07 February 2023, Uganda: The pandemic fundamentally changed the way we see health. Strong evidence points to COVID-19 originating in bats, and that connection has made us re-think the link between animal and human health. Moreover, the threat of climate change and pollution is forcing us to see health from a broader perspective; pollution is now a leading cause of non-communicable diseases.
Health is an interconnected issue. This makes a One Health approach all the more critical. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls One Health an integrated, unifying approach to balance and optimise the health of people, animals and the environment. WHO states, “It is particularly important to prevent, predict, detect, and respond to global health threats such as the COVID-19 pandemic.”
And with this One Health approach in mind, joint animal-plant health clinics have grown out of the Plantwise programme, helping hundreds of farmers in Uganda.
Plant health clinics in Uganda
The CABI-led Plantwise programme ran from 2011 to 2020. Plantwise helped establish plant clinics to address farmers’ crop diseases and pests. The clinics continue to run with facilitation from the government. Smallholders take cuttings from their sick crops to trained plant doctors who then diagnose the plant disease or pest and recommend how to tackle it.
The clinics usually focus only on plant health. But in Uganda, CABI, with its partners, has expanded the clinics to include livestock. Smallholders can now ask questions about sick plants and animals. These joint clinics are helping farmers to address a broader range of health-related issues.
The background: How crop-livestock clinics were created
Plant clinics had been receiving queries about livestock for years. This is despite the clinics only addressing plant health. A 2016-17 survey of 180 plant doctors from six countries showed that farmers often asked questions about animal health. The survey’s results fuelled interest in expanding the scope of plant clinics. And its authors discussed how Plantwise could improve coordination among a range of plant and animal health services.
CABI went on to lead a pilot project in Uganda to explore joint crop-livestock advisory services. The work of crop, animal husbandry and veterinary officers is usually separate. But, through the pilot project, a team of health experts from different disciplines worked closely together to explore the benefits of collaboration. On the whole, integrated health services remain underexplored within One Health. However, the team demonstrated how coordination between sectors could help improve service delivery in low-income countries where resources are scarce.
This issue was published as a case study in One Health Cases at the end of last year.
Pilot project shows the benefits of One Health
The pilot project started in Uganda in 2021, with four local districts’ governments setting up and running mobile crop-livestock clinics. Over 1,000 farmers attended, and women made up 43% of attendees. Around 15% of the clinic users asked about crop and animal health. This figure indicates that farmers were beginning to take up the idea of a dual-purpose service.
The clinics usually occurred at a community facility that farmers could easily visit. A crop-livestock clinic consists of tables and chairs placed under portable tents. Agriculture and veterinary department staff spend time talking to farmers and answering their questions.
In relation to plant health, most of the queries focused on bananas, cassava, coffee, maize and tomatoes. But queries also covered agronomy, such as field management and soil fertility. Most livestock questions focused on cattle, goats, pigs and poultry. However, farmers also made several queries about cats, dogs, rabbits, sheep and turkeys. The key aspects were animal health, nutrition, husbandry practices among others.
What does the feedback tell us about the benefits of One Health?
There are signs that these joint clinics are improving the delivery of health services. Feedback from the staff shows that mobile clinics help them to reach more farmers. They give better geographic coverage compared to other extension methods.
Feedback from researchers also shows that crop-livestock clinics can help to address complex issues. This includes health threats from pesticides, resistance to antibiotics, and advice on contamination from mycotoxin. This is a naturally occurring toxin that comes from certain moulds, which can affect plants, animals and humans. The root of these problems is only sometimes evident from issues raised at plant clinics. However, joint plant-livestock clinics help to achieve a better, more accurate diagnosis.
Above all, dual-purpose clinics are a practical way to put One Health into practice. In 2022, CABI and its partners launched joint clinics in two more districts in Uganda and three counties in Kenya. Staff were trained in animal health and how to use digital tools for data capture and management.
One Health and safeguarding food security
In December 2022, CABI and local stakeholders held talks to support sustainable food security in Uganda. One Health was an important part of the discussion. A combined approach can help to address emerging social and environmental challenges. These include the spread of invasive species, and crop pests and diseases that affect farmers’ yields and livelihoods. Addressing them helps smallholders to access markets and boost their incomes.
Delegates at the December meeting discussed CABI’s existing work in Uganda. This includes work under the new PlantwisePlus programme. This global programme builds on Plantwise and helps farmers safeguard and grow sustainable businesses. With an emphasis on technology, the programme allows them to access valuable agricultural data and information. The knowledge shared helps farmers to prevent a broader range of potentially devastating crop pests and diseases.
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