“The poultry farmers in my community used to lose their birds to Newcastle disease every year. At one point, there were just a few indigenous birds in and around my community because most of them died due to the NCD outbreak. After the training I received from the Veterinary Council of Nigeria (VCN) and my State, Gombe State, I now have a good understanding of how to protect the birds in my community. My customers are very happy now because their birds are no longer dying.”
……. Haruna Taaziya
In rural communities, livestock farmers barely have access to veterinary services. Trained veterinary professionals hardly see the market value in engaging with smallholder farmers because they have few animals, accessibility of the communities, and the low disposable income of farmers. Due to these factors among others, smallholder rural livestock farmers often lose their livelihood. Rural veterinary service is essential to smallholder farmers residing in rural communities, especially those in hard-to-reach regions. Veterinary services are defined to include animal vaccination, routine animal management, veterinary advisory services, and animal health management.
According to a report by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Livestock is the second-largest agricultural subsector in Nigeria, and it features 16.43 cattle, 34.69 million sheep, 55.15 million goats, 7.18 million pigs, and 183.16 million poultry birds. Almost 80% of these animals are reared in rural communities. However, these animals are not able to produce optimally because of the occurrence and endemicity of animal diseases which are often unreported, unconfirmed, or poorly documented. The report also has it that, the current annual financial burden of Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR) in sheep, Contagious Bovine Pleuro Pneumonia (CBPP) in cattle, trypanosomiasis in cattle, Newcastle disease (NCD) in poultry, and African Swine fever (ASF) in pigs is ₦ 29.2 billion. To eliminate these losses, an estimate of ₦10.8billion will be required to eliminate these losses. Animal diseases are indeed a debacle to animal production among rural smallholder farmers.
Due to the lack of access to veterinary services by trained professionals and the incessant outbreak of animal diseases, the farmers are faced with a double-edged sword that has a colossal effect on their livelihood, food security, and nutrition. The Northeast of Nigeria is home to the largest number of ruminants in Nigeria and has the largest market for small ruminants across Africa. Livestock trading is a major occupation for farmers in the Northeast and the region has one of the highest populations of rural smallholder farmers in Nigeria. Our experience, over the past few years, has shown that the lack of access to veterinary services and quality inputs is a major issue for livestock farmers in the Northeast.
In 2022, Mercy Corps through its Rural Resilience Activity project partnered with Ikore International Development Limited to improve the resilience capacities of conflict-affected households, communities, and market systems using market-led approaches layered with complementary investments in humanitarian assistance to contribute to economic recovery and growth. It also sought to reinforce practices that move away from dependency on non-market-driven initiatives. To implement this, Ikore (the implementer), used the Community Animal Health Workers (CAHW) Program model and hinged on this, is a system that ensures accountability of the CAHWs to the States through the disease reporting system. To set this into motion, Ikore further partnered with the implementing State and the Veterinary Council of Nigeria (VCN), which is the statutory body charged with regulating veterinary practice in Nigeria.
The CAHW program is modeled to ensure rural smallholder livestock farmers have access to quality and affordable veterinary services through VCN-trained and certified entrepreneurial individuals who are residing within the farmers’ communities. The program is self-sustaining, in that the CAHWs interested in being certified by VCN are expected to pay for the training, or organizations interested in expanding their market size can pay the fee on behalf of the CAHW, to VCN. Development organizations and partners can also invest in entrepreneurial individuals in rural communities, who have little or no access to veterinary services, to pass through the training. Having seen and agreed with the state on the need to expand the reach of veterinary services to rural smallholder farmers in Gombe state, Ikore facilitated the program implementation in the state.
During the first quarter of the year 2023, the CAHW program commenced in Gombe State. Taaziya is one of the 50 CAHWs who got trained in the State. Having made her commitment fee, which was part of the training fee that Ikore paid to VCN, the state-trained VCN trainers trained the selected entrepreneurial individuals for 3 weeks. These CAHWS were selected from across the RRA LGAs. Taaziya is from Funakaye LGA, and she and 7 other individuals went through the training that included in-class sessions and practical sessions in farms, veterinary clinics, and abattoirs. The VCN’s CAHW curriculum was used in training the CAHWs.
