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Zoetis ALPHA initiative closing gender gap and extending borders in sub-Saharan Africa

Zoetis’ African Livestock Productivity and Health Advancement (ALPHA) initiative is increasing access to animal health education and infrastructure in its second year.

29 May 2019, at 2:20pm
ALPHA initiative closing gender gap and extending borders in sub-Saharan Africa © Zoetis

Following the success of ALPHA in Uganda, Nigeria and Ethiopia, the initiative was extended by two years, and will now run until 2022. It was also geographically expanded into Tanzania. The initiative has also placed a special emphasis on providing equal access to animal health training for women.

“Animal health is extremely important in contributing to sustainable economic development goals and business opportunities in Africa,” said Clint Lewis, EVP and Group President at Zoetis.

“Farming and animal agriculture are major forms of livelihood for people in sub-Saharan Africa. By improving access to critical veterinary products and services, and building an infrastructure for quality animal healthcare, we can make a positive long-term impact.”

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to some of the largest livestock populations in the world – and the highest density of impoverished livestock farmers.

Livestock is an essential asset to rural communities: improving its health, and the productivity of farmers are critical to achieving food security in areas of exceptionally high animal and human disease incidence.

Wider access to education for smallholder farmers and women

The initiative, which has been funded by a $14 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is helping farmers by providing training on animal nutrition, disease detection and other animal health issues. Because women play a key role in the region’s small farms, ALPHA works to ensure gender balance in these trainings to transform the livestock sector and society more widely. In sub-Saharan Africa, women are often responsible for daily animal care, including feeding and cleaning, so training and educating them about animal nutrition and disease detection can improve farm productivity.

“The role of women is increasingly important for sustainable development in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Uganda, half of the people trained under the ALPHA initiative in Uganda are women,” said Dr Baluka Sylvia Angubua, President of the Ugandan Veterinary Medical Association.

“This is in stark contrast to general ratios in veterinary classes in sub-Saharan Africa, where the majority are men, even though the number of women participating in livestock is on the increase.

“On small farms in the region, women are usually the ones who must ensure the daily care of animals, including feeding and cleaning. Training them on animal nutrition, diagnosing diseases and other animal health issues, improves farm productivity and livelihoods, and ultimately the wider economy.”

Over 1,000 farmers, 610 farmers’ trainers, and 300 veterinarians and feed millers received specialised training. In Uganda, over half of the training participants were female. An estimated 97,500 smallholder farmers benefited from training thanks to a train-the-trainer approach.

Geographic extension to Tanzania

This year, the ALPHA initiative expanded its scope to Tanzania, which is home to 11 percent of the African cattle population. The majority of farmers and animal keepers in Tanzania continue to operate in a very traditional way and this is also reflected in veterinary care. Although there is a well-established veterinary network and several veterinary colleges in Tanzania, the teaching approach and level of animal care has struggled to keep pace with technological and medical developments.

Establishing laboratory networks in Uganda

In addition to training, the ALPHA initiative helps develop the necessary physical animal health infrastructure. Successful collaboration with suitable laboratory business partners led to the set-up of sustainable diagnostics labs in ALPHA countries. In March 2019, Zoetis announced the official opening of new diagnostic laboratories in Butalangu, Nakaseke District, and Nabitanga, Sembabule District, Uganda, in cooperation with Uganda Meat Producers Co-operative Union (UMPCU).

The laboratories offer a range of diagnostic services, including pre-movement tests, microscopy for internal blood parasites (Trypanomosiasis, East Coast Fever, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Helminthiasis), screening and confirmation of Brucellosis and Bovine Tuberculosis, and using ultrasound to detect pregnancy. These labs bring together over 2,600 beef livestock farmers who are focused on producing high quality meat for local and international markets. In Nigeria, a poultry diagnostic laboratory opened in partnership with Chi Farms Ltd, one of the biggest day-old chick producers in the country. Chi Farms also acts as a distributor for Zoetis vaccines. ALPHA provides vital support in the form of high-quality training, laboratory equipment, personnel, and access to international support and knowledge.

Foundation for enhanced veterinary care through products and knowledge

Zoetis also submitted registrations for about 60 animal health products, diagnostics and vaccines in Uganda, Ethiopia, and Nigeria. Once approved, they will offer a large range of solutions for disease prevention in poultry and livestock.

Empowerment of the veterinary industry is a critical element of ALPHA, as the value of veterinary professionals is often underestimated by farmers who have poor access to their services. Zoetis continued to facilitate publication of a quarterly veterinary newsletter supporting Nigeria and Uganda’s National Associations of Veterinarians. The publications provide a platform on which to share best practices and identify the needs of the country’s thousands of association members. In Uganda, the veterinary newsletters are unprecedented and were launched by the Minister of Agriculture. Zoetis also facilitated an educational learning platform called Learn & Grow for various stakeholder groups which includes business training courses through VetVance and a reference library for veterinarians and veterinary students, called Vetlexicon Bovis. Additionally, the company’s veterinary experts held several technical training sessions for local veterinary service providers and distributors to help continued professional development.

“We have seen first-hand the dire animal health situation in sub-Saharan Africa and have been working on all possible fronts to quickly establish the framework for success of the ALPHA initiative,” said Dr Gabriel Varga, Regional Director Africa at Zoetis and lead of the ALPHA initiative.

“We have made good progress and have also learned a lot. We are applying our lessons to achieve pioneering results in our second project year. Looking ahead, we are taking steps to ensure we can continue to build the infrastructure needed to help veterinarians and farmers to improve the health and productivity of their livestock and livelihoods.

“We strive for sustainable improvements which will make a difference for smallholder farmers in these three markets. Key in our approach is the ownership we can create with veterinarians, authorities, distributors and farmers that starts with awareness and therefore education and training,” concluded Dr Varga.