By Tabitha Hrynick
Livestock Field Officers (LFOs) are on the front lines of Tanzania’s efforts to ensure animal health, support animal-based livelihoods and keep the country’s growing number of meat consumers safe from food-borne disease. Despite such great responsibility, LFOs face a number of challenges and constraints that keep them from optimally performing their duties.
While Tanzania ranks third among African countries for total livestock numbers, evidence suggests that only 20% of livestock farmers have access to and/or utilise the services of extension workers such as Livestock Field Officers (LFOs). The role of these important officers is to help livestock farmers keep their animals healthy, provide animal husbandry advice and services, and generally improve animal-based livelihoods.
In addition, LFOs ensure meat is safe to consume through inspections at slaughter sites and butcheries, and thus play key roles not only in preventing zoonotic disease and stopping its spread among live animals, but also among humans who may pick up zoonotic pathogens from livestock or meat.
And while these actors are by no means the only ones with the agency and responsibility to protect communities against zoonotic disease (public health officers, for instance, are also charged with ensuring meat is safely handled), they are certainly key players. Understanding the challenges they experience in their positions at the ‘coalface’ between animal health/meat safety policy and its implementation is thus essential to thinking about how they might be enabled to perform more effectively to the benefit not only of livestock farmers, but to all of Tanzania’s citizens.
This blog offers a glimpse of patterns emerging from a series of in-depth semi-structured interviews conducted with nine ward-level LFOs in northern Tanzania about their perceptions, practices and experiences in the fight against zoonotic disease in the region. While they face a number of complex and interrelated challenges and constraints, this blog introduces two dimensions which LFOs perceive as limiting their ability to act effectively, with authority and professionalism.
A 2016 report by the Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MALF), Livestock Field Officer Survey: Policy Priorities for Improved Livestock Services, detailed the results of a large survey of LFOs and revealed that lack of adequate transportation was a common concern. Given this, how do LFOs get around?
Our own data shows that both urban and rural LFOs start their days very early, some as early as 3am, in order to conduct meat inspection activities at slaughter sites. While some in rural areas and those conducting meat inspection at the urban slaughterhouse had been provided with motorbikes (although not fuel), others walked, or relied on hired transport or their own vehicles. This, along with the fact that slaughter took place in different locations at roughly the same time, came with potential consequences for meat safety as the LFOs reported not always being able to make it to all slaughter sites on time.
One LFO said: “It becomes very difficult for me to be at all sites at the same time. If I am late the butcheries start selling the meat before inspection is done. It is not their fault; I have to follow the meat to the butcheries to carry out inspection.”
Even when LFOs have access to transport, there are challenges. For one rural LFO with a motorbike – described as old and unreliable – the difficult terrain and large geographical area for which he was responsible made it impossible for him to cover all territory, especially during the rainy season.
He reported that this undermined his ability to enforce the law: “I get to some slaughter sites at 11am. What I am going to do there at that time? I stopped even being very firm in enforcing the laws because I have failed to perform better. How I can point a finger at others? I close my eyes sometimes and leave matters to continue as usual.”
Uniforms and protective gear
In addition to issues around transportation were concerns about the lack of material resources available for LFOs to do their work safely and effectively. Urban LFOs in particular mentioned that uniforms and/or ‘protective gear’ are rarely prioritised by local authorities in the face of limited budgets.
Lacking these resources posed problems for LFOs’ work in the context of undermining their credibility and authority as enforcers. One said: “The government no longer issues uniforms to staff. How can I go for inspection asking butchers to put on proper uniforms while I myself have not? It is shameful. We don’t have money to buy them on our own.”
Another LFO said it was compromising their ability to address disease outbreaks: “It was dangerous. I was even afraid to visit farmers because I had a few pigs at my compound as well. To minimise transmission of the disease I limited myself to only one visit a day. We don’t have protective gear to avoid transmission. I was afraid to visit many farmers as I may bring swine fever virus to their houses.”
Despite the challenges posed by the inadequacy of material resources – and indeed by other political and institutional factors – the LFOs took their roles extremely seriously. They saw themselves as standing between their communities and potentially catastrophic disease events, and many, such as is suggested in the last quote above, demonstrated great awareness of disease transmission pathways and biosecurity.
While scarce resources and other challenges sometimes led them to rationalise inaction – especially when they perceived barriers to be so insurmountable as to make them feel unable to act in ways they considered appropriate and professional – they deployed various innovative strategies to carry out their responsibilities and protect their communities as best they could within the constraints they faced.