Taaziya was excited with the in-class training because the trainers gave the trainees in dept teaching about animal health management. They were taught about herd health, welfare, and rights. One of the most interesting was disease management where Taaziya learned how to properly identify diseases by clinical signs and how to treat, prevent and control diseases. She and her colleagues never knew that there were some diseases that could not be treated but could be prevented. She learned some veterinary techniques and how to handle drugs and vaccines. During the training, she saw the importance of disease reporting to her community and the state. She also learned how to manage her business in such a way that she would be able to make a profit. Towards the end of in-class training, Ikore installed an e-tool into the Android phones of the CAHWs which was to aid their disease reporting to the state. The tool helps the CAHWs to send their reports to the state in an instant rather than waiting until the end of the month to send hard copies of the report or scan such reports to their supervisors through their WhatsApp. To aid communications, a WhatsApp group was created where the CAHWs could easily interact with each other and their supervisors.
During the practical session, the CAHWs were taught how to handle animals, manage cases on the field, and how some veterinary equipment is used. The last week of the training was used in the CAHWs’ various LGAs where they were posted to the clinics in the LGA secretariats.
“At Funakaye, we reported to the veterinary clinic daily and we worked with our supervisor to attend to livestock farmers who brought their animals for treatment. We saw cases like worm infestation, ticks and lice infestations, foot rot, Newcastle disease, sheep pox, CBPP, PPR, and hoof trimming. We were taught practically how to manage these cases. We also supported our supervisor during vaccination on a farm. The one week was very interesting”. Taaziya said.
At the end of the training, the 50 CAHWs were evaluated by the veterinary statutory body, VCN, to ascertain their level of knowledge, and so began a new beginning and experience for the CAHWs.
To introduce the CAHWs to their communities as qualified CAHWs to provide support for the rural livestock farmers, Ikore supported the CAHWs by organizing activation events.
At Funakaye, Taaziya led the Ikore team to have advocacy visits to the leaders of the various communities in Funakaye. Having explained the purpose of the activation and getting the consent of the leaders, a day was agreed on and a venue was decided. Taaziya and the other CAHWs in the LGA placed posters across several communities and invited the farmers to the activation event.
The purpose of the activation event is to sensitize the farmers about the activities of the CAHWs, and various interventions they have in managing their animals such as vaccination, routine management, and basic animal health management that the farmers require on a day-to-day basis. It also informs them about their access to Veterinary professionals who are mandated to provide off-field support for the CAHWs. During the activation events, Adamu and his team also made use of drama playlets to send messages about the importance of protecting their animals against infectious diseases like NCD with the use of vaccines.
“A lot of farmers came from different distant communities to attend the activation event. The event brought us to the limelight in our communities. Farmers have been calling me to provide veterinary services for them at home. The introduction of the vaccine and drug retailers has also helped us because we can easily access the retailer for these products that are readily available. My income has increased since I became a CAHW. Being a CAHW has given me more responsibility to my community, and people respect me the more because I am able to keep their animals healthy and affordably.”
With over 10,000 reports generated from the CAHWs’ engagements with farmers that include services such as disease management, routine animal management, and vaccination services over 50,000 animals have been managed, treated, or vaccinated with an estimated animal value of over ₦800,000,000 saved by the CAHWs interventions across the implementation states of Adamawa and Gombe state.
All the reports generated were from the e-tool that was deployed to the phones of the CAHWs. This tool provides data that can be used to track disease outbreaks and the pattern of the outbreak. Once it is adopted by the state, it can be used to make decisions regarding how the states can redress their budget allocation towards disease control in the various states. This will change the way the state sees disease reporting henceforth. As a result of this, the client, Mercy Corps, will be facilitating further training of the decision makers in some of the states to have more technical knowledge of the tool in using it to make decisions.
The major impact is on the farmers who now have ready access to affordable veterinary services within their communities. As reported in the table, the farmers will hardly lose their animals to diseases and so will be able to save their livelihood, improve their food security and improve their nutrition.
Continuous marketing and sensitization events are essential to bringing information to farmers. A lot of farmers are kept in the dark without knowing that there are solutions to their problems. When Taaziya and her team vaccinated the indigenous birds of the women in their communities, they were surprised that birds could be vaccinated just the way children are vaccinated against polio disease. This has indeed broken a myth.
Access to veterinary services and input is essential to livestock farmers in rural communities. These livestock farmers know the value of their animals both economically and socially. Families are left broken when they lose their animals so Mercy Corps facilitating the funding of the CAHWs program has made a major mark in improving their livelihoods and saving them from the loss of millions of naira.