Teaching cattle farmers in Uganda: 'Sometimes death is the only way'

Reuters News
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Posted: May 12, 2016 8:21 PM

DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Catherine Amerit is a livestock officer for the International Rescue Committee in Uganda.

"My role is to improve the productivity of livestock for farmers in Karamoja in northeast Uganda, by teaching them the best way to look after their animals.

Almost nine in 10 Ugandans are farmers, and the livestock owners in Karamoja depend entirely on their herds for survival.

We teach the importance of shelter, spraying for ticks and other parasites, de-worming and vaccinations.

Most of the farmers we train cannot read or write so every step is taught by doing it.

Being out with them requires you to feel fit and alert because the animals can kick, especially after an injection.

Luckily, I have never been injured but once, when I was still training, a farmer called me to help her sick cow.

I bent to pick up a sample of dung and felt something warm soil me all over one side of my body - it took me two weeks to get rid of that smell!

That's why we wear protective gear like overalls and gloves, especially if we are going to be handling animal fluids.

The biggest challenge is convincing farmers who have never been to school but have traditional ways of handling livestock that our methods will improve the productivity of their animals.

Sometimes, the only way to help them learn is to allow the animal to die so that the farmers will learn through experience.

SURVIVAL

"The most motivating part of my job is helping pastoralist communities who have always relied on their herds to survive.

I once got a call at 6am from a farmer inviting me to be his guest for the day because I had saved his 40 cows from dying.

Considering the impact of climate change, livestock is an essential type of farming as it is less risky than crop farming.

But there are many challenges including availability of water and pasture, endemic animal diseases and the closure of migratory routes for herders due to human population growth.

To prepare for the worst, we teach farmers about varying the size of herds depending on availability of water and pasture, and taking full advantage of the seasonal rains to preserve hay.

We're also exploring the cross-breeding of local goats with improved breeds which grow faster and produce more milk – these are commonly owned and managed by women in the household.

The goats are resilient as they can survive on shrubs and leaves, so when the cattle migrate in search of fresh pasture, the goats remain and provide milk for the women and children.

My family and friends are supportive of my work but when I first told my dad I was going to do an animal course he said it wasn't suitable for women and advised me to do nursing instead."

This aid worker profile is one of five commissioned by the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of the first ever World Humanitarian Summit on the biggest issues affecting the humanitarian response to disasters and conflict.

For more on the World Humanitarian Summit, please visit: http://news.trust.org/spotlight/reshape-aid

(Editing by Kieran Guilbert and Katie Nguyen; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)