Monthly Archives: December 2020

Pandemic adapted Swedish-Ugandan training on livestock raising with low use of antibiotics

Written by Kristina Osbjer and Ulf Magnusson at the Department of Clinical Sciences, SLU

Photo: Justine Alinaitwe

The coronavirus pandemic is changing how we work and is providing us with an opportunity to rethink the way we conduct education, sustain research and maintain collaborations. A recent field-training experience in Uganda, combining video recordings, zoom lectures and discussions with local facilitation, has paved the way forward for us within the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock to conduct interactive training in responsible antibiotic use in Ugandan livestock farming communities amidst travel restrictions.

Antimicrobial resistance – the silent pandemic

While the world is preoccupied with fighting COVID-19, antimicrobial resistance is continuing to spread, with serious consequences for health and economies (World Bank, 2017). Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the ability of microbes to persist and grow in the presence of drugs designed to inhibit or kill them, is accelerated by the excessive and inappropriate use of antimicrobials in humans, animals and crops (FAO, 2020). Low and middle-income countries (LMICs) are predicted to account for most of the increase in antimicrobial use and to carry the largest burden of AMR, but the action and research agenda on AMR has so far been largely driven by the OECD countries (O’Neill J, 2016).

More attention to the conditions of antimicrobial use and resistance in LMICs will be required and was also the focus in a recent webinar arranged by the Livestock Antimicrobial Partnership (LAMP), hosted by SLU Global, where the divergent challenges in curbing AMR in high-income countries as compared to LMICs were discussed (LAMP webinar, 2020).

Sweden as a model to curb Antimicrobial Resistance
Sweden has a long-term experience in producing healthy and productive animals with low antibiotic use. Our unique expertise and lessons learned are internationally recognised and disseminated through online courses (Future learn, 2020) and guidelines (FAO/SLU, 2019 and FAO/SLU, 2020).

A bottom-up approach to influence antimicrobial stewardship in livestock within the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock

SLU is leading the Animal Health Flagship within the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock (CGIAR, 2020). The programme focuses on supporting the development of small-scale livestock farming with the goal ‘more meat, milk and eggs by and for the poor’ primarily targeting Uganda, Ethiopia, Vietnam and Tanzania. SLU contributes to the programme with expertise in herd health and matters related to antibiotic resistance. Such expertise was used also in the training on productive livestock with low use of antibiotics in Uganda. The first round of training was carried out 25-27 November 2020 in Masaka district in collaboration between SLU and colleagues from Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industries and Fisheries, Makerere University, and local authorities in Masaka. The SLU moderators participated online, whereas the Ugandan facilitators and training participants gathered in Uganda, following the COVID-19 safety measures imposed by the Uganda Government. A mix of veterinarians from the government and the private sector as well as para-veterinarians and some farmers participated in the training that aimed for a two-way learning process to identify feasible measures to reduce the need for antibiotics and use it only when needed in a medically rational way. The local context was emphasised by taking stock of knowledge and current practices in maintaining healthy animals, the role of animal health professionals and farmers in securing animal health and the prevailing application of good animal husbandry, biosecurity and antimicrobial use. This was followed by pre-recorded and online presentations and discussion on the Swedish model and how alternative practices may be adopted in Uganda.  

Sharing ideas helped us learn from each other

The training participants praised the participatory training approach and the opportunity to learn from each other, realising that among themselves they already had much of the knowledge required to become antibiotic-smart. The combined online and onsite training format was successful, yet, required a venue with stable internet connection. Participating farmers and veterinarians concluded that they were equally responsible to limit the prevailing irresponsible use of antibiotics and proposed more sensitisation campaigns, using highly influential people and practical real-life examples to raise the general awareness of AMR. They also asked for follow-up trainings to enable sustainable change of practices. As facilitators, we gained new insights on how antimicrobials are used and accessed in Uganda and tips on how to improve future hybrid and follow-up trainings. We hope that our experience can inspire others to design and implement pandemic-adapted training.

Wild food as a safety net: Food and nutrition security during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This blogpost is written by Divya Gupta, Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, India; Suchita Shrestha, Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies, Kathmandu, Nepal and Harry Fischer, SLU. This article was first published by SIANI.

