• This is an innovative technology that mimics the odours of animals that are not bitten by tsetse flies.
• The biomimicry technology is safe for the environment, cheap for farmers to use and it allows for mobility that the cattle can move when still protecting them in different areas'
Researchers have developed a repellant that protects livestock against trypanosomiasis disease which is caused by tsetse flies.
The new technology will mostly benefit livectock farmers neighburing game reserves.
Michael Okal, a researcher and entomologist at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) said they have developed a collar repellant technology for protecting livestock against trypanosomiasis disease.
He spoke on Monday during the Kenya Science Journalist Congress meeting in Mombasa. The meeting was organised by the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture Network.
He said farmers neigbouring the Shimba Hills Game Reserve often "bring their livestock for sampling and screening of trypanosomiasis."
“This is an exercise that we do monthly with about 3,000 cattle which we screen to see if they are infected or not. By doing so, we can evaluate if the technologies are effective or not. This is part of the process of monitoring if the technologies that we are upscaling are effective,” Okal said.
He said the technology is known as waterbuck body odour repellant.
“This is an innovative technology that mimics the odours of animals that are not bitten by tsetse flies. The biomimicry technology is safe for the environment, cheap for farmers to use and it allows for mobility that the cattle can move when still protecting them in different areas,” Okal said.
He said ICIPE has been working in the Shimba Hills for the last decade together with the community to try and optimize the technology and to disseminate it.
Okal said the disease is more common in areas where there is a game reserve.
“You could not keep livestock in this area ten years ago. When we first came here, 70 per cent of all the animals in this area were infected by the disease. And out of those, most died and those that survived could not provide milk, give birth or even be used for ploughing,” he said.
He said farmers no longer lose their livestock to trypanosomiasis, thanks to the repellant technology.
“We have been able to increase herd sizes with many farmers doubling theirs. There has also been an increase in milk production by up to 80 per cent, reduction in the use of trypanosiates by up to 50 per cent and an increase in the land ploughing which is common in the area.”
Okal said tsetse flies selectively bite animals. They use their sense of smell to tell whether an animal is an elephant or waterbuck.
“So what we have done in this collar is identify the body odour of those animals that they do not bite like the waterbuck then we put it in a slow-release mechanism and put it in a collar that we hang on a cow. So when the flies pass near the cattle, they think it’s a waterbuck and avoid it.”
He added that the collar can last longer but farmers have to change the repellent after every six weeks at a cost of Sh80.
In order to sustain the use of the technology, ICIPE has established a learning centre in Tangini village in Kubwa South ward in Kwale where farmers are trained.
Josephine Wayga is a model farmer whose farm is used as a learning centre by demonstrating to other farmers how the repellant works.
“I mostly communicate and teach what I know to other members of the community when we meet for our cattle’s blood test every month. The meeting is organised by the researchers as a way of monitoring the disease,” Wayga said.
Okal said trypanosomiasis or sleeping sickness in human beings has not been reported in Kenya for the last 20 years.
“But the disease is always a threat because we have the tsetse fly that transmit human trypanosomiasis, and there are risks within the borders of Uganda and Tanzania,” he said.
He noted that the disease is not easy to diagnose and treat in human beings making it an obstacle to control.
“Our goal as ICIPE is to develop a repellent so that in future, we could just use something like a bracelet, an equivalent of a collar to prevent human beings from being bitten by the fly,” Okal said.
edited by peter obuya