XL Vets is involved with a project in Mozambique that is reintroducing dairy cows to the Manica region of the country. A supply chain is being set up with the aim of restoring a dairy industry that was destroyed in the civil war.
XLVets have been on board since 2010, providing training for both smallholders and the paravets who provide almost all of the veterinary support for the smallholders in the region.
Chimoio is in Mozambique and sits in between the coast and the Zimbabwe border. Our vets taking part in this extrordinary training challenge find themselves working in mud hut villages where there is no electricity, running water or sanitation.
The project aims to double the national herd size over three years to 7,000 cows and to increase production significantly.
Phase 1 of the project, which saw 10 XLVet members travel to the region – involved placing in-calf Jersey heifers onto smallholdings and providing training, equipment and a market for the milk. The project was a huge success and saw the project extended for a second phase, running until 2015.
Phase two is now live and has three key aims:
1. Continuation with the establishment and development of smallholder farmers.
2. Offer support and technical input to existing dairy farmers in Mozambique. Aim is to train a total of 4,500 farmers.
3. Help with dairy business plans and development (marketing, investment etc) to develop and expand Chimoio herds.
Bryony Kendall a vet from our Tyndale practice in Gloucestershire spent an action-packed two weeks in Chimoio in February.
Having just read what I have written, you could be forgiven for thinking ‘So what do they need XLVets for? Sounds like an excuse for a holiday!’ However, I can assure you that a holiday it was not! The majority of our time in Chimoio was spent training smallholders. The day-long sessions were conducted, usually under trees, near one of the project cows and with the aid of an interpreter to translate from English into Portuguese and Shona (the local language). We basically covered ‘dairy farming in a nutshell’, teaching about milking hygiene, cow health, calving, calf rearing, feeding, mastitis, fertility and more. Because of the significant language barrier we had to rely on a lot of practical demonstrations, drawing pictures, acting out scenarios and playing games all of which were well received! The Mozambicans are lovely people with a brilliant sense of humour which definitely helps when you are trying to get them to act out bulling behaviours! The workshops were really well attended; often more than 50 people gathered round, unheard of numbers in the UK!
We also spent a couple of days doing herd health plans for some of the larger farmers, pointing out areas for improvement and helping them to trouble shoot problems. A major problem that we talked about a lot was what to do about feeding cows during the dry season when the grass dies off. Hay and silage making is a really new concept in Mozambique and although many of the farmers are having a go, uptake is slow and conserved forages tend to be made in a panic just before the dry season when grass quality is low. This is an area that really needs focus to get farmers making hay and silage, and plenty of it, to stop cows losing serious condition during the dry part of the year.
Two of the best days that we spent in Chimoio were the days that we trained the paravets and technicians. This group of people is made up of the technical staff employed by LOL and some of the better farmers, usually 1 or 2 from each community. Farmers can call them if they have a problem with their cow and they are trained to do basic veterinary task such as disbudding, giving medicines and assisting calvings. The farmers in the paravet group are often only minimally educated, leaving school at 14 to work. However they are very practically minded and what they lack in knowledge they make up for with enthusiasm! We spent Day 1 going through a full clinical examination so that they can better assess what is going on with a sick animal, teaching signs to look out for in cases of illness. The agenda for Day 2 was foot trimming and we had a couple of interesting cases to practice on. The first was a Jersey bull with a foul infection that had spread to the joint, so our foot trimming lesson turned into an unexpected toe amputation! This task was greeted with huge enthusiasm and interest and I can safely say that I have never done a toe amputation with such a large audience! Our second case was a Jersey cow that had severely overgrown feet, so much so that she had been walking in circles for weeks. We cast her to do this and with at least 4 people to trim each foot, she was soon up and walking again and in straight lines.
Did I enjoy it? Yes, I absolutely loved it! Lonely Planet does a good line in scare tactics and I was beginning to question my sanity about the trip in the weeks before we went. My colleagues didn’t help, pointing out that even 9 vaccinations weren’t going to stop me being eaten by a lion! I had no idea about what to expect about the country and thought it would be hot and mosquito-infested with basic facilities such as electricity. In reality it was hot and there was a healthy population of mosquitos but it was a lot more developed in the towns than expected; electricity was reliable and more importantly bathroom facilities were civilised! There were some really nice restaurants that did awesome peri-peri chicken and a really good Mozambican beer that went down well after a day of teaching in the sun. It is a truly beautiful country with very happy, friendly people who made us feel really welcome during our stay.
The project is great and is improving people’s life by allowing them to earn a decent amount of money, not to mention enabling them to feed themselves and their neighbours a high quality, high protein food source. The project still has a lot to do, particularly training the paravets so that there will be care available once LOL leave. As in any country there are some farmers that are better than others and undoubtedly once the control of LOL is gone some will give up but there are also some very enthusiastic and entrepreneurial farmers that will carry the torch. I feel sure that this is the beginning of an established dairy industry in Mozambique.
This was my first trip to southern Africa and I was told by a lot of people before I went that this trip would change my perspective and that Africa ‘stays with you’. I think both statements are true; it was brilliant to be able to use my skills as a vet to help right at the very start of a dairy industry and I learnt loads from seeing the beginnings of dairy farming in Mozambique. Without sounding like one of those annoying ‘worthy traveller’ types, it also made me realise how much of a nonsense western culture can be – no one cares if you’re wearing Le Chameau in Chimoio! As for Africa staying with you, well, I can’t wait to get back!