Improving livestock health, trade and human livelihoods in Africa

Boston -- In many parts of Africa, livestock are not only a source of food, but also an underutilized trading commodity. Working with international and regional agencies, Africa-based researchers from Feinstein International Center (FIC) at Tufts University address policies and practices to improve animal health and trade in local communities, including constraints around the export of livestock and livestock products. Andrew Catley, PhD, a research director at FIC, contributed to a "Viewpoint" article in the July 8th issue of The Veterinary Record that highlights the need for a trustworthy and viable process to certify the status of livestock commodities as a means to encourage safe export trade. An earlier paper by Catley and colleagues addresses the underlying issue of improving health care services for livestock, a challenge in parts of Africa where a dearth of veterinary services hinders efforts.

"Increasing international trade of livestock is a potentially useful poverty reduction strategy for developing regions, particularly Africa, but there are many obstacles that hinder that trade," says Catley. The authors of the Veterinary Record Viewpoint, including lead author G.R. Thomson, emphasize the need for an independent source of certification based on improved international standards to benefit livestock farmers in Africa.

"Under the current World Trade Organization standards that govern international trade of animals and animal products, trade from developing regions to countries like the United States and European nations is hindered because of concerns about government veterinary services in developing countries. These services are often weak and in some countries, are affected by high levels of corruption, yet they're responsible for issuing international health certificates for livestock exports," explains Catley. Importing countries "need verification that there is minimal risk of infectious disease agents that threaten human health or the welfare of livestock populations," he continues.

The authors propose that independent certification bodies be used to foster verifiable documentation and assure importing countries that traded livestock commodities meet acceptable levels of risk with regards to disease transmission. Catley elaborates on the proposal, saying that "fair and reasonable standards need to be created. These standards should be ones that can actually be implemented, and the certification processes need to be trustworthy for both importing and exporting countries."

In an IDS Bulletin paper, entitled "Communities, Commodities and Crazy Ideas: Changing Livestock Policies in Africa," Catley, along with Yacob Aklilu, an agricultural economist at FIC, and colleagues reviewed experiences from the Community-based Animal Health and Participatory Epidemiology (CAPE) Project. The African Union/InterAfrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU/IBAR) established the CAPE Project in 2000 supported by FIC, to create policies and legislation to enhance animal health care in pastoral areas in East Africa. One key issue addressed local concerns about formalizing community-based animal health workers (CAHWs), people who are trained to assist with animal health care in rural areas in Africa where few veterinarians are willing to work.

"The AU/IBAR team developed and applied a range of lobbying, advocacy, networking and learning methods within an overall strategy which recognized the overtly political nature of the policy process," write the authors. As such, they developed specific changes in policy and used a change-oriented management style, which encouraged flexible activities and responses to opportunities. They understood that using "community-based approaches often prompted strong emotional and protective reactions from the veterinary establishment," a potentially critical safeguard.

One important strategy was to recognize local veterinarian fears about the use of CAHWs, and deliberately overcome those fears by providing information and experiential learning that "enabled informed debate between policy actors." In each area of the article, Catley et al take an "historical, technical, and political perspective" to analyze the policy environment, to "assess the importance of different policy actors," and to develop methods and tactics for each country.

Despite the controversies around CAHWs, by the end of 2004, the FIC team and AU/IBAR had worked with national governments in Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda to establish central government units responsible for regulating CAHW activities. Their work also prompted the global body responsible for animal health the Office International des Epizooties to revise its guidelines to include CAHWs as one type of veterinary para-professional.

The paper calls for the "AU's Directorate for Rural Economy and Agriculture and IBAR to broaden their experience with community-based animal health and commodity-based trade policies, and to work with member states and regional communities to address a wider range of policy issues."

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The Feinstein International Center, part of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, combines humanitarian work with analysis and research to create new models for effective humanitarian action. FIC researchers in Africa are based in Ethiopia and current research projects are located in Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, and South Africa.

Thomson GR, Perry BD, Catley A, Leyland TJ, Penrith ML, Donaldson AI. The Veterinary Record (July 8, 2006) 159: 53-57. "Certification for regional and international trade in livestock commodities: the need to balance credibility and enterprise."

Catley A, Leyland T, Admassu B, Thomson G, Otieno M, Aklilu Y. IDS Bulletin (June 2005) Vol 36 No 2. "Communities, Commodities, and Crazy Ideas: Changing livestock policies in Africa."

The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University is the only independent school of nutrition in the United States. The school's eight centers, which focus on questions relating to famine, hunger, poverty, and communications, are renowned for the application of scientific research to national and international policy. For two decades, the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University has studied the relationship between good nutrition and good health in aging populations. Tufts research scientists work with federal agencies to establish the USDA Dietary Guidelines, the Dietary Reference Intakes, and other significant public policies.

If you are interested in learning more about these topics, or speaking with a faculty member at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, or another Tufts health sciences researcher, please contact Siobhan Gallagher at 617-636-6586 or Peggy Hayes at 617-636-3707.


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