Collar provides new tsetse protection for shillings

Scientists from the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), have developed a technology that prevents 90 per cent of tsetse flies in cattle, in an innovation derived from the tsetse fly resistant waterbuck, a species of African antelope.

A repellent collar made up of body wash from waterbucks, which scientists identified as having unique chemical compounds that see tsetse flies repel waterbucks, are tied around the neck of the animals and slowly dispense chemicals so strong that the tsetse flies picks the smell while a 100 meters away.

The technology which has already been successfully used on more than 2,000 cattle in the Shamba Hills, Coast Province, is a major leap forwards from the traditional traps that were cumbersome for the pastoralists.

“What has been happening before is that the pastoralists have been laying huge traps, which they couldn't carry along when they moved in search of pasture. This has been greatly embraced by the pastoralists here,” said Dr. Rajinder Saini, the Principal Investigator of the project.

The scientists at ICIPE have now moved to partner with other interested parties to produce the collar on a commercial basis as demand rises. “We have been selling it for Sh500 to Sh1000, but the demand has been remarkably impressive. The livestock can live with the collar for up to six months, with the other convenience being the fact that it is very light and doesn't burden them. Livestock keepers haven't been having any problem buying it even for a higher price,”said Saini.

Livestock farmers in most parts of Kenya are buffeted by the tsetse fly, with many forced to light fires every day in an effort to smoke away the flies. Often, farmers only graze their livestock late in the morning, since early morning and late evenings is when the majority of the tsetse flies appear in grazing fields, but this represents a real constraint given that livestock, especially cattle, feed a lot.

“I was among the first livestock farmers to embrace this repellent collars, because I had enough of the tsetse flies. I used to budget for over Sh15,000 a month in buying drugs (trypanocides) to help repel the flies. This new technology, which I have used for only three months on trial basis is amazing. I hope the researchers will roll out soon the large scale distribution of this technology as soon as possible because we have become very used to it,” said Lempapa Tande, one of the livestock farmers.

Kenya has an estimated 13 million cattle, out of which 23 per cent are threatened by the blood-sucking fly. In total, Africa loses three million animals to Nagana – caused by the fly - every year.

"The losses are phenomenal. Three million dead cattle is 500,000 tonnes of condemned meat and one million tonnes of milk. Ironically, this is the loss incurred by the very poorest communities in the continent," said Saini. Besides having no naturally occurring repellents in their bodies, the smell of cattle urine is also very attractive to tsetse flies, said the researcher.

Once Nagana strikes, it kills the animals within 24 hours of attack, but the flies also see animals producing fewer calves and milk beforehand.

The European Union, which largely funded the project, has requested ICIPE to find commercial partners, who could take up production of the repellent. The Kenya Research Development Institute has so far taken up production. A Swiss company has also agreed to evaluate the possibility of using such compounds for other flies worldwide.

Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter