An initiative launched this year that seeks inclusive agricultural growth and improved nutrition in four agricultural value chains in Kenya is now working to address challenges facing smallholder dairy farmers.
A Feed the Future program in Kenya, Accelerating Value Chain Development (AVCD), which works in four value chains (dairy, livestock, root crops and drought-tolerant crops), is introducing technologies that will enable smallholder farmers to improve the productivity of their farming systems.
The program’s dairy component is helping to improve diet diversity, food security and rural incomes in western Kenya by addressing, among other challenges, the problem of East Coast fever (ECF) in livestock. ECF is the most important infectious cattle disease in Kenya. It leads not only to decreased productivity but also to cattle deaths. This tick-borne disease kills approximately 1 million cattle per year and leads to an estimated annual economic loss of about 20 billion Kenya shillings.
Although several effective ECF curative drugs are available, treatment is mostly effective when applied in the early stages of the disease. But the treatment is expensive and beyond the reach of many smallholder farmers and there is a growing problem of tick resistance to several acaricides used in managing the disease. Before the launch of the ECF vaccine in Kenya in 2012, tick control provided the only effective method of containing the spread of ECF.
Empirical studies indicate that the vaccine gives protection of 95–98% but lack of information and reliable access to the ‘live’ vaccine by smallholder dairy farmers remains a challenge. In addition, its mode of delivery is more complicated than that of other vaccines.
Improved breeds are particularly susceptible to ECF and the disease is a major impediment for dairy farming, which relies on more productive improved or exotic breeds.
A recent study focusing on ‘Infectious Diseases of East African livestock (IDEAL)’ identified ECF as one of the main diseases in parts of western Kenya. It found that farmers in the region need knowledge and resources to tackle challenges such as those posed by ECF. Doing so will help the farmers realize higher productivity and more effectively participate in Kenya’s lucrative dairy value chain.
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), an AVCD partner has worked with partners for several decades to develop effective and affordable ways to better control ECF. Since early 2016, AVCD dairy has been working to increase farmer awareness of ECF vaccines and how to access them. ILRI has partnered the county governments in western Kenya (Busia, Siaya, Vihiga, Kisumu, Homa Bay and Migori counties) in expanding the vaccine’s distribution and delivery.
The AVCD dairy component has successfully introduced a certified ECF vaccine distributor in western Kenya. In addition, ECF vaccination training sessions have been held for animal health service providers. In past two months, more than 1600 animals from 395 households have been vaccinated against ECF in Homa Bay, Migori, Kisumu and Vihiga counties out of 24,000 households to be covered in the next three years.
These enhancements of ECF vaccination services will be expanded to three other counties in eastern Kenya (Kitui, Makueni and Taita Taveta).