Uganda: A herding tradition & modern livestock development

“Livestock: a hidden insurance for sustainable livelihoods.”
Principal Environment Inspector, Ministry of Water, Lands and Environment, Uganda

Ugandan shepherd with the herd

One of Uganda's south-western districts is sometimes referred to as the Switzerland of Africa, due to its meat and milk production’s importance to the national economy and culture. Nationally, there is potential for developing the livestock branch with an aim to expanding trade. However, livestock development choices and management practices also have impacts on the environment and health. There are concerns about the possible human health impacts of exposures to chemicals and pharmaceuticals used to protect livestock from disease; these may enter food, soil and water supplies, the latter shared by animals and humans. There are long-term economic, health and ecological trade-offs between policies fostering the development of local and exotic cattle breeds. The local breeds are valued for their meat and are more resistant to vector-borne diseases, some of which affect humans. The exotic breeds require more chemical treatments due to their lower natural resistance, but typically produce greater quantities of milk. For this reason they are valued by poor households seeking to improve family nutrition or supplement income. Some of the chemicals used to treat livestock also are used in malaria control programmes, raising concerns about preserving long-term efficacy by managed use.

The process

The initiative has brought together key experts and policy-makers from nearly a dozen Ugandan institutions including the Ministries of Health; Agriculture; and Water, Lands and Environment respectively; the National Drug Authority; and academia. Four core teams are now undertaking an impact assessment of livestock management development options and agrochemical use, from an environment and health perspective. The topic was chosen by the Ugandan Ministry of Water, Lands and Environment, which is coordinating the project in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders. The assessment includes the first-ever series of government tests of chemical and pharmaceutical residues in animal products, soils, water and invertebrates. The data will be used to generate an initial profile of health and environmental risks, with technical support from WHO/UNEP. Analysis of current policies in the light of new and existing evidence can inform decisions on livestock branch development, public health, environmental management, economic development and poverty reduction. The HELI analysis parallels a UNEP-sponsored review of environmental issues related to Uganda's poverty reduction strategies and planning policies. When the assessment has been completed, the pilot project conclusions and recommendations will be presented at a WHO/UNEP cosponsored regional workshop hosted by Uganda for other countries in the African region. It is hoped that the findings will be used to position and steer Uganda’s livestock industry to international markets, enhance implementation of multilateral agreements on chemical safety, health and environment, and contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals at the national level.