Rearing livestock is the life blood of many families in north-east Nigeria. Rearing and selling goats and sheep provides a steady supply of milk and meat, as well as a much needed source of income, helping families to afford food and other essentials such as school fees and health care costs.
Livestock also provide farmers with a vital source of manure to help them to grow their crops. Some farmers who keep livestock also pay herders a monthly wage to shepherd their animals and accompany them when grazing, thereby creating jobs for others in the community.
But in Malakyariri, on the outskirts of the city of Maiduguri in Borno state in north-east Nigeria, getting medical treatment for animals when they become ill is a real challenge.
In a country where as many as four in ten people live below the poverty line, paying to transport a sick animal to and from a veterinary practice as well as the costs of treatment itself often prevents farmers getting their animals the medical care they need.
Deaths of livestock can prove catastrophic for farmers, badly impacting their ability to earn the money they need to support their families. Reduced herd sizes means less lambs and kids are born each year and ill animals are less likely to fatten up properly which impacts the price they can fetch at market.
To keep valuable livestock alive and healthy, Christian Aid, with funding from the World Food Programme, has trained three Community Animal Health Workers, or ‘para vets’ as they are more commonly known, to provide cheap, basic medical care to livestock in Malakyariri.
Trained by the professional veterinarians that make up Christian Aid Nigeria’s livestock team, the para vets learned when and how to administer vaccines, how to de-worm sheep and goats, as well as to create treatment plans.
As well as receiving ongoing training, the para vets were also provided with all the veterinary kit they needed including medicine, syringes, needles, gloves, and books for record keeping.
The para vets also play a key role in passing on essential medical information to farmers so they can better take care of their livestock. This includes advice on how to reduce infectious disease outbreaks amongst their herds and how to improve their nutritional intake.
They also show farmers how by using maize seeds they can produce ‘smart’ hydroponic fodder; a method of growing animal feed using trays meaning it requires less water, space, and time to produce than traditional fodder. Using this method, farmers can on average produce up to 7kg of fodder a week, helping ensure they have animal feed all year round, irrespective of the season. Smart fodder is also particularly useful for farmers with less access to land because of conflict. This is the case in Malakyariri where many have been impacted by conflict.
Before the service was introduced, the only place to seek medical care for livestock was at the veterinary hospital in Borno State’s capital town, Maiduguri. Farmers were faced with unaffordable bills – not only for the medical treatment but also the cost of paying for their sick animal to be transported to and from the hospital.
For 31-year-old grocery shop owner Idris Mohammed Ali, the case for training to become a para vet was clear cut.
“Many people in Malakyariri are livestock owners and I want to help them take care of their animals because the state veterinary clinic is far from here and a bit expensive,” Idris says.
“My father used to own livestock, so I am familiar with common diseases that affect them,” he added.
The para vets offer a door to door service, seven days a week to farmers in Malakyariri. The cost of using the para vet service is almost half the cost of treatment at established veterinary clinics like the state hospital, and the farmers also no longer have to pay for daily transportation fees, helping them save even more.
As Idris explains, during the course of his work, he typically treats sheep and goats for a range of common illnesses and ailments.
“I give the animals injections and general first aid treatment. I treat them for tick infections, coughing, swollen stomach, worms, fleas and difficulty in walking.”
Being able to access the care offered by the para vet service has meant that farmers are no longer faced with being forced to sell off or put down sick animals. Female animals are more likely to reach maturity helping farmers grow their herds and males are able to grow to market size before being sold, putting more money into farmers’ pockets.
“The service is helping the livestock in Malakyariri to grow well and the owners are able to sell them at a good price because they are healthy. It has also reduced sudden deaths of livestock,” Idris says.
The money that the para vets earn from providing treatment also helps them to financially support their own families.
“This is now another source of income for me. I use the money to replace the drugs I use and I also use it to buy food for my family,” Idris says.
“I love to help people. I now have a lot of friends in the community, they are happy whenever they see me because their animals are doing well,” Idris concludes.