April 18, 2007

Oromo: Ensuring Healthy Pastoralism

An experimental community-based training program for veterinarians, sponsored by Oromo authorities and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, aims to preserve the pastoralist existence in Oromo.

Below is an article published by Reuters AlertNet:

Jemal Adem, a 20-year-old pastoralist, has spent every night in the last seven months away from home, often sleeping on dusty ground, and always surrounded by his camels.

Jemal left his village in Ethiopia's Fentale district in the southern Oromia regional state last September, along with seven relatives, in search of pasture for their livestock. Since then, have reached Shashemene, 297 km from home.

"It was bona [dry season] in our area," he explained. "We went in search of something for our camels to eat."

Grazing their 1,000 camels in the small village of Wokitiu, near the town of Adama, Jemal said he was hoping that the rains that had started falling would persist. "If the rain continues at this pace, it will hasten my return to our village of Jida," he told IRIN.

To Jemal, one of the four million pastoralists living in Oromia regional state, camels mean everything. When a child is born in the community, the family picks out a camel that becomes the newborn's first possession.

"During my stay in the bushes, all I live on is camel milk," he explained.

Since leaving home, some of Jemal's family have had to stay with camels that have given birth along the way. But harder still, is when the animals succumb to disease.

"Thirty to 40 camels have died from our flock," said Mohammed Ali, one of Jemal's family members.

Drugs hard to find

Jemal's fellow villagers have lost many animals to disease in the last two years.

"The camels first began coughing, then their skin turned rough before they stopped eating," Mohammed described the symptoms of one disease that has hit their area three times.

"I bought a bottle of drugs with a camel picture on it," he said, when asked how he treated the sick animals.

According to Mohammed, they at first relied on traditional medicines to treat their livestock. Later they decided to travel as far as the bigger towns in search of modern drugs.

They first went to Metahara, a town near Fentale, and later to Adama, 98 km from the capital of Addis Ababa. Here, Mohammed visited the pharmacies and bought the drugs with the camel picture on them.

Veterinarians said the camels could have been suffering from any number of diseases: black leg, pasteureollosis, trypanosis or external parasites.

Mohammed and his relatives, they added, were fortunate they were able to access treatment for their camels from veterinary stores in Adama. Many other pastoralists could not.

"There are so many animal diseases in the pastoralist areas," said Tesfaye Bekele, head of the animal health team at the Oromia Pastoralist Development Commission (OPDC). "There are also shortages of veterinary clinics. But even if the clinics are built, the people remain mobile."

According to Tesfaye, the pastoralist lifestyle of the camel herders makes it uneconomical to build veterinary clinics.

"The pastoralist way of life depends on finding graze lands for their camels. The solution is to select some pastoralists from the community and train them [in veterinary skills] to fill the gap."

Training community workers

The new approach of training community-based veterinary workers is being tried out by Oromia regional state, in collaboration with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Under the auspices of the Community Based Animal Health Delivery System, the OPDC has created training programmes for Community Animal Health Workers (CAHWs) who will carry out veterinary services in the areas where the pastoralists move around.

The CAHWs are trained to treat the animals, sell drugs and conduct disease surveillance. "The new approach is different because the CAHWs are selected from among the pastoralists themselves," Tesfaye said.

Two weeks ago, the first veterinary officers and assistants, from 22 districts in the pastoralist zones of Oromia, graduated after 12 days of training in Adama. In turn, they will be expected to train 12 to 15 CAHWs in their respective villages.

Teka Gemi, a veterinary worker from Mede Welabu in Bale district, said the new approach would enable his coworkers to reach vast areas where the pastoralists graze their livestock.

"Out of the 20 kebeles [localities] I am supposed to cover, I have never reached three of them due to the vastness of the area," he explained. Teka, whose territory contains more than 100,000 pastoralists, said budgetary and transport constraints had severely limited his work.

According to a ministry of agriculture and rural development report, some 379 veterinary doctors, 832 animal health assistants, 1,983 animal health technicians, 216 laboratory technicians and 245 meat inspectors were registered in 2006.

Yet the country has huge livestock resources which form the backbone of the pastoralist economy in some regions like Oromia. According to the Central Statistics Authority, there were more than 40 million cattle, 25 million sheep, 22 million goats and 1 million camels in 2004/5.

"Given such a shortage of trained manpower, the CAHWs contribution is critical in areas where animal diseases are rampant," Teka said.