A4NH / Agri-Health / Disease Control / East Africa / Emerging Diseases / Food Security / Health / ILRI / Kenya / Nutrition / Southern Africa / Zoonotic Diseases

Living with livestock, and livestock livings, in the city

Goat in Kibera

Goat in Nairobi slum (photo on Flickr by The Advocacy Project).

‘. . . [L]et’s consider what it means to raise urban livestock in the developing world, where people are poorer and hungrier, and cities are much more densely populated. It’s a starkly different picture of people and animals living together, and the question of how it’s done has major implications for improving food security and preventing public health disasters.

‘While humans have been raising food animals in their homes for thousands of years, what’s different now is that they’re doing it with so many other humans crammed next to them.

And they’re not just feeding their families: They’re feeding their neighbors, too. Worldwide, 34 percent of meat and nearly 70 percent of eggs are produced in urban areas, according to a 2008 report by the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization. In Maputo, Mozambique, for example, a city with about 1.2 million people, 37 percent of households produce food and 29 percent raise livestock.

“Those moving from rural areas to the cities are bringing their livestock with them, often keeping them in close confinement inside the slums,” Delia Grace, a veterinary epidemiologist and food safety specialist, tells The Salt. “People keep livestock like chicken, ducks, goats and even cows because there’s huge demand for them, and they’re profitable.”

Grace, of the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, is studying these huge new city ecosystems. In a series of papers she’s published in the past several months in various scientific journals, she has looked at the risks and benefits of urban livestock in the developing world.

‘When it comes to risks, Grace says she’s most worried about what happens to the animal waste—especially in places where human waste isn’t even managed well. And she’s worried that sick animals that go untreated lead to zoonoses—diseases that spread from animals to humans. One of her recent studies, published in the journal Tropical Animal Health and Production, found that zoonoses and diseases recently emerged from animals make up 26 percent of the infectious disease cases in low-income countries.

“We’re talking about the everyday events of disease spreading from animals to humans, and the rare but more serious event of the emergence of a new disease,” she says. “Slums could be a good test tube for growing new pathogens, because people are poor and malnourished, and there’s generally just more disease.”

Kenya - on the way

Goat in Nairobi slum (photo on Flickr by Poland Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

‘Meat and eggs produced in slums also pose a food safety risk, she says. “There’s often no refrigeration or cold chain for these products,” she says.

‘But even with the risks, Grace argues there’s a net benefit from people keeping urban livestock, and cities should be trying to help producers learn how to safely care for their animals and the food they produce.

‘According to her research, urban livestock generate income and improve the nutrition and health of communities they’re in, because the animals are a source of fresh food for local consumers. When cities try to ban urban livestock, it backfires, she says. “We found that the more people were harassed by the police about their animals, the fewer precautions they took,” she says. . . .’

Read the whole article by Eliza Barclay on the website of the US National Public Radio (‘The Salt’ program): African cities test the limits of living with livestock, 21 May 2013.

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