By Edwin Cheserek
The Government is mobilising emergency support in Marakwet and Baringo Districts to counter rapid spread of peste des petits ruminants, a virulent goats and sheep disease.
The disease not only threatens food security, but could also result in a spillover to other regions and neighbouring countries that have never had the disease.
Marakwet District Veterinary Officer Joseph Kiyeg, said peste des petits ruminants (PPR) has infected hundreds of goats, and more than 2,000 of the herds have died from the disease in the last two months.
The worrying trend has sent shivers down the spines of farmers who depend on livestock, mainly for livelihood. The crisis has seen farmers sell their goats and sheep at a throwaway price of Sh1,000.
Chelakirap Tilem, who has reared livestock for a decade in Tot, Marakwet District said they usually sell goats for Sh4,000 when they are in good health. But due to the outbreak, they are now selling them for as little as Sh1,000 and below, a fact he attributes to fears of the disease by buyers.
Butcheries in towns like Eldoret, Nakuru and Kitale that normally receive animals from the area had to source supplies from elsewhere.
Farmers lost Sh6 million to the disease that occurred in the area for about three months.
The disease spread fast within days with Government intervention and action by the farmers to mitigate the outbreak coming in late.
Kiyeg disclosed that at least 5,000 animals predominantly goats and sheep were infected, with 50 per cent of them dying.
He said farmers are recording new cases of the disease, traditionally confined to pastoralist areas, which is now spreading fast to neighbouring areas causing a slump in animal prices.
“The outbreak has had a negative impact on the farmers who depend on livestock as their primary source of income year-in-year out,” he explained.
Kiyeng disclosed that the Government used more than Sh1 million to control the disease in Marakwet District alone.
Provincial Director of Veterinary Services, Nathan Songok, admits that the overall impact of the outbreak was devastating.
He added that experts ruled out East Coast Fever, which had first been linked to death of the several goats and sheep.
“The results of samples collected by Regional Laboratory Veterinary Investigations team turned out positive for PPR,” said Songok.
The outbreak, which hit hundreds of grazing fields, he disclosed, resulted in huge economic loses to the rural community.
The director said the outbreak was, however, under control adding that the Government conducted successful vaccination, which was still going on in the affected area.
He said the disease is believed to have originated from Ethiopia as a result of cross border grassing through the porous border with Turkana County.
“We’re seeing that in response to the threat of their animals contracting the disease, farmers are moving their animals away from infected villages to where so far there have been no disease outbreaks, which has been spreading the virus to healthy flocks of animals,” explained Songok.
He said the vaccination exercise targets more than 50,000 livestock in the larger Marakwet District and called on stakeholders to support the initiative.
Measures to control the outbreak led to the emergency slaughter of infected herds, restrictions imposed on community trade and the indirect impact of the epidemic on the environment had a major cost on the Community as a whole.
The officer pointed out that PPR vaccine provides protection for about three years for small livestock like goats.
The director ordered restricting movement of livestock in the affected areas and warned the residents against consuming carcasses.
Kiyeng, however, noted that concerted efforts by the Government and stakeholders had greatly reduced cases of new infection.
But he reckons that the gains are now being reversed due to pastoralist migrations, owing to ongoing drought in the semi-arid regions. The disease spread is attributed to close contact between infected and the non-infected livestock.
Areas in Marakwet East and Baringo East have now recorded new cases, whose immediate symptoms include, fever, coughing and severe diarrhoea.