Two big dairy cows and their two calves feed in a shed at Samuel Muturi’s expansive farm in Makima, Embu County. The farm is just 200 metres away from Mwea National Reserve where elephants, buffaloes, giraffes and other animals of the wild roam freely.
Not many years ago, the national reserve was a curse to residents of Makima who found cattle rearing an arduous task. The area was infested with tsetse flies that flew from the game reserve and infected domesticated animals with a strange illness.
An infected animal would suddenly stop producing milk and those pregnant would abort their unborn calves.
Those who ignored initial symptoms lost their animals in three days. “It was such a strange disease. No one was able to explain it and we never knew how to treat it. We used to spray the animals with normal pesticides in vain,” says Muturi.
People who tried a hand at livestock rearing around Mwea National Reserve opted for indigenous cattle that were hardy. Those who tried improved cattle lost their animals within days of being bitten by the tsetse flies.
But relief came when in 2010, government officials introduced technologies to help residents in their fight against the destructive flies.
The government established the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council (KENTTEC) in 2012 to fight tsetse flyinfestation in areas around Lake Victoria, Lake Bogoria basins and Meru.
With two dairy cows and armed with spraying equipment and chemicals from the organisation, Muturi started rearing the improved cattle free from tsetse flies.
The two cows have given birth multiple times to calves that Muturi disposes off to residents who have also started rearing improved cattle. They each also produce 20 litres of milk daily. From selling the milk alone, Muturi makes Sh20,000 a month.
To increase awareness on effects of nagana, KENTTEC also started working through barazas to organise farmers into groups. The groups construct crush pens on public land where their animals are restrained for spraying.
According to Isaiah Kiteto, KENTTEC regional manager in Meru, the groups were also required to open bank accounts where they save money to fund their projects.
“The government has in the past introduced farming programmes that ended up failing when support was withdrawn. We want local farmers to own the project so that they can be able to sustain it in case funding is withdrawn,” said Mr Kiteto.
Nancy Mucogo religiously brings her three cows and two donkeys to the crush pen constructed on public land in Makima. She says this has kept infections at bay.
“Before this crush pen was constructed, I would use the same equipment I used to spray crops on my cows. This caused contamination and my livestock would go blind,” says Ms Mucogo whose job is to operate the spray pump at the crush pen.
A few kilometres away at Catholic Diocese of Embu, Thiba Farm that is home to 58 high grade cows, 93 sheep and 90 goats thrive on some 1,200 acres of land. The man in charge Fr Paul Ndeti marvels at the scene.
“Not long ago, this place only had indigenous cattle that were not very high yielding. But people preferred to keep them because they could try and resist tsetse flies. But today, we don’t see many tsetse flies and farmers have started rearing improved breeds,” says Fr Paul.
KENTTEC has set tsetse fly traps to nab them for control and survey exercises. The survey is aimed to identify the type, age and sex of the insects as well as inform researchers on the currents population of the insects.