe that supporting veterinary assistants will contribute to improving animal health in the area, whether they give direct veterinary care or facilitate vaccination campaigns. The ICRC therefore plans to give further training to five or six of these assistants, with the help of a veterinary specialist, as well as a refresher course on diagnosis. There are also plans to provide them with motorbikes; up until now, they have had nothing but ordinary bikes to cover this huge area. Improving cattle health is just one of many ICRC projects in the region, and should help to boost the economic security of the local population.