DORI/OUAGADOUGOU, 13 May 2010 (IRIN) - Three men yank at the limbs and tail of an emaciated cow to put it into a cart. Animals arriving daily by truck in the Burkina capital Ouagadougou from all over the country are too weak to stand, much less walk.
Erratic rains last year in Burkina, where animal husbandry is the main livelihood in many regions, resulted in widespread shortages of water and pasture.
Aid workers and breeders say the poor condition of local livestock - animals that have not already migrated in search of pasture - is hitting families’ food security. The livestock families keep at home are critical sources of food and revenue.
“The worry is for those [animals] that have stayed, given the lack of food and water for them,” said Stéphane Degueurce of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Burkina, who recently travelled to affected areas in Burkina’s north and Sahel regions.
“It’s a chain,” he said. “The animals have nothing to eat so they don’t produce and cannot be a source of revenue; so people have a tough time feeding the family but also their animals. And round it goes. Regression sets in and poverty deepens.”
WFP representative in Burkina Annalisa Conte said shoring up livestock will be critical for these communities.
“If we want to safeguard these communities’ food security, this year there must be assistance for the livestock that has stayed put. This way you’re protecting these families’ capital and you’re ensuring that animals will produce milk… You could give food to the pastoralists, but they are still going to lose their capital - the animals. So where do you go from there to get things back on track?”
Degueurce said: “One thing that struck us during the missions in March and April: Most people do not ask for food for themselves, for their families; they ask for food for their animals.”
Conte said the current situation points to a gap in the food insecurity response, which typically focuses on aid to people in the form of subsidized prices for staple foods, not necessarily to animals.
Government action plans
Breeders say if this year’s rains come soon and are adequate, many animals currently in a poor condition could be saved. Unpredictable rains aside, agencies and the government are looking at how best to help in the near and longer term.
The government is seeking donor assistance, estimating that about one billion CFA francs (US$1.9 million) is required to help pastoralist communities, Animal Resources Minister Sekou Ba told IRIN.
Among actions the government plans are subsidizing animal feed and digging boreholes to increase water sources, Ba said.
Following a UN interagency and government mission to the affected regions in February, experts recommended that animal feed be provided at subsidized prices, according to participants from WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The government also plans to create pasture parks.
Herders say this seasonal blow to livestock, when pasture and water are low, could be avoided.
“It is purely a lack of means to feed their animals during the dry season,” herder Ouédraogo Oumarou told IRIN. “If people could access animal feed the cattle would not automatically waste away during this season. But families are struggling to feed themselves - how can they deal with feeding their animals?”
High risk of livestock deaths
Late April assessments in Burkina’s east, north and Sahel regions showed a high risk of death among livestock if immediate action is not taken, according to FAO.
Nutrition-related illnesses and spontaneous abortions are widespread among livestock, according to FAO. Animals are becoming ill from eating clothing, plastic and other items as they rummage for food, said Ibrahim Abdoul Nasser, FAO food security and nutrition specialist, just back from an evaluation in Burkina’s Sahel region.
FAO points out that animals are faring better in some provinces than in others, due to better access to water and a practice of producing and stocking animal feed. “But across the board, the view of livestock farmers and experts is that if appropriate solutions are not found to feed these animals the risk of death is high."
Unsure of what government or other aid might be on the way, residents of Bani village in the northeastern department of Dori are watching for the rains.
“If the rains come on time we should be OK,” Cissé Hamadoun, head of the village development council, told IRIN. “The animals would be able to recuperate, there would be more leaves we use for sauce, people would be able to grow corn, and families would have enough milk.”
He pointed to a cow standing nearby, its ribs appearing ready to poke through the skin. “But if not, this will be quite a bad year.”