Plant-based solutions to integrate livestock disease control, nutrition and environmental sustainability in Africa

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Biological Sciences

Abstract

Smallholder livestock production is crucial to the livelihoods of rural populations throughout Africa, but is experiencing many challenges. Climate change is making nutritional resources from grazing more unpredictable, and at the same time increasing threats from parasitic and other diseases. Investing in greater inputs to stave off these threats is out of the question for most subsistence farmers and is unsustainable. Better ways of running integrated animal-plant systems are urgently needed. To that end, this project seeks to build on successful previous work, in which targeted treatment of individual sheep and goats within a herd achieved substantial uplift in health and productivity with much lower input costs than standard whole-herd treatment. Further improvements to the system would be to replace chemical anthelmintics with plants shown to reduce parasite burdens, which grow locally and could be cultivated or sustainably harvested. Research on such plants shows a long list of candidates but evaluation of effects in the field under real farming conditions are very limited. These plants can help bridge the nutrition gap also by increasing protein availability, but assessments have rarely considered antiparasitic and nutritional benefits together, especially with native plants in Africa. We will train farmers to apply targeted selective antiparasitic treatment strategies based on established field guides for monitoring impacts of infection on health, and compare the need for treatment and the health and performance levels between herds using antiparasitic drugs only and those that integrate 'bioactive' plants species into their feeding practices. A key benefit of using plants to reduce parasite burdens is reduction of environmental contamination with infective parasite stages, and therefore general reduction in infection levels, benefitting all animals sharing grazing. Recent advances in epidemiological modelling enable rigorous evaluation of this indirect effect of plant use for the first time, as a function of climate and management, and we propose to apply those models to assess impacts under current and future climates. Models will be extended to consider where and in what seasons the evaluated interventions would be of most use, and how they should be configured to maximise resilience of smallholder production systems under current and future conditions. Finally, benefits of healthier livestock for household livelihoods are potentially immense but are hard to measure for subsistence farmers, in which improved productivity does not necessarily translate into cash profit, but has subtle effects on food and economic security. Integrated into the field trials, we plan to evaluate connections between livestock health and household wellbeing using socio-economic interviews. Outcomes will be a toolkit for application of targeted treatment approaches and nutritional intervention that makes the most of locally available plant resources, an improved evidence base for plant-focused interventions in these systems, measures of livelihood impacts within the study and potential when upscaled, and projections of epidemiological risks and benefits across Africa. As a result of this project, tools will be created for rapid evaluation of and adaptation to disease and nutrition threats throughout Africa, to support sustainable production and food security in the poorest areas.

Technical Summary

Integration of plants with elevated antiparasitic and nutritional properties has the potential to increase resilience of livestock systems and their performance under the challenges of climate change and drug resistance. This will support food security among the rural poor in Africa, who depend on livestock for survival, and aid in the transition of subsistence agriculture to also support growing urban populations. Although plant secondary metabolites are known to have antiparasitic properties and also protect protein from degradation in the rumen, these have rarely been assessed together, nor in field settings in the context of sustainable interventions in integrated subsistence farming systems. Moreover, the indirect benefits of this integration for disease control under climate change through reduction of transmission has not been considered in quantitative terms. This project proposes to run field studies to evaluate and quantify the potential for locally grown plants to impact positively on nutrition and disease in smallholder livestock, by embedding them in existing targeted treatment approaches that have been shown already to have positive effects on health and productivity. The onward effects on transmission will be captured and predicted in well-calibrated mechanistic models of parasite population dynamics. Non-linear effects on livelihoods will be investigated by socio-economic questionnaire surveys. Outcomes will be an improved evidence base for integrated plant-animal interventions to support sustainable and resilience smallholder production in Africa.

Planned Impact

The project directly addresses the RCUK Global Challenge Area "Equitable access to sustainable development", specifically by targeting its first sub-priority: secure and resilient food systems. Parasite infection, especially by gastrointestinal nematodes, is the dominant production-limiting disease of grazing livestock worldwide. Infections are endemic, difficult to control effectively, and disproportionately affect small farmers who have limited access to advice and drugs. Excessive reliance on chemical treatment has led to widespread drug resistance, while climate change makes infection increasingly hard to predict. We showed in previous work that targeted selective treatment of parasites can be applied by resource-poor smallholder farmers; predicting risk would help them further by focusing monitoring and treatment, while investigation of plant-based interventions in the current project would help to refine and apply local solutions that simultaneously improve nutrition, leading to better integration of plant and animal production on smallholder farms. Outcomes will be improved animal health and production, impacting directly on rural livelihoods; the project seeks also to map those positive livelihood impacts.

Given limited agricultural extension support, and little cash to spend on inputs, a clear need was expressed in previous co-creation meetings with partners in Botswana for targeted approaches to both parasite infections and nutritional supplementation. A workshop held with state and private veterinary and agriculture extension personnel in Botswana in 2017 ranked parasitic infections and access to feed as top priorities for intervention. The Department of Veterinary Services in Botswana has incorporated targeted treatment strategy into policy and training, and these links as well as those on existing projects in Malawi present an established path for transferring impact. Additional research is needed to increase self-sufficiency of the targeted approach through better integration with locally available plants, and mapping of risk in space and time so that farmers are able to put appropriate systems in place to respond to these risks using existing resources and hence increase their resilience to climate change. We seek to place such evidence-based tools into the hands of farmers while also engaging government in the process so that solutions align with rather than running against existing support structures. Previous data showed substantial improvements in animal health using targeted treatment approaches. Of 42 farms followed up after two years (>1,000 goats), anaemia scores and body condition improved just as much in herds using this method as in those treating the entire herd, but the number of treatments and therefore costs were on average 76% lower. We anticipate that farmers and household livelihoods will benefit directly from the interventions employed in the project and the evidence base and materials generated will support their dissemination and application on a much wider scale.

