An experience of veterinary work in Chad
In 2014 I was given the opportunity to travel to southern Chad and spend some time following the work of Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI). The opportunity arose through a student competition held by SIVtro Veterinari Senza Frontiere Italia (Vets without borders, Italy) and by obtaining a BVA student travel grant, which gives vet students the chance to gain experience in veterinary work and research overseas.
Conflicts between cattle herders and crop farmers
My project was aimed at trying to identify causes of conflict between pastoral and native agricultural communities and to try to suggest animal management interventions to prevent these.
I quickly learnt this topic was far more deeply rooted and complex than just animal management issues. The causes of conflicts seem to involve many factors including culture, religion, land ownership and changes in demography and politics in this part of Chad.
Veterinary provisions in Chad
Veterinary care was rarely available to these pastoral communities. What little veterinary products they did occasionally buy, mostly from local markets, were often unreliable and not genuine, explained herders. Animals rarely recovered.
Even those herders looking to treat their animals and improve animal health were faced with a great challenge. In Chad the veterinary system was, until recently, government run but has now been privatised.
However it seems that the infrastructure and veterinary education has not quite caught up with space left behind since privatisation of the sector. Having said this, internal parasitic burden is low thanks to the extensive nature of the pastoral systems, and requires very few treatments. There is also a development of para-veterinary professionals by local NGOs.
Sustainable effects of pastoralism
It was very interesting learning about the human-animal interaction in Chad and understanding what herds mean to pastoralists. In Chad and throughout the Sahel, traditional herding provides more than just food. Owning cattle brings wealth, social status and often a dowry.
Spending time with pastoral communities in southern Chad helped me realise how pastoralism is such a sustainable and effective livestock system in arid and semi arid climates, and how it is able to produce highly valuable animal derived food from resource that would otherwise be inedible by humans.
I also like to note how much studying these pastoral communities in Chad allows us to flip the lens on our own livestock systems, and to realise how many contradictions we live and how livestock keeping so much depends on culture and the environment in which it is found.
Final thoughts on my trip to Chad
I really enjoyed experiencing the local fruit and vegetable markets, where I developed a real sweet tooth for mangos! Chad is not everyone’s first choice destination when visiting Africa, I found it a highly complex and interesting place to do a project and I am incredibly grateful to the BVA Overseas Group, Vetwork UK and SIVtro Veterinari Senza Frontiere Italia to have enabled this opportunity.
I would like to thank Massimo Zecchini and Awa Ibrahim for introducing me to the Chadien way of life and world of international cooperation, they have given me confidence to further explore this path in the future.
If you are interested in doing a veterinary project abroad, I would definitely recommend applying for a student travel grant!