Veterinarians Without Borders (known as Vétérinaires Sans Frontières, or VSF) is an international organisation that works with farmers and livestock keepers in the developing world. VSF supports pastoral herders as well as settled farmers in rural parts of Asia, Africa and South America by offering expertise on a range of animal health issues, through projects that focus on improving the welfare of both people and animals. That's Farming caught up with Aude Delcoigne and Margherita Gomarasca, who are based in VSF's Brussels office.
VSF treats education as a tool to enhance people's understanding of animal health, especially in terms of zoonotic (transferable to human) diseases. Using local partner organisations, its own professional facilitators and some volunteers from around the world VSF is able to reach out to isolated communities, by providing training and practical assistance. By enhancing herders' ability to recognise infections or diseases, VSF can assist those who rely on animal health for their livelihoods.
Aude explains further. “We support local populations, from livestock keepers who survive on family farming, pastoralists who roam vast areas with their herds and small farmers in peri-urban areas. We operate in eight African countries and our colleagues work in many other areas of world.”
Margherita co-ordinates between the group's many member organisations across Africa: “We are a rural development organisation with a focus on livestock related issues. We have local partner organisations in areas where we work. We provide them with technical assistance and respond to challenges.”
Margherita outlines an example of VWB's work. “A common topic is pastoralism, where livestock keepers live nomadic lives by following new pastures across rainy and dry seasons. We realise that the challenges are quite common. In very dry areas where water is scarce, mobility is a fundamental feature for adaptation to the environment. But impediments to mobility can threaten the livelihoods of pastoralists.”
Diseases aren't the only issues that face pastoral farmers, as Margherita explains: “It is very difficult to generalise about our role. Because of other land uses [pastoralism is] becoming more difficult. Mining is a big problem, as well as infrastructural developments such as dam building. In east Africa the establishment of national parks is often done by private investors, without consulting local hunter gatherers.”
“We work a lot in multi-stakeholder platforms, putting together all the actors involved in local projects to establish communication between them. We advocate in favour of pastoralists, to try to give them the possibility of carrying on their livelihoods. We suggest solutions such as allowing corridors of passage.”
Climate change brings another set of challenges, as Aude explains. “In areas where we work
the main impact of climate change is stronger droughts. If you combine all these impediments of mobility and other challenges, our work is to support pastoralists by helping them adapt.”
One of the ways in which this is achieved is through the use of modern communications technology. Mobile phones are distributed amongst different groups across wide areas, says Aude. “We have a system of alert in Niger to notify when a pasture has been grazed. It's a complex system where people pass on information so all livestock keepers receive feedback on pasture status. This system also works for water points and surveillance of sickness, so when dangerous diseases are present herders can be notified immediately.”
VSF does not send vets to the regions in which it works, but it does provide training to local vets.
“We work with local vets. There are a lot of issues. For example there are 126 vets in all of Niger, one per 10,000 sq km. They cannot properly care for animal health. We set up local veterinary networks between community animal health workers. We train local people in how to carry out basic treatments and if necessary, they call private vets, but these can be difficult to get.”
VSF does not provide direct aid but instead fosters a system that is independent and autonomous.
“We don't provide medicines but we support private vets to set themselves up and give them capital.
We try to encourage them to settle in rural areas because most private vets are in urban centres.”
In these ways VSF hopes that in years to come, enough expertise will be available locally to deal with animal health issues among both pastoral and settled farmers throughout the developing world.
You can read more about their work here: http://vsf-international.org/
Photo copyright: Tim Dirven – VSF Belgium