The struggle to meet the animal health needs of developing farmers
Farmer's Weekly|October 30, 2020
The struggle to meet the animal health needs of developing farmers
Much is said about the need for transformation in the red meat value chain, especially among smallholder farmers in traditional authority areas and on land reform farms. Unfortunately, according to former government animal health technician Ginette Bentley, inadequate resources, vacant posts and a lack of cohesion hamper the process. Lloyd Phillips reports.
Lloyd Phillips

Ginette Bentley is all too familiar with the challenges that small-scale livestock farmers face when trying to manage the health of their animals. She spent 15 years as an animal health technician with the KwaZuluNatal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s (KZN DARD) Veterinary Services division, finally resigning at the end of October to become an independent animal health consultant.

During her time at the department, Bentley was often called on to assist her colleagues with animal health initiatives, such as rabies mass vaccination campaigns, in various parts of the province.

Working mostly alone, she also sought to help the thousands of smallholder livestock owners within the uMngeni and MooiMpofana local municipalities, covering about 3 387km2, with their animal health needs.

“There are approximately 1,5 million cattle owned by smallholder farmers in communal traditional authority areas and on land reform farms across KZN,” says Bentley. “This excludes the hundreds of thousands of goats and, to a lesser extent, sheep, pigs, horses and poultry owned by many of these farmers. “The farmers rely heavily on the state to provide primary animal health care (PAHC). Unfortunately, the state is not always able to do this because its departments tend to overstretch their limited resources among many priorities, and services of national importance take precedence over PAHC.”

Yet properly and widely implemented PAHC is a key building block for transforming subsistence livestock owners into income-generating commercial farmers.

Bentley stresses that while government’s efforts to manage controlled and economically important animal diseases, such as foot-and-mouth disease, rabies, brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis, are essential, efforts to protect an increasingly productive, profitable and transformed primary red meat sector from controlled animal diseases should be equally resourced.

A LACK OF PROFESSIONALS

Government animal health technicians are supported by newly qualified veterinarians who are doing their compulsory community service (CCS) at developing farmer level. These CCS vets are supposed to be mentored by the local state vet, but many state veterinarian posts across KZN are vacant due to budget constraints.

“So CCS vets are left to use the relatively little experience they have, with often limited resources, to carry out vitally important tasks in the field. They’re even expected to do the administration that would be the responsibility of the local state veterinarian. Despite this, these young vets generally go beyond what’s expected of them, and do the very best they can,” says Bentley.

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October 30, 2020