By Prossy Nandudu
A month ago, farmers in the cattle corridor districts of Lyantonde, Kyankwazi and Kiboga reported that their livestock had gone blind, while some had died.
Although no official statement from the ministry has been issued as to the cause, district veterinary doctors in the corridor attributed the blindness to the concoctions that farmers have been mixing and applying to their animals to manage ticks and associated diseases.
Veterinary doctors explained that due to the resistance of ticks to acaricides on the market, farmers resorted to mixing agro-chemicals such as Dude or Accelamectin which is an agricultural combined insecticide for effective control of Leaf miners, Thrips, mites, beetles, fruit flies, plant bugs, fire ants among others.
On the market, these go by the trade name Two in One. Farmers were mixing this with anti-tick accaricides, which is later sprayed onto the animals.
Although the concoction can kill ticks instantly, due to the corrosiveness, farmers have been applying them onto cows on the skin and then spills over to the eyes, causing a burning sensation of the corrosiveness of the mixture leading to blindness. In some cases, according to vet doctors, the concoction also burns the skin leading to sores.
Although the animal may not die instantly, over time many have died under unclear circumstances, raising suspicion that the concoction could have penetrated the animal’s system, affecting internal organs, leading to death.
The vet doctors explained further that the recommended molecule or drug called epinoctim by the ministry of agriculture sometimes worked but is no longer active, hence the persistence of ticks in the corridor.
Although no official estimation and report by the ministry of agriculture has been issued, the deaths and going blind of livestock in the said districts is an example of deaths associated with the lack of effective measures to control ticks and tick borne related diseases, which affects the productivity of the livestock sector. The effects are realized in the drop in milk production and beef quality among others.
What is the magnitude
In an earlier interview, Dr Fredrick Kabi, the Principal investigator of the Anti-tick vaccine research said that ticks infest cattle resulting into blood loss, injury to the hides, tick worry, poor weight gain and most importantly transmission of diseases such as East coast fever, Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis and Heartwater among other.
This results in enormous losses to the farmer and country estimated to be 1.1 billion USD or 3 trillion Uganda shillings according to a study by senior academicians from Makerere University and NARO that was commissioned by the president in 2017.
He explained further that sprayed cattle graze out, and when it rains while still in the field, the acaricides are washed off their bodies, ending up in the water body. These sometimes end up in the milk, hence finding their way into humans.
The practice also exposes the pastoralists who keep or cattle keepers to health related challenges like poisoning since most of these don’t have and also don’t use protective gear while spraying the animals.
“That is why many pastoralists develop chemical poisoning symptoms such as too much headache, skin rash, and diarrhea, among others, an indication that they are killing themselves unknowingly, ” Kabi added.
Progress on the manufacture of vaccine
While appearing before the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament, in January this year, Ronald Gyagenda, the Undersecretary and Commissioner in charge of Finance and Administration in the Ministry of Agriculture said plans of developing anti-tick and foot and mouth disease vaccines were in advanced stages.
The two vaccines are being developed and manufactured by the National Agriculture Research Organization (NARO) facility at Nakyesasa, added Gyagenda
For Foot and mouth disease, Gyagenda said that in Africa, only Kenya and Botswana manufacture the foot and mouth vaccine which has impacted the timely supply of the vaccines into Uganda.
Adding that the small budgets cannot allow the purchase of foot and mouth disease in bulk to cater for the more than 14 million heads of cattle in the country.
For the anti-tick vaccine, confined field trials are ongoing in five locations which are Mbarara Zonal Agriculture Research and Development Institute, Kiburara government Prison Farm for western Uganda, Nabuine Zonal Agriculture Research and Development Institute for eastern, Maruzi of the National Agriculture Livestock Resources Research Institute (NALIRRI) and Isimba Prisons in Masindi district.
According to the Principal Investigator Dr Fredrick Kabi, the trials are being conducted to ensure that the vaccine is safe, that it kills ticks and that it keeps away diseases associated with ticks among others.
“In the trials we are looking at safety, efficacy, and effectiveness of the vaccines. When ready we shall save the country sh3.8trillion lost due to tick borne diseases and this will be taken to other programs to help move the country to a middle income status,” said Kabi.
In order to address the problem of animal diseases, the Ministry through NARO started the construction works for an animal vaccine research and production facility at National Livestock Resources Research Institute –Nakyesasa (Namulonge).
On the other hand, NARO and other scientists from Makerere University supported by the Government are at various stages of producing the vaccines.
to further boast the production of the vaccines, the Ministry undertook strategic vaccination of animals in risk prone districts. Forexample in Feb 2022, there was an outbreak of FMD in 23 districts.
The Ministry intervened through vaccination and controlled movement of animals within the sub-counties. The intervention contained the spread of FMD and currently no single district is affected.
A total of 4,650,000 animal disease vaccines were acquired and distributed. These included 2.65M doses of FMD and 1,000,000 doses of LSD Vaccine 1,000,000 doses of PPR.
To prove the government’s commitment to ensuring that livestock is safe and productive, in the next financial year, the government has set aside sh60bn to speed up the development of the anti-tick vaccine The addition will bring the total fees for research to sh161b out of the required sh300b.
According to the Minister of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries Frank Tumwebaze, the funding resulted from a request by NARO that was presented to the President in a meeting with scientists.
The above interventions are in line with NRM manifesto’s overall goal of ensuring that the livestock sector is safe and productive.