The morning calm of Losirien valley was broken by a cow bell tinkling as Benjamin Kerei led his herd of about 50 animals down a parched trail alongside a dry riverbed in southwest Kenya.
On the 10-km (6-mile) journey to a nearby grazing ground, the 24-year-old was on the lookout for fresh wildlife tracks.
Like pastoralists all over the East African country, Kerei needs to keep his cattle away from wild animals to avoid exposing them to infectious diseases, some of which can be deadly to both livestock and humans.
With droughts and floods shrinking the amount of habitable land in Kenya, the search for enough food and water is driving people and wildlife deeper into each other’s territories.
As a result, cases of infectious diseases that are passed from animals to humans – called zoonotic diseases, or zoonoses – are on the rise, said Patrick Kimani, chief executive of the Kenya Livestock Producers Association.
In recent years, some herders have found a simple way of keeping their livestock and themselves healthy.
They search for grazing routes that are not used by wildlife, and mark them for others to follow.
In the southern part of Kenya’s Rift Valley, Kerei – who began using the method two years ago – said zoonotic diseases were very common but herders did not know how to treat them.
“This is why we choose to use safe grazing routes to reduce (the) chances of livestock coming into contact with sick wild animals,” he said.
In Kenya, there are at least 36 known zoonotic diseases, according to Samuel Kahariri, chairman of the Kenya Veterinary Association (KVA). The most serious include brucellosis, Rift Valley fever, rabies and anthrax.
Most of these diseases are widespread among pastoralist communities, Kahariri added.
Brucellosis, for example, is one of the most common zoonotic infections globally.
Mainly transmitted from cattle, sheep, goats, elk and deer, it can be passed to humans through the consumption of raw meat or unpasteurised milk, causing flu-like symptoms.
Sam Kariuki, director of the Centre for Microbiology Research at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, estimated that around 750 Kenyans contract brucellosis every year.
But spotty record-keeping makes it impossible to get an accurate picture of how zoonotic diseases spread, he noted.
The data does show that the number of brucellosis cases has increased in the past few years, said James Akoko, a researcher studying the disease at Maseno University in Kisumu County.
Akoko said the negative effects of climate change combined with a growing population meant there was more contact between humans, wild animals and livestock than ever before.
“People are encroaching into areas that were meant for wild animals, and that kind of contact can create opportunity for the diseases to spread across different hosts,” he said.
Pastoralists like Kerei are working hard to prevent that.
Once they identify routes that do not cross into wildlife territory, they mark them out with small brick towers.
Besides checking for tracks and faeces, they know the presence of big cats like lions and tick-eating birds indicate that grazing animals such as buffalo and deer have moved into an area, said Paul Gathitu, a Kenya Wildlife Service spokesman.
When that happens, the brick towers are dismantled, signaling to others that the route has become risky.
“It is a difficult task ensuring that our livestock do not share pasture or watering points with wildlife,” said Kerei. “But it is the only cheap and readily available measure we have.”
For now, the technique is used mainly by Maasai tribes in the Rift Valley and the Borana in northern Kenya, said Abdulaziz Jama of the Pastoralist Capacity Development Programme.
Anecdotal evidence from local elders confirms the technique works where there are no other options to fight diseases, he added.
“Use of safe grazing routes is one of the many (types of) indigenous knowledge that have been helping marginalized communities battle climate change and zoonotic diseases where the national government has failed,” he said.
The government is struggling to manage the spread of zoonotic diseases partly because of the difficulty it faces in tracking them as herders move from one location to another, said the KVA’s Kahariri.
The problem is exacerbated by poor road and communication networks in areas where pastoralists live, making it hard for them to share information with the government when a zoonotic disease appears, Kahariri added.
Ezekiel Kiamba, from Ildamat village in southeast Kenya, said officials should do more to support herders.
The 32-year-old farmer does not use safe grazing routes to protect his 80 cows. Instead, he hires a private vet to regularly check and vaccinate his herd, at $20 per dose.
He would like to see the government use modern technology to send real-time information about outbreaks to rural communities.
