Sustainable livestock health for better production, nutrition, and life in Yemen
Livestock production is central to the livelihoods of many rural families in Yemen. Large and small ruminants as well as poultry contribute significantly towards the wellbeing of rural families in the country.
In Yemen, raising small ruminants is an important source of incomes for the rural communities. Proceeds from the sale of small ruminants and poultry are used to meet immediate household needs including food, school fees and medication. Furthermore, livestock production is important for better nutrition and food security. In most rural communities, children’s nutrition is inextricably linked to the health and productivity of livestock which is a source of meat, milk, and eggs.
While there is a glow emanating from the livestock sector, factors from within the country and outside, have of late dimmed the realisation of its full radiance. For example, the Yemeni conflict, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have all disrupted agrifood systems and the livestock sector has not been spared.
The severity of these crises has undermined the capacity of farmers to invest in the livestock sector and commercialise their products.
Livestock keepers point out that outbreaks of pests and diseases, constrained access to veterinary services and a lack of access to pastures have hampered efforts to fully benefit from the animals they keep. A report released early this year showed that livestock producers had seen a reduction in stock and difficulties in purchasing feed from the market.
This leaves the livestock sector stuttering.
A faltering livestock sector is a huge drawback in the fight against malnutrition and food insecurity in Yemen.
FAO acknowledges the linkages between livestock, agrifood systems, food security, healthy diets, and nutrition. As such, FAO works resolutely to ensure that the livestock sector is fully supported so that it makes a significant contribution towards the wellbeing of Yemenis. Keeping livestock alive and healthy is vital as this is a critical building block in the efforts to increase food and nutrition security in the country.
Why focus on livestock
FAO has worked with the authorities as well as various other partners to enhance the management and control of animal diseases. Ignoring the control and management of animal diseases comes with severe consequences, worsening an already unsustainable situation and reversing some of the gains recorded in the fight against food insecurity and malnutrition.
Last month, FAO under the auspices of the ‘Yemen Food Security Response and Resilience Project (FSRRP)’ funded by the World Bank launched a massive vaccination campaign. With support from the General Directorate of Animal Health and Veterinary Quarantine and the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Fisheries at the governorates level, FAO is vaccinating goats and sheep against Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR) and Sheep and Goats Pox (SGP). These are the two most prevalent animal diseases of economic importance in Yemen.
The campaign also includes treatment against endo parasite, (parasites that live inside its host) and ecto parasites (those that live on the skin of a host) that negatively affects livestock productivity. Three governorates namely Lahj, Al-Dhalea and Shabwa are initially being covered with a total target of 1.1 million goats and sheep benefiting about 61,000 pastoralists and agro pastoralist households. Ultimately, at least 8 million sheep and goats from about 470,588 pastoralist and agro pastoralist households will be treated and vaccinated within two years.
The massive vaccination campaign underlines FAO’s commitment towards supporting efficient, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable agrifood systems.
Vaccination is a stitch in time
Vaccinating livestock cushions the farmer from possible losses due to diseases. It is a cost-effective way of covering farmers from disease risks that have become more prevalent. Vaccination has a very high return on investment as a dollar spent on vaccines saves the farmer more.
In pastoral communities, USD 8 can vaccinate and deworm a family’s five sheep/goats and protect assets worth USD 500. Such a nominal investment reaps a huge return when it is compared to the cost of replacing one animal. It is estimated that replacing one dead animal costs at least USD 40.
Furthermore, the extent of the loss can further be illustrated by looking at one animal’s contribution to nutritional wellbeing of a community. It is estimated that the milk output of 100 animals is enough to feed 50 lactating mothers. As such, a loss of an animal through disease has ripple effects, affecting the health and nutrition of lactating mothers and infants on top of the loss of income.
Why PPR vaccination in Yemen
PPR is endemic in Yemen. The disease is highly contagious, affecting domestic and wild small ruminants and kills up to 70 percent of infected animals. If left unchecked, PPR has devastating and far-reaching socio-economic impacts. A study by FAO found that PPR infection resulted in better-off households slipping into poverty, while the poor and very poor became destitute.
It is estimated that livestock-derived income losses due to PPR vary between 21 percent and 99 percent. Additionally, because of the very high mortality due to PPR, many affected households fail to recover from the shattering effects of the disease and may even abandon their pastoralist livelihoods.
The current vaccination campaign in Yemen is set against this scary situation. The aim of the campaign is to cushion pastoralists from the devastating blow of PPR. FAO Yemen is not alone in this battle as it joins other players worldwide in contributing towards eliminating the disease as propounded in the Global Strategy of Eradicating PPR by 2030.
This global strategy requires countries to achieve progressive reduction in incidence and spread of the disease. Thanks to these efforts, globally, the number of outbreaks of PPR fell by two-thirds in recent years, showing the commitment of the international community to combatting this highly contagious animal disease.
Effort to eradicate the disease requires at least a postvaccination 80 percent immunity at flock, geographical area, or farming system level to break the epidemiological virus maintenance and spread cycle. To realise and sustain the efforts, FAO with funding from the World Bank is at the same time working with government stakeholders and partners in Yemen to strengthen animal health strategy, disease surveillance systems, laboratory capacity for diagnosis.
Additionally, there is capacity building of field veterinarians and para veterinarians to improve their skills in disease surveillance, differential diagnostic procedures, disease prevention and control measures.
In addition to strengthening animal health institutions, disease management and control, FAO in Yemen promotes cost-effective livestock feeding systems to reduce livestock losses, improve production efficiency and household income generation. The support for livestock farmers is premised on the fact that better livestock production improves family wellbeing and livelihoods.
The support availed to the livestock sector is not in isolation as FAO, working with various partners, has also intervened in crops, fisheries, coffee, and honey values chains. FAO also support rural communities with cash assistance, critical livestock feed, care, and water.
*Dr Hussein Gadain the FAO Representative for Yemen.