Access To Healthcare For Livestock; Key To Rural Household Sustainability

 In sub-Saharan Africa, 75% of the low-income households are rural dwellers, who mostly keep livestock as a means for livelihood. Hence, keeping the livestock safe and healthy becomes a passport for them to earn a living. There is now an increasing understanding that empowering the smallholder livestock farmer is crucial to poverty reduction with an increase in animal protein, income generation, and overall wellbeing of households. Difficult as it may seem, rural households can attain a sustainable livelihood with the availability of necessities to solve their daily needs and increase their output.

Smallholder livestock farmers incur huge losses and have low productivity as a result of several factors. Some of these include; the shortage of animal health professionals, lack of knowledge of disease management and prevention mechanisms such as vaccination, global climate change, missing innovation and digital technology, gender, and age issues.

When compared to urban areas, rural dwellers have reduced life expectancy and poor health status, with the same said of their animal health since they are under served with qualified healthcare professionals. Stakeholders and decision-makers in their various capacities can help the rural population to thrive if attention is on the engagement of animal health professionals at the rural community level. This will unlock the potentials for increased livestock production and income generation for both the farmers and the professionals. While healthcare professionals are critical to sustainable rural households, the livestock farmers also require basic knowledge of animal husbandry standard practices. The farmer should understand the language of their animals at any given time and be able to plan for routine activities that will always keep their flock healthy.

A routine every farmer must ensure is the vaccination of their animals.  Proper vaccination directly helps maintain the livestock health and indirectly save cost on treatment, thereby reducing mortality, increasing income, reducing the poverty rate, and contributing to the sustainable development goals. Climate change is another factor that subjects animals to various diseases and thus requires proper mitigation strategies to save the animal population from its direct effect to allow livestock to thrive in a favorable environment.

As the world gravitates towards the adoption and use of innovative solutions across sectors of the economy, digital technology can also be leveraged by the rural smallholder farmers to improve their productivity. Farmer education is required on the use of innovative systems such as mobile devices to reach healthcare professionals, Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) codes to get real-time support, internet services to acquire valuable information and knowledge, and platforms to interact and network with other farmers. Providing technical know-how of the use of these systems will go a long way to impact how smallholder livestock farmers approach their animal healthcare, thereby increasing their productivity, household resilience, and sustainability.

Gender and age have also played some roles in the process of household-level livestock farming. Most rural smallholder farmers are women, but men have been more advantaged in accessing healthcare input and utilization of proceeds from the business endeavor at the household level. Young members of the rural household participating in livestock farming are generally few compared to the elderly limiting the adoption level of best practices that are supposed to strengthen household resilience. It is, therefore, necessary to use appropriate innovative means to improve rural household understanding of unbiased gender-based livestock production and increase human asset through education and involvement of young protégé.

Resilience and sustainability of the rural household is a priority for development in the 21st century. Interventions and development programs must begin to explore new ways of leveraging the primary engagements of the rural communities to solve their protracted needs. Since smallholder livestock farming is one of the top subsistent means for the rural poor, their livestock needs access to optimum healthcare services and innovative management practices. Among other interventions that address some of these highlighted issues above, the 4-years European Union-funded Livestock disease surveillance knowledge integration (LIDISKI) project is ongoing. The project focuses on bridging the knowledge gap of animal healthcare actors and smallholder farmers on adequate healthcare of livestock for increased productivity and rural household empowerment.