“Some of us pastoralists have smartphones which the government could use to work with us and help manage zoonotic diseases,” he said. “I am still waiting for this to happen.” -Reuters
Cyclone Idai Aftermath: No Maize, No Money, No Future
The deadliest African cyclone, to date, tore through Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique in March, leaving a trail of death and destruction. The worst is yet to come for survivors.
The deadliest cyclone to ever hit Africa, Idai, overnight, ripped through Mozambique and then tore into Zimbabwe and Malawi, leaving a long trail of destruction in its wake.
Trees were uprooted, so were people, in the millions.
Roads were washed away, houses destroyed and bridges torn from their edifices. Worst of all, the raging muddy waters killed at least 847 people, affected about two million and destroyed several hundreds of thousands of crops. The devastation caused by the cyclone is almost unimaginable as, in these three countries, bodies could be seen floating in water where there used to be villages.
“This was unimaginable. I am in the military but I have never seen such. People are desperate for help and have lost everything,” says Brigadier General Joe Muzvidziwa, who is helping survivors in Zimbabwe.
For those who did survive, the worst is yet to come. Many of them will mourn the deaths of their loved ones on empty pockets and growling stomachs.
The drive to Zimbabwe’s hardest hit district, Chimanimani, is long and painful. A mere six days after the furious waters swept away most parts of the villages in the area, the ground is dry but the pain and destruction still palpable.
We struggle to drive into the villages as trees and debris still block the roads and bridges have been decimated.
We continue our journey on foot and meet many with no place to call home. One of them is Tsitsi Mungana.
As we meet, she is trying to climb over a tree blocking the road, to make her way to aid agencies for her first decent meal since Cyclone Idai. She is walking barefoot and is wearing the only dress and doek (headwrap) she now owns. She mutters a few words to herself as tears stream down her cheeks.
“It’s been the worst time of my life. I don’t know how I am going to move on from this. I don’t have anything else left. My husband was swept away by the floods and was found about 10km away… We spent hours looking for my grandson. The rocks which fell off the mountain due to the heavy rains and wind covered his body and it took many people to find him. All our belongings and livestock are also gone,” says Mungana as she begins to weep uncontrollably.
She is one of hundreds of families who have lost loved ones, and thousands who are most likely going to starve this year.
According to Wandile Sihlobo, Chief Economist of the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa (Agbiz), Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi will collectively have to import over a million tons of maize this year to feed its people.
He says Zimbabwe’s maize imports could reach 900,000 tons in order to meet the annual needs of roughly two million tons a year.
“Meanwhile, Mozambique will most likely double the typical maize import volume of about 100,000 tons a year,” he says.
It’s going to be hard to find suppliers of maize because the key suppliers, South Africa and Zambia, are expecting low harvests this year.
“If we assume that South Africa’s expected production of 10.6 million tons materializes, then the country could have about 1.1 million tons of maize for export markets. A large share of this will, most likely, be destined to the BNLS countries (Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, and Eswatini), thus leaving a small volume for Zimbabwe and Mozambique,” Sihlobo says.
There is also very little to be expected from Zambia as the International Grains Council forecasts the country’s 2018/19 maize harvest at 2.4 million tons, down by 33% year-on-year. This will be enough only for domestic consumption.
Cyclone Idai also affected trade.
In its wake, according to the UN Economic Commission for Africa Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe, the cyclone cost Africa infrastructure worth more than a billion dollars.
Port of Beira, the main corridor for Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Eastern DRC, closed its doors.
“We closed the port two days before the cyclone hit to allow us time to prepare for it by reorganizing and removing all potential hazards. There was a lot of damage to the port. It took another two days to clean up and, at least, make the port accessible. The damage was several millions of dollars. We are currently in talks with insurance to know how much exactly. It will take time and money to fix everything up. We are currently improvising just to make sure business goes on,” says Jan de Vries, Managing Director of Port of Beira.
Before this disaster, Beira port controlled 60% of the country’s imports and 40% of its exports.
“We handle about 300,000 containers per year and about three million tons of general cargo per year and a lot of fuel but we had to put services on hold… On the first day, it was tough to go around. Nearly all the roads were blocked, to some extent, with trees, electricity cables and many things. There was a lot of destruction. A lot of roofs damaged, buildings completely collapsed. This place looked like a warzone,” de Vries says.
