A novel method of surrounding livestock sheds with insecticide-treated nets has cut the number of disease transmitting insects by 90 percent while tripling milk yields among smallholder farmers in Kisii, coming at a time when efforts to wipe out deadly livestock diseases have gone top notch.
The project, sponsored by Food and Agriculture Organization, has riden on the success of a similar project in Ghana where the biting of nuisance flies has been reduced nearly to zero and pig production and health has grown tremendously. Farmers in Ghana whose pig market had shrinked to near collapse are now accessing both local and international markets, having spent minimum amount on tick and insect control.The nets are ecologically safe and convenient since the animals do not have to be coated repeatedly with insecticides.
As land becomes increasingly become adopted for other emerging needs , including urban expansion, the size has shrunk, limiting free movement of cows and other livestock. Farmers left with no choice have resulted to ‘zero grazing' model, in which the cows are fed in well-ventilated shelters, rather than being allowed to roam in open pastures. Farmers, as a result, have now been forced to struggle with the menacing fly and vector population that surround the sheds.
The flies are responsible for leading livestock diseases like mastitis, East Coast Fever and Nagana.
In Kisii just like in many parts of the countries majority of households rely on one or a few cow for milk, both for consumption and sale, with milk from these farmers accounting for three quarters of Kenya's total milk supply. The loss of an animal is therefore an economic blow to households and the country.
"These ‘site-specific animal health packages' with nets to protect the cow shelters and the waste pits have proven not only effective in maintaining the area's freedom from biting flies and mosquitoes, but they also improved animal health across the board," explained Rajinder Saini, an entomologist with FAO's implementing partner in Kisii, The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE)
A farmer in the Kisii area, Mary Munyega Nyandeo, told FAO that the nets have improved the quantity of milk she gets, putting more money in her pocket.
“I used to milk around 2 litres of milk, but since the nets were brought and the flies disappeared, I now milk around 4 or 5 litres a day, so I make profit,” Ms. Nyandeo said.The nets have also assisted in eradicating mastitis, a bacterial disease that can be spread by flies as well as poor hygiene during milking,
Traditionally, farmers are used to dipping livestock into water treated with pyrethroid insecticides,unique pesticides similar to the natural pesticide pyrethrum, and highly preferred since they don't affect mammals. This has been tedious and inconvenient as it would take a large amount of the pesticide to cover a small shed. With the nets however, only the exact necessary amount of the chemical is sprayed in the nets and constantly released over time - minimizing the risk that insects will develop resistance to the insecticides.
The insecticide nets have also been shown to be ecologically safe. Minimal netting is used, in addition, since tsetse flies generally fly close to the ground. So just one metre in height around livestock shelters needs to be protected with the netting.
"The insecticide used is made from the same chemicals used in pet flea collars," said Raffaele Mattioli, Senior Officer with FAO's Animal Health Service.