Andheri Village in Himachal Pradesh, India. Source: Divya Gupta

Edible wild foods have been an important part of the diet for rural populations around the world, primarily in developing countries. They are also an important safety net and contribute to resilience by enabling people to cope with food insecurity in times of rural distress. This has become particularly apparent in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have conducted research on food security during the COVID-19 pandemic in the mid-Himalayan region of rural India and Nepal, where nationwide lockdowns were imposed starting last the week of March and continued for several months. The lockdown led to movement of all kinds being sharply constrained, which disrupted the food supply chain and created uncertainty in accessibility, availability and affordability of food. Working with local research assistants, we have been able to continue our data collection and conduct interviews (while following strict government guidelines) thereby providing an in-depth understanding of how the effects of the lockdown unfolded in the areas.

Wild mushrooms harvested by a household in Himachal Pradesh, India. Source: Subodh Kumar (Research Assistant)

Over the past few decades, a large proportion of the populations in our study sites have transitioned to cultivating cash crops. While these trends may have increased household incomes overall, they have led to reduced production of food for household’s own consumption and increased dependence on markets for both food and income. The lockdown constrained farmers’ ability to sell their harvest due to transport restrictions to the market, leaving many of them to face huge financial losses. This compromised the purchasing power of the people and increased their reliance on wild foods such as leaves, seeds, nuts, honey, fruits, mushrooms that they can collect from their communal resources, including forests, grasslands, and water bodies.

Rasnalu Village in Ramechhap, Nepal. Source: Divya Gupta

Edible wild foods have been an important coping strategy for households to deal with food shortages following the lockdown, especially for landless households and wageworkers who depend on off-farm employment. The lockdown has had a profound effect on the employment and income of such households. There were families that could not afford adequate food and reported consuming less food than before.

Rasnalu Village in Ramechhap, Nepal. Source: Divya Gupta

A woman from a landless household with eight family members in a remote village in Nepal told us, “my husband is a construction worker, and he lost his job immediately after the lockdown was imposed. This constrained our ability to buy food to adequately feed our family. I was constantly stressed out about this and often resorted to foraging edible wild foods that I was able to find in our forests”. Another smallholder farmer in India shared, “we did not have enough food left in our reserve when the lockdown was imposed, unfortunately it was also a bad season for our crops as we lost most of our harvest to pest infestation. The wild foods that we were able to gather from our forest was a huge respite and we were extremely grateful for that”.  In addition, wild foods were also a convenient option as some households preferred foraging as opposed to spending money buying vegetables from the market, as an interviewee from a small-landholding household from our site in Rasnalu Village in Nepal shared.

“We occasionally collect vegetables growing in the wild. However, during the lockdown owing to the shortage in supply of fresh vegetables and a consequent rise in their price, we relied more on foraging”.

Wild foods in our sites were also perceived to be safe from contamination. Although not based on scientific fact, many households feared consuming produce bought from the market. “We were scared to buy vegetables from the market because we feared they might carry the infection, so we substituted vegetables with wild foods that we would find in our forests”, said a farmer in our study site in India. He further added:

“Once when I had got vegetables from the market, my mother panicked and immediately threw them away. Market bought vegetables were strictly banned in our household”.

In addition, cooking wild foods was also perceived as a way of continuing traditional recipes. For example, in our sites in Nepal, households procured greens such as stinging nettle, fiddlehead fern, and others that are used as an alternate to market-bought/ cultivated vegetables. “These foods are a part of our traditional recipes that we have been cooking for generations”, shared a female respondent.

Fiddlehead ferns. Source: Rakshya Timalsina (Research Assistant)

It is important to note that under normal circumstances, a lot of the households in our study areas use diverse food sources to fulfill the dietary needs of their family, including farms/kitchen gardens, markets, and communal land and water resources. We observed that at the time of the lockdown, wild foods were particularly important for households that lacked adequate income and/or did not have the option of a kitchen garden. Thus, wild foods have been an important component of the food basket for our sample population during the pandemic

Observation from our research highlights the importance of wild foods as carriers of important cultural values and also their roles in helping households cope with food insecurity in the context of shocks and uncertainty, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Often overlooked as a resilience strategy, wild foods are a vital resource that demands more attention in ensuring mechanisms for managing and safeguarding habitats for their long-term sustenance.

This research was supported by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) research project 2018-05875 and a FORMAS Urgent grant 2020-02781.