He says at the port, roofs, doors and warehouses were destroyed but they are lucky because it is currently low season.
“Electricity supply had been cut off but we are very impressed by the government because power is being restored. Technicians from all over the country are working hard. Major industries have been reconnected and a few residential areas are now being connected. Rail and road infrastructure is also being fixed. Although we have to struggle a bit, we have opened the port and business continues,” he says.
The president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) Sifelani Jabangwe says Beira is one of the major ports for the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region and its closure, no matter how short-lived, affected trade.
“Zimbabwe imports fuel and wheat through the Port of Beira. The closure caused a strain on the supply of these two commodities. We had trucks that were stuck in Beira for a number of days. The bigger impact is also on businesses located on the eastern sides of the country, like timber estates, fruit and tea producers, and even the diamond company, in that area, is now revising its targeted output because of the flooding,” Jabangwe says.
Henry Nemaire, the Chairman of the CZI Trade Development and Investments Promotion Committee based in Mutare, says most businesses have been severely affected and are looking for funding to rebuild.
“Some businesses are in areas that can’t be accessed with 30-ton trucks which they used to move their goods like timber… Power lines are cut off and there are issues around water supply systems which have been damaged. Smaller businesses were the most affected. Most of them are now trying to apply for loans to get new trucks and rebuild so they can get back on track,” Nemaire says.
Jabangwe agrees with Nemaire. He says it will be a long and harsh road to recovery.
“We are still waiting for reports from various companies affected by the cyclone which should start coming in soon so we can understand the actual loss that has occurred… there are already teams working with government to import the required maize to feed the country. We need additional support to make sure that people are catered for. We would need to feed people in that area for at least 12 months, which means a full-fledged program has to be put in place,” he says.
Cherukai Mukamba, a local smallholder farmer, says he relied on farming to make money. “I would sell maize and chicken, and sometimes cows, to make money to be able to take care of my children. A week before the cyclone, I had hired people who were going to help me with harvesting when the time came,” he says.
Like many in this area, Mukamba spent the night fearing for his life and that of his family.
“I was asleep and was woken up by very loud winds that I have never heard before. I went outside to look and right in front of me, was a bus rolling down the mountain. I could hear people scream and it crushed them before my eyes. I tried to go help but it pouring and I could see rocks fall off the mountain right into the fields and I had to go back in the house and say a prayer.”
The next day, Mukamba says he woke up to the biggest horror.
“Everything was destroyed; all my crops, livestock and part of my house. I went to check on the bus but didn’t find anyone inside. I heard that there had been three people in the bus and their bodies were found over 100km away. I couldn’t believe it. It is the worst thing to ever happen to us,” he says.
Mukamba’s story is one of thousands of stories in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique.
These countries have weathered many storms over the years like Cyclone Leon–Eline and poverty, but this massive natural disaster will go down in history books as the worst and southern Africa will bear its scars for generations to come.
Uganda Sees 11% Growth In Sugar Output This Year
Uganda expects sugar output to rise 11% this year as three mills under construction in the country’s northern and eastern regions come online, officials say.
“Production is currently at 450,000 metric tons. When three new factories that are under construction and development start producing, we will go up to a half a million metric tons,” Uganda’s Trade and Industry Minister Amelia Kyambadde says in an interview with FORBES AFRICA.
The East African country is only able to consume 360,000 tons per year, leaving a surplus for export in a region that’s grappling with deficits. Uganda exports sugar to the DRC, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan and Tanzania.
Underpinning the country’s sugar sector are millers, including Kakira Sugar Works, the largest producer. Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited – Lugazi and Kinyara Sugar Works are the other largest players.
While this growth in output is imperative, the government is keen to see diversification in production to include industrial sugar as the country seeks to save its foreign exchange, Kyambadde says.
“I see a bright future,” she adds, “but producers also need to diversify and produce the finer sugar. All of them are producing the bigger crystals but finer sugar for production is what we would like them to start producing.
“At the moment, we are importing that finer sugar.
