Supporting Evidence-Based Interventions (SEBI)

Better data on livestock disease may unlock Nigeria’s dairy dilemma

The University of Edinburgh Supporting Evidence Based Interventions (SEBI) project has been supporting a study of the most impactful livestock diseases in Nigeria, starting with cattle and small ruminants in 7 Northern states.

by Vanessa Meadu

Nigeria faces a dairy dilemma. The most populous country in Africa needs to feed its 186 million people (and counting). Dairy products are a critical part of diets, particularly for young children, and Nigeria annually consumes 1.7 million tonnes of milk. However, domestic production only generates one-third of this, so over 1 million tonnes of milk must be imported annually, at a cost of US$ 480 million (source: PWC 2016).

Improving Nigeria’s dairy value chain is a complex task, and increasing production is an important piece of the puzzle. This means investing in healthier, more productive animals – but where to start? 

Prioritising animal diseases by impacts

No matter where you are, improving animal health and productivity requires a comprehensive understanding of which diseases are at play and what kind of impacts they are producing for animals and society. Globally, there is currently very little comprehensive data that can guide the interventions needed to improve animal health. Without this evidence, decision makers are left guessing.

As part of its mission to close the livestock data gap, the University of Edinburgh Supporting Evidence Based Interventions (SEBI) project has been supporting a study of the most impactful livestock diseases in Nigeria, starting with cattle and small ruminants in 7 Northern states. The results of the study will inform interventions, technologies and investments that can improve health and productivity in these animal populations. Milk-producing animals are of particular interest due to the country’s dairy-production deficit.

SEBI partners meet in Nigeria to discuss priority animal diseases
Prof Andy Peters (centre) meets with research partners in Nigeria to discuss high impact animal diseases

“Most comprehensive approach”

Researchers working in close collaboration with Nigerian federal veterinary authorities, including those in States covered by the survey, are looking beyond animal mortality to get a bigger picture of animal diseases and their impacts on society. They have been preparing a study that pulls together data and evidence from the current literature, and from key players working on livestock health in Nigeria such as vets, animal health distributors, farmers, and government authorities.

Studies in the past would take just one source, such as mortality, and might be geographically restrictive and based on one point in time. As well, they would not look at a disease’s impacts on animal productivity. You would have to make many assumptions in order to deduce which diseases could be a priority nationally, said Prof Andy Peters who leads the SEBI program. This approach is the most comprehensive one taken to date in Nigeria, he said. 

At a moment when Nigeria is very keen to boost its livestock production, including aspects such as milk production, this study has been very timely

Baptiste DunguStudy research leader

Evidence to inform action

The preliminary study suggests that meaningful interventions could be mounted against Foot and Mouth Diseases (FMD), Trypanosomosis and Brucellosis (abortus).  Once the priority diseases are identified, the researchers will evaluate the feasibility of introducing different interventions. This means taking into account technical potential (whether tools and technologies are available), the likely cost/benefit, and whether the private sector could invest in solutions to ensure long-term sustainability.

High impact animal diseases in Nigeria

  • FMD is a highly contagious viral disease of cattle and other livestock.  It produces distinctive ulcerative lesions on the mouth and hoof areas. Its main impact is to severely reduce productivity e.g. milk yield and is immensely damaging to international trade. 
  • Trypanosomosis is caused by trypanosome blood parasites and transmitted by tsetse flies.  It is possibly one of the most economically damaging diseases in Africa and is equivalent to human sleeping sickness caused by similar parasites.  
  • Brucellosis is a common cause of abortion in cattle causing serious economic losses; it is also a zoonosis in that it infects humans causing severe bouts of fever.

This work is generating solid evidence-based data that can be used to tackle major livestock diseases, which constitute to date one of the major obstacles to increased livestock productivity and improvement in the livelihood of livestock keepers, said Mr. Dungu.

SEBI is also leading similar kinds of studies to prioritise livestock diseases in Tanzania and Ethiopia. The results of the three studies will be peer-reviewed in June, by a range of experts in the field, to ensure data is valid and options are properly prioritised.

Later this year, pilot trials will be set up to demonstrate feasibility, to generate evidence about what works, and where.

SEBI takes a two-pronged approach at tackling livestock health and productivity. On the one hand, the program works to generate evidence of what needs to be done – which diseases to prioritise and where. On the other hand, researchers are generating evidence of what can be done – which solutions work and where. By generating robust new evidence, SEBI aims to inform governments and the private sector of the best solutions for improving livestock health and productivity. The idea is to try to convince governments and the private sector to invest in long-term solutions that will pay off for farmers and for the economy, said Prof Peters.

Related links

Getting to grips with the Global Burden of Animal Diseases: Q&A with Prof Jonathan Rushton -