• Tsetse flies transmit diseases that weaken animals and can kill human beings
• Kenttec and Icipe are behind the plan to tackle them in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania
What started as a pilot project to tame tsetse flies in the interior part of Kwale county has now turned out to be a blessing to hundreds of residents who had given up on livestock farming.
The project was initiated in 2015 to control tsetse flies, but it is now eradicating them and it is highly possible that the menace might soon be history.
It is jointly run by the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council (Kenttec) and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe).
Some 53km south of the Coast, in a remote village of Katangini in the interior part of Shimba Hills, farmers now have hopes of changing their lives through livestock farming.
The village borders Shimba Hills Game Park in Kwale county. It is one of the areas prone to the trypanosomiasis diseases transmitted by tsetse flies, due to its proximity to the park, where the insects' breeds.
When Kenttec wanted to launch the initiative in the county, the council chose Katangini village as its first beneficiary.
They also trained willing farmers to spearhead the making of handmade traps called NGU. These are effective in trapping tsetse flies, which are a danger not only to animals but also to human beings.
Tsetse flies are most common in tropical Africa and inhabit much on the forests, grasslands and riverine basins that support some of largest livestock populations in Africa.
Farmers or homesteads near forests are inadvertent victims of these insects, which have caused untold suffering to millions of Africans.
According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, the bloodsucking fly has affected at least 3 million animals in Africa.
TSETSE FLY DANGERS
Trypanosomiasis, the disease caused by tsetse fly, leads to a debilitating chronic condition that reduces fertility, weight gain, meat and milk production, and makes livestock too weak to be used for ploughing or transport, which in turn affects crop production.
On human beings, a tsetse fly bite causes sleeping sickness, one of the forgotten diseases in the world, and might be fatal if untreated.
Early symptoms include headache, fever and muscle aches. But with the trap, the insects are captured even before they reach the animals or human beings.
The trap is made from a black and blue material cloth with a white net that is used in capturing the flies.
The blue-coloured part attracts tsetse flies from up to 200m away. The black elicits the landing habit of tsetse flies, which are captured and collected into the white net, where the farmers choose to suffocate or spray them.
Cow urine and acetone in small containers are placed at the bottom of the trap to enhance the capture of tsetse flies.
The trap is set along the forest edge since tsetse originates from the forests and, therefore, the trap is able to capture them before reaching the animal shade.
This innovation, which is also being implemented in Tanzania and Uganda. has received support from not only farmers but also the entire community, who are now enjoying the fruits of having a tsetse-free zone.
Esther Mulwa, a 54-year-old farmer, had given up on livestock farming after losing several cows to diseases transmitted by tsetse flies.
The mother of four said the tsetse flies caused loss of income for many families who depend on livestock farming.
She said farmers could no longer use oxen to plough their shambas due to frequent sickness transmitted by tsetse bites.
“The oxen can only plough before sunrise, but this is the time when the flies are most active and therefore, we cannot take them out for fear of contracting the disease from the fly bites,” Mulwa said.
She said farmers were left with the option of preparing their farms using jembes, a job that was too tedious and also expensive since they had to hire farmhands.
Mulwa said the problem became persistent when it rained since the vegetation grows, making it a perfect breeding place for the flies.
The farmers would then depend on wildfires to burn the forests to send away the flies as there was no other way of doing it.
Mulwa is now among 15 members of the group formed to spearhead eradication of the flies by making trap machines.
Mulwa said the project has been successful and wished in expanding it by producing surplus machines to benefit farmers in other counties facing a similar menace.
In Diani, Mama Rahab rears a cow donated to her family by the county government.
The farmer was trained by Kenttec on the management of tsetse fly and trypanosomiasis for a dairy unit. An insecticide-treated net, referred to as Livestock Protective Fence, was installed with the help of Kenttec. The net prevents tsetse flies and other nuisance flies from reaching the dairy animal.
Ever since she installed the net, her cow has never fallen sick, compared to previous months. Moreover, milk production has increased due to the calmness of the cow when milking it.
“When one is milking and the tsetse fly and other flies keep biting the cow, it gets uncomfortable so it throws kicks maybe to send away its tormentors. The cow might end up kicking the milk bucket or resists milking,” Mama Rahab said.
But why did Mama Rahab opt for a net instead of the trap?
Senior Zoologist Johana Cheptoo says tsetse can only fly a limited height and therefore, the net needs not cover the entire shade.
Cheptoo said the flies can only fly up to a metre high and, therefore, the net trap should cover a section of the cow shade.
“The net is mostly applicable when the space is limited and there is no specific direction where the insects come from,” he said.
The zoologists further said with the good living conditions for the cow, milk production is likely to go up by 25 per cent.
EXPANSION OF MARKET
But as the Katangini Tsetse Fly Control Group makes the nets, the demand seems to be going down since most of the farmers already own one. The group, therefore, needs a market where they can sell the traps.
Kenttec Coast regional co-ordinator Moses Cheruiyot said the tsetse flies are most common in the area due to nearness to the Shimba Hills Game Reserve, availability of food and ideal vegetation cover.
He said Kwale was mapped as the first beneficiary due to its proximity to large forests, which makes it prone to diseases caused by tsetse.
“We are glad we taught farmers how to make the tsetse fly traps and they actually implemented it, and we are now seeing the results, such as reduction of numbers of animals falling sick due to tsetse bites,” he said.
Cheruiyot expressed desires to train more people to increase the manpower in the making process to meet demand once they find reliable clients for the traps.
Kenttec board of directors chairperson Dr Robert Monda promised to push the board to come up with a policy that makes the council the top buyer of the traps.
Monda said Kenttec sought to buy the traps so they can supply other counties in Coast region who highly need the innovation.
He said the policy would outline how the process will be done, but it must adhere to government procurement laws.
“This will not only benefit farmers in the other counties who need it but will also defend the makers as they will earn extra cash,” he said.