Farmers will benefit from much improved ability to meet the challenges of nutrition and disease under changing climates with plant resources that they have to hand and are affordable. Engagement with supporting governmental bodies and NGOs will inculcate them with the same integrated outlook and provide them with the tools to develop effective and sustainable interventions at a range of scales, from individual farm to regional agricultural policy. The project outcomes will represent an important step along the path to increased availability of precision approaches to support remote and poor rural communities engaged in farming and increase their ability to meet challenges in their own way.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The project includes training and capacity building by animal health support services (governmental and non-governmental) in Malawi and Botswana, as detailed in the engagement activities. These activities are improving animal health and production outcomes as will be evidenced in project outputs (data collection ongoing).
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Title Nutraceutical plant used to control gastrointestinal nematodes in small ruminants 
Description The database consists in a plant species locally used to control gastrointestinal nematodes in sheep and goats. Information content in each plant species are: description, a previous in vivo or in vitro study showing anthelmintic activity, family and local name, part used in the study. Also, it showed two photos of plants and a map with the distribution in Africa's continent. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Easy recognition of farmers and veterinarians of plants with anthelmintic activity. Parctical tool to indetify plant species eadible for goats and sheep. 
 
Description Awarded participation in photography showcase 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Description of the work training in this project. The photo showing field work with farmers using the five point check system to identify healthy/sick goats. This phpoto is an example of the practicability of the methodology showed to farmers and veterinarians. Also, showed the vegetation conditions around the kraal and the participation and organization of farmer to practice the methodology.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Five Point Check and lab parasitology training course for veterinarians and animal health officers in Maun, Botswana 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A major goal of the study is to disseminate effective and meaningful practices to estimate and combat goat and sheep parasites in resource poor areas. The initial meeting to kick-start field studies took place in Maun, Botswana. As we had assembled a team including Dr. Jan Van Wyk, pioneer of the Five Point Check and FAMACHA anaemia scoring system, we made use of this time to organise a training course in these techniques, as well as laboratory techniques and animal management strategies. This course drew in an audience of professionals from around Botswana including ~66 veterinarians, vet assistants, meat inspectors, and farmers involved in the study who kindly allowed their farms to be included in demonstrations. The course included lectures on theory and importance of controlling gastrointestinal nematode parasites in small ruminants as well as two full days visiting farms and performing the Five Point Check and proper animal handling techniques. In addition, a lab course was also offered to teach faecal egg counting methods to detect nematode eggs and coccidia. Attendance at the course was recognised by a certificate.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Five Point Check training for improved dissemination of practice in Malawi 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Members of the international team including those from Queen's University Belfast, Rothamstead Research Institute, University of Pretoria (South Africa), and Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) met in Lilongwe and villages in the surrounding area to demonstrate the Five Point Check methodology and practice. This included formal meetings with Self Help Africa, who run farmer field schools across Africa and provided guidance on methods to engage with farmers and disseminate practices in a controlled and sustained fashion. Part of this exchange included Five Point Check training to Self Help Africa staff, which was also attended by regional veterinary officers who are responsible for livestock health around the country but lack effective monitoring tools. These engagements may lead to future collaborative efforts to disseminate tools for sustainable control of livestock parasites in Malawi.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description International team strategy meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact To initiate the field study, a team of collaborators involved in the project from Queen's University Belfast, Rothamsted Research Institute, University of Pretoria (South Africa), Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) met with other associated professionals to outline the specifics of the study. This meeting included several seminar style talks to re-introduce each team members speciality along with development and printing of materials for the study including: questionnaires, an academic handbook, recording database and logbooks, veterinary treatment decision charts, and a guide of plants with potential anthelmintic activity. Alongside these materials, the scope of the study, including facets of the design that ensure correct data collection for both socioeconomic and parasitological aspects of the project were discussed and finalised at this meeting.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Training of researches and farmers in the Five point check system in Palapye, Botswana 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Around 20 goat farmers were involved in the training of the Five point check system in South Eastern Botswana. The training engaged with research personnel and farmers and involved recognition of goat health traits using the Five Point Check system. These traits include signs in goats, as follows: 1. nasal discharge, 2. Swelling jaw (bottle jaw, pitting edema), 3. Anaemia (using the FAMACHA card system), 4. Body condition score, and 5. Tail (dag, diarrhea) score. The main outcome of these exercises was to implement this system in the region where the study is taking place and to ensure that research personnel involved in the study perform these checks in a co-ordinated and standardized fashion. During this time we also developed a treatment decision chart to ensure that drug or plant therapeutics are provided when justified for this region. This training also involved meeting with farmers and village people of influence to demonstrate the importance of goat health checks and the dangers of using anthelmintics incorrectly as this is the primary cause of drug resistance in gastrointestinal nematode parasite populations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Training of researches and farmers in the Five point check system in central Malawi 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Training was carried out with research personnel and farmers to perform goat health traits using the Five Point Check system. These traits include signs in goats, as follows: 1. nasal discharge, 2. Swelling jaw (bottle jaw, pitting edema), 3. Anaemia (using the FAMACHA card system), 4. Body condition score, and 5. Tail (dag, diarrhoea) score. The main outcome of these exercises was to implement this system in the region where the study is taking place and to ensure that research personnel involved in the study perform these checks in a coordinated and standardised fashion. During this time we also developed a treatment decision chart to ensure that drug or plant therapeutics are provided when justified for this region. This training also involved meeting with farmers and village people of influence to demonstrate the importance of goat health checks and the dangers of using anthelmintics incorrectly as this is the primary cause of drug resistance in gastrointestinal nematode parasite populations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020