Smart Harvest spoke to KENTTEC CEO Dr Pamela Olet on the steps the State is undertaking to ensure Kenya is tsetse-free
1. The organisation you head has been spearheading tsetse eradication, can you give us the background to Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council (KENTTEC).
KENTTEC is a State corporation mandated to coordinate all tsetse and trypanosomiasis eradication in Kenya. The Council is the successor of Pan-African Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Campaign (PATTEC) in Kenya.
PATTEC is a continental campaign that was formed following a declaration by African Heads of State 36th Assembly in Lome, Togo to free the continent from Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis (T&T) constraint.
PATTEC in Kenya was launched in 2005 with the goal of contributing to improved food security and poverty-reduction in the tsetse infested areas.
PATTEC phase one, which ended in 2012 targeted tsetse eradication in 24,000 square kilometres spread out in three project areas of Meru/Mwea, Lake Victoria and Lake Bogoria basins regions. A lot was achieved in these intervention areas. Farmers were able to introduce exotic dairy animals, to access pastures and subsequently to increase animal production. Through the interventions, Kenya has not reported any case of sleeping sickness since 2009.
2. So what exactly is your mandate as an organisation?
Our job is to coordinate eradication of tsetse in the country, set standards and mitigate the socio-economic constraints brought by T&T infestation and assume the role previously undertaken by PATTEC. The Government established KENTTEC to address a historic challenge where repeated reactive interventions were done during times when the disease was reported only for the problem to re-emerge. With KENTTEC, the battle can be sustained until the whole country is tsetse-free and that is our goal as a council.
3.What are tsetse flies and why should they be eradicated?
Tsetse flies are called “poverty insects” because their presence in any area results in poverty. Twenty two of the 38 tsetse-infested countries rank among the 25 poorest in the world according to a World Bank report. Tsetse flies spread trypanosomiasis which is both a human (sleeping sickness) and animal (nagana) disease. This disease is fatal both for human and animals. One reported case of sleeping sickness is enough for Western countries to issue travel advisories. So, this disease affects agriculture (crop and livestock), public health and tourism sectors which are the economic mainstays of all the tsetse-infested countries.
4.What has been the impact of tsetse flies to farmers in affected areas?
We have achieved a lot in our areas of intervention. Working with the local communities in tsetse-infested areas is our strategy, we sensitise affected communities, help them to form animal spraying groups. The farmer groups work with us in spraying of animals and setting of insecticide treated nets in tsetse habitats. This reduces the tsetse populations and subsequently the prevalence of trypanosomiasis and nagana. This has paved the way for profitable agriculture — in crop and livestock production.
Farmers in former tsetse infested zones have now introduced dairy cows increasing milk production. Others have healthy bulls that they are using to open up more land for crop agriculture. A timely example is Makima in Embu: this area was initially reliant on food relief due to the presence of tsetse flies in the area. KENTTEC has suppressed tsetse populations here and now farmers have introduced exotic dairy cows and now the area is food secure. Similar success stories have been recorded on Faza Island and Emsos.
5.Kenya isn’t the only country affected by tsetse flies. How do we measure up to the other countries in terms of fighting tsetse?
True, tsetse flies are found in 38 sub Saharan countries. All these countries are implementing PATTEC project at various stages. Kenya was among the first countries to successfully implement PATTEC project and has offered good lessons to others. Kenya is among countries that have covered great strides in tsetse eradication. Other countries that have done well include Botswana and Ghana. Tsetse is a trans-boundary problem and all countries that share tsetse infested boundary must work on joint interventions.
6.How much does the country lose in terms of impact to farming and resources used to fight tsetse flies?
The tsetse and trypanosomiasis problem deprives the country of about US$ 0.2 billion in annual economic losses associated with livestock mortality and morbidity in addition to disability from sleeping sickness.
7.What strategies has the government put in place to eradicate tsetse flies?
The Council has prepared a five year (2018-2023) Strategic Plan to guide its activities in the country. In the Strategic Plan the Council will to establish collaborations with other institutions national, regional and global to harness synergy in tsetse and Trypanosomiasis eradication.
8.What simple technologies has KENTTEC used in the areas you operate?
The Council uses simple, scientifically proven and environmentally friendly technologies. The technologies are used on farmlands and in tsetse habitants to kill tsetse flies. We use insecticides treated nets designed to attract tsetse flies. We treat animals and promote modern farming in tsetse-free areas so that we make them unfavourable to tsetse flies but more productive to farmers.
9.How do Kenyan farmers perform in terms of awareness of the effects of tsetse flies and their role in tsetse fly eradication?
When we started, the awareness on tsetse problem was low. Farmers were not aware that tsetse flies were the cause of their poverty. We have sensitised these communities to understand that tsetse flies are the reasons they cannot graze in certain pastures or keep exotic dairy animals. This has helped us secure their support and recruit them as armies in this battle. We are also sensitising policy makers to prioritise the eradication of tsetse and Trypanosomiasis.
10.Is there a possibility that Kenya will be tsetse fly free?
Yes it can. But it is important that the government funds our tsetse eradication strategy fully so that we can free Kenya from tsetse flies and subsequently trypanosomiasis. It is doable because the technologies are there.
11.What hinders eradication efforts?
Many factors; but key among them is sustained financial support so that the freed areas can remain free as efforts are directed towards infested areas. There are other factors like climate change which has the effect of widening tsetse habitats and the trans-boundary nature of the problem which calls for harmonised inter country strategies.
The gains made must be safeguarded and we roll out the tsetse eradication in our country. That is our mission and goal.