“So that has been our concern with them, that why don’t you diversify and start producing the sugar that’s ready for production,” she says.
But these efforts have largely been stalled by Uganda’s high power tariffs, according to Kyambadde.
“They (millers) say from this level, the ordinary sugar, they have to have another line that would make it finer. That means the consumption of power definitely is higher,” she says.
“So that is one of the challenges; that the costs of production are so high,” she said, adding that new power plants will reduce costs to an ideal five US cents/KW.
Uganda is also looking to establish new laws to govern the sugar sector but disagreements over exclusivity clauses relating to purchase of cane from farmers abound.
In March, President Yoweri Museveni declined to assent to the Sugar Act of 2016 that was passed by Parliament in November last year. His spokesman, Don Wanyama, says the president is concerned about the proximity of millers.
“It’s going to antagonize the old sugar players,” Wanyama says. “It’s (the act) not going to be assented to,” he says.
“We hope this issue will be corrected now that the bill is being sent back to parliament,” says Jim Kabeho, the Chairman of Uganda Sugar Manufacturers Association, the largest industry lobby.
“Farming constitutes 60 percent of our costs; yet someone without a single tractor and using cheap old machinery just wants to come and buy from your farmers,” he said in a phone interview.
Kabeho, also a director at Kakira and a board member at regional business lobby, the East Africa Business Council, warns that Uganda has lessons to learn from Kenya which allowed “market distortions” in the name of allowing competition only to end up with less production and having to rely on imports.
Yet for Ibrahim Baliitamuto, a cane grower in the eastern district of Mayuge, all that matters is price stability.
“It’s very easy to make a fortune from sugarcane if the prices offered by factories are not changed very often,” Baliitamuto says.
“You can’t tell me about growing maize (corn) when I have a choice of sugarcane.”
Kyambadde says in returning the law to parliament, the president was being mindful of the big players.
“He thinks that the output of the small players is negligible, but we are still discussing that,” she says.
Why Do Zebras Have Stripes? They Make Bad Landing Strips For Flies
Scientists are providing new evidence to answer the longstanding question about why zebras have stripes. It appears stripes make terrible landing strips, bamboozling the fierce blood-sucking flies that try to feast on zebras and carry deadly diseases.
Researchers on Wednesday described experiments demonstrating that horse flies have a difficult time landing on zebras while easily landing on uniformly colored horses. In one experiment, the researchers put cloth coats bearing striped patterns on horses and observed that fewer flies landed on them than when the same horses wore single-color coats.
“We showed that horse flies approach zebras and uniformly colored horses at similar rates but that they fail to land on zebras – or striped horse coats – because they fail to decelerate properly, and so fly past them or literally bump into them and bounce off,” said behavioral ecologist Tim Caro of the University of California-Davis, lead author of the research published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Close cousins to horses and donkeys, the world’s three zebra species, known for their black-and-white striped bodies, roam Africa’s savannas eating a variety of grasses. Their stripe patterns vary among individuals, with no two alike.
There had been four main hypotheses about the advantages zebras accrued by evolving stripes: camouflage to avoid large predators; a social function like individual recognition; thermoregulation, with stripes setting up convection currents along the animal’s back; and thwarting biting fly attacks.
“Only the last stands up to scrutiny,” Caro said. “Most biologists involved with research on mammal coloration accept that this is the reason that zebras have stripes.”
African horse flies carry diseases such as trypanosomiasis and African horse sickness that cause wasting and can be fatal.
Breeding high performance bugs for animal feed
The researchers videoed horse flies as they tried to prey on captive zebras and domestic horses at a livery in North Somerset, England. Stripes did not deter flies from a distance, as they circled horses and zebras at similar rates. But the flies managed to land on zebras less than a quarter as often.
University of Bristol biologist and study co-author Martin How said stripes may dazzle flies somehow once the insects venture close enough to see them with their low-resolution eyes.
“In addition to stripes that prevent controlled landings by horse flies, zebras are constantly swishing their tail and may run off if horse flies do land successfully, so they are also using behavioral means to prevent flies probing for blood,” Caro said. -Reuters
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