What is killing my cow? Re-assessing diseases in smallholder dairying in Tanzania

ILRI and its partners recently initiated a major engagement in Tanzania to generate solutions and evidence for large scale, pro-poor development of smallholder dairy value chains. Activities from several donor-funded projects are being integrated to characterize the current institutional context and technical challenges, and to evaluate options that will allow dairy farmers and actors along informal milk marketing chains to improve their productivity and livelihoods, and increase the supply of milk and the critical nutrients it contains to their communities and nearby urban centres.
One area for immediate attention is cattle disease, which remains a major constraint to increasing dairy productivity in Tanzania, by killing animals or keeping them sick and under-producing. Recent studies report overall mortality between 12 and 14% in smallholder dairy cattle across different regions of Tanzania. Many of these diseases can also be transmitted to people, resulting in illness and even death. Existing information on the diseases affecting dairy cattle in Tanzania and their relative importance is sparse and likely biased because it relies either on passive reporting by poorly resourced veterinary services or on localized surveys focused on a specific disease. 
The central research questions are therefore: what is the relative importance of diseases affecting dairy cow performance or presenting a public health risk? And are there other diseases beyond the ones typically reported which have gone undetected simply because they are not recognized or tested for?
To address these questions and better inform subsequent investigations as well as the veterinary and public health strategies to be piloted, we propose to re-evaluate dairy disease in Tanzania by broadening the range of diseases normally assessed in such research. 
The overall objective of this project is to assess the presence of a range of potential pathogens (production diseases and zoonoses) in smallholder dairy cattle in our research sites in Tanzania based on an in-depth diagnostic examination of serological and milk samples. 
  • To assess the presence of a range of potential pathogens (production diseases and zoonoses) in smallholder dairy cattle in four sites in Tanzania. 
  • To collect information on farm management practices
  • To collect information on practices related to risk of zoonotic transmission of diseases
  • To investigate the presence of specific pathogens (bacteria) in milk from sick lactating cows and in milk stored in the households
  • To test a decision support tool for the identification of disease in cattle. 

As this project develops, an additional satellite project is being initiated to explore the effectiveness of different communication mechanisms for smallholder cattle farmers in Tanzania.