Thursday, August 13, 2009

Niger: Dying animals affect human health in Niger’s far-east

What killed his cows?

In parts of Niger’s far-east Diffa region, animals dying from malnutrition have a direct impact on human food security and nutrition, according to local Livestock Ministry officials.

Regional livestock director Kosso Matta Kellou told IRIN 90 percent of Diffa’s residents count on animals for survival, and that poor animal health has been overlooked as a cause of human malnutrition.

“There is a chain effect and it is a precarious situation.”

According to preliminary results of a 2009 government survey on malnutrition among under-five children, currently under review, Diffa has the country’s highest rate of acute malnutrition – 17.4 percent – a five-point jump over last year, but still lower than 2007’s rate of 19.4 percent.

Matta Kellou said Livestock Ministry officials plan to look into local reports of animal deaths – with some breeders reporting to have lost as many as 25 percent of their animals.

“Most of these deaths are linked to malnutrition,” said Matta Kellou. In January 2008 the government carried out its first mass animal vaccination campaign, which has cut down on livestock deaths due to disease, he told IRIN.

But free vaccines cannot save animals from malnutrition, Matta Kellou said.

He said pastoralism accounts for more than half of Diffa’s economy, linking animal health directly to human health. “More animals are dying due to malnutrition than disease this year. Shrinking pastoral lands and animal malnutrition are still real problems.”

Niger in 2008 had a more than five-million-ton shortage of naturally grown animal feed, and Diffa was one of the most affected regions, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The pastoral and agricultural outlook is “worrying” due to weak and late rains thus far in 2009, FAO’s assistant coordinator in the emergency coordination unit, Nourou Tall, told IRIN.

A recent inter-ministerial bulletin on agriculture and pastoralism noted that rainfall in July had improved grazing land and that animal health is good overall.

But herders in Diffa region told IRIN they are being forced to sell under-fed sick animals before the animals die. “I have had that cow for five years,” said breeder Malam Sinear, pointing to a cow lying on the ground in his village of Kinjandi, 80km east of the town of Diffa.

“She is half her normal weight. If we kill her now I could earn US$34. But I could earn 10 times as much if she were in good health.” He asked if IRIN would like for him to prop her up for a picture because the cow could not stand on her own.

Sinear said the two tons of wheat he received from FAO earlier this year are long gone. FAO provided breeders in Diffa 636 tons of feed in 2009.

The breeder pointed to a growing hole in the side of his home to indicate how he had started feeding his animals sections of his home, made of dried wheat. Sinear told IRIN he has lost six of his 43 animals in 2009 and three more are now sick.

Local butcher Iliassou Idi told IRIN more breeders are trying to sell him their wasting animals. “I buy them and sell the meat at 50 cents for four pieces of meat.”

In the weekly livestock market in Djario 24km away, breeder Mamadou Difjao told IRIN he has lost five of his 20 animals to piroplasmosis in 2009 – 40 percent – versus three deaths out of 25 animals in 2008, or 12 percent.

The disease is caused by a parasite transmitted through ticks; infected animals lose their appetite and waste away.

Difjao said he vaccinated his animals rather than calling the local livestock agent because he would have had to pay for the agent’s gasoline cost to administer the vaccine.

The local agent, El Sidi Heikey, told IRIN his budget does not include money for gasoline costs to make house visits.

Regional livestock director Matta Kellou said without an official diagnosis it is hard to know if it was disease or hunger that killed the animals.

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN
Published by Mike Hitchen,
Putting principles before profits