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Nigeria: Farmers and veterinary paraprofessionals collaborate to prevent and treat livestock diseases

It’s nine o’clock on Tuesday morning and Adeola Owoniyi is already on her farm checking on her livestock’s health. She knows the importance of inspecting animals to prevent and treat diseases. The 38-year-old mother of three has more than 30 cattle and 20 goats and about 20 sheep, as well as guinea fowls, noiler chickens, and breeder cocks on her one-acre farm in Oyo state, Nigeria 

Mrs. Owoniyi explains: “I carry out preventive measures against diseases on my farm. My staff resume work at seven o’clock in the morning. They make sure that they clean the cattle, goat, and sheep pens every day by taking out the feces and leftover animal feed.”

But she doesn’t do everything herself. Mrs. Owoniyi knows when to rely on a veterinary paraprofessional—and it helps that her husband is a VPP. 

Mrs. Owoniyi’s farm is located in Ibadan, in Nigeria’s Oyo state. She says that, because her husband is an animal health professional, he attends to the healthcare needs of the livestock. She adds, “Whenever my husband encounters any animal health challenge beyond his knowledge, he consults other qualified veterinarians to assist him.”

Dr. Shehu Shamshudeen is the country coordinator for sustainable business through training of veterinary professionals in Nigeria, and promotes sustainable animal health in Kaduna and Oyo States by training paraprofessionals. He says that preventive animal healthcare is cheaper and safer than trying to cure animals after they get sick. He adds that many farmers decide to administer medications to their animals themselves because they miss the important step of preventing animal diseases. 

It’s very important for farmers to know what kinds of livestock care they can realistically and successfully take care of themselves and what kinds of care should be referred to veterinary paraprofessionals.

Dr. Shamshudeen explains: “Vets and paraprofessionals can teach farmers basic bio health biosecurity processes such as hygiene and sanitation practices that help to limit and prevent infectious diseases from coming into the farm.”

He adds: “Advising livestock farmers on what to do, where and when to stock animals, when to bring in new animals, what they should do, how to clean, and how often to clean the environment is a very important assignment which paraprofessionals should always do.”

Through the paraprofessional veterinary project, livestock farmers like Mrs. Owoniyi learn how to recognize basic signs of ill health in animals, which enable them to alert a veterinary worker to visit to diagnose and administer medication. 

Amir Umar is a 26-year-old veterinary paraprofessional who lives in Zaria, 50 kilometres from Kaduna town in Kaduna State. For over five years, he has performed on-farm services to farmers, treating mostly small ruminants and poultry. 

Each week, Mr. Umar visits an average of four poultry farms and travels between 20 to 30 kilometres to administer vaccines and livestock medications. 

He says: “I reach out to farmers on the phone to know how their livestock are doing. If there is a challenge that needs my urgent presence at the farm, then I go to the farm. Otherwise, consultations can be done through the phone.” 

Mary Mayomi Ogunsunsi has been a paraprofessional for over three years. The 24-year-old veterinary worker has a National Diploma in Animal Health. She owns a vet shop in Oyo State where she sells livestock medications, poultry feed, and equipment. She also administers livestock vaccination, debeaks birds, and performs minor surgeries such as castration. 

Ms. Ogunsunsi says there is some discrimination against female veterinary paraprofessionals, especially when it comes to treating large animals. Because of this, she mainly treats birds. 

She says that many farmers don’t trust women to travel long distances to attend to their livestock. She adds: “I don’t have many cattle and swine farmers as customers. If I’m having a new farmer who rears cattle or swine, it must have been referred, and the farmer would have spoken so much about me, stating that she is a lady and that she is very good at what she does.”

Despite this challenge, Ms. Ogunsunsi loves her job. She says: “I enjoy every part of the job, ranging from the care and treatment of different livestock to the satisfaction that comes with the job. Even though I cannot communicate with these animals, I can treat them and know what exactly is wrong with them.”

This story was funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations under the project “Sustainable Business in Animal Health Service Provision through training for Veterinary Paraprofessionals.”