Livestock Research for Rural Development 22 (10) 2010 Notes to Authors LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Comparative veterinary capacity in western Africa: implications for livestock development

Sigfrido Burgos Cáceres

Animal Production and Health Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00153 Rome, Italy


National veterinary capacity in Western Africa supports activities aimed at maintaining and improving animal health in livestock populations that contribute significantly to gross national product. Livestock sector development in this region depends not only on sound financial and policy frameworks, but also competence and expertise in addressing emerging challenges in animal health. The identification of deficits and gaps in veterinary capacity is the necessary first step towards improvement.


This article compared veterinary capacities in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal, and found that although there has been commendable progress in many areas there is still room for improvements and corrective measures that must take into consideration local contexts and structural limitations.

Keywords: agricultural policies, animal health, economic development, veterinary education


The livestock sector makes important contributions to food security and poverty reduction in most developing countries. It is today of critical importance to some developed countries that are now dealing with increasingly complex security challenges to recognize that in rural and urban areas —where rampant poverty and hunger run amok— food security and incomes can also serve as a bulwark against extremism, radicalism and terrorism. This recognition, along with the classical incentives to deliver aid and technical assistance to countries in need, has pushed agencies for international development of developed countries, donors and philanthropists to invest heavily in agriculture-related institutional capacity building and livestock support given that demand for meat and other animal products is swelling in many developing countries. This increased demand is mainly driven by rapidly rising incomes and urbanization, combined with underlying population growth (FAO 2010a). To this end, proper veterinary capacity plays a pivotal role in support of prosperous livestock development.


It is worth repeating that the impacts of animal diseases are far reaching. For instance, animal diseases reduce production and productivity of infected livestock populations, disrupt local and national economies, threaten human health and exacerbate poverty in areas that heavily rely on livestock-dependent incomes. Furthermore, animal diseases that can cross over to humans (i.e. zoonotic diseases) are of increasing global concern given that growing economic integration, labour migration to urban centres and the global expansion of trade make it possible for zoonotic disease outbreaks to rapidly spread in human populations. To respond to threats, the delivery of animal health programmes and livestock services falls into the remit of national public and private animal health systems which are undoubtedly at the forefront of disease events detection and reporting (Burgos and Otte 2009; 2010ab).


In this multidimensional context, some animal health programmes and services are indeed public goods in that they protect human and animal public health and thus benefit society as a whole. Regrettably, animal health systems have been neglected in many parts of the world, leading to institutional weaknesses and information gaps, as well as inadequate investments in animal health-related public goods. These weaknesses, gaps and under-funding reflect not only the rather low importance given by governments to the socioeconomic contributions of livestock production, but also highlight the hidden potentials that lies on strengthening agricultural institutions, especially of veterinary units tasked with animal health issues.


Materials and methods 

This article aims to compare and contrast veterinary capacity in Western Africa, to further understand the implications of findings to livestock development in this region, and finally to discuss some critical points that arise herewith which are pertinent to lawmakers devising animal health and livestock policies, as well as some practical suggestions for further consideration. Four West African countries were chosen based on their eco-geographical location, their economic growth prospects, the potential contributions of livestock to their agricultural gross national products, and existence of functioning animal health institutions.  



Comparative veterinary capacity


National veterinary capacity can be best defined as the aggregate body of public and private veterinarians and veterinary paraprofessionals, including community animal health workers, in a given country. Veterinary capacity varies widely from country to country and even within regions of a single country depending, among other things, on the agro-geographical location of human and animal populations, as well as the existence of veterinary education programs. These variations are not surprising given that the speed of demographic, socioeconomic and geopolitical changes in rapidly evolving contexts can outpace the ability of governments and societies to provide the necessary financial, institutional and policy frameworks to ensure an appropriate balance in the effective provision of essential animal health-related public goods.


The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) notes that in the West Africa region, high demand for animal products both in the coastal and in the Sahel countries creates tangible advantages and strong incentives for the participatory development of intra-regional trade in animal prod­ucts and therefore for regional integration.


However, despite the significant accomplishments so far attained through various national, regional and international initiatives [for example, the Pan-African Programme for the Control of Epizootics (PACE)], livestock yields are still far from satisfactory. With animal health services and veterinary programmes to producers still lacking and of uneven quality across Western Africa, much more work remains to be done to improve national veterinary capacity and services delivery with the goal of minimizing the deleterious impacts of animal diseases on livestock productivity (OECD 2008). For comparative purposes, and to guide our discussion on the implications of veterinary capacity to livestock development in the region, table 1 provides absolute and relative figures for four selected West African countries.

Table 1.  Comparative veterinary capacity, population, area, veterinary capacity per ten thousand inhabitants, and veterinary capacity per one thousand square kilometres in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, and Senegal (reflecting data as of year 2009)



Burkina Faso

Côte d'Ivoire


Veterinary Capacity (VC*)





Population, in millions





Area (in Km2)





VC per 10,000 inhabitants





VC per 1,000 Km2





Sources: and UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (July 2009)  

* VC represents veterinarians and veterinary paraprofessionals as reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

The above table indicates that for the four selected West African countries the number of veterinarians and veterinary paraprofessionals ranges from 292 to 954. In order to conduct appropriate and equitable comparisons among countries, veterinary capacity is standardised by the most recently reported population and area of each country.


For instance, if seen by population, veterinary capacity ranges from 0.141 to 0.607 per ten thousand inhabitants, with the lowest and highest corresponding to Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso. Similarly, if seen by area, veterinary capacity ranges from 0.905 to 4.253 per one thousand square kilometres, with the lowest and highest corresponding to Côte d’Ivoire and Benin.


A closer examination of the data reveals that Côte d’Ivoire is the most populous country of the four presented herewith and also the one with the least number of veterinary professionals, thereby comparatively scoring the lowest marks on relative veterinary capacity ratios. If desired, this situation could be remedied by initiating long-term veterinary education programmes that encompasses primary, middle and higher educational levels.


For example, a programme could start to expose school children to the veterinary profession by inviting consummate veterinarians or animal health practitioners to openly present their significant contributions to society, and how they have been empowered by having an education. Moreover, increased support could be garnered from national governments, donors and regional bodies (e.g. African Union) to finance scholarship funds or endowments to pay for the educational-related expenses of exceptionally qualified candidates to veterinary colleges and faculties in African universities.


These efforts, if implemented now, could in the long run build the future academics, researchers, trainers and experts at veterinary faculties needed to educate and train generations to come. All of these and other solutions are of course only possible with the appropriate governmental support that comes with strong political will.


Looking back at Table 1, it seems that Benin, Burkina Faso and Senegal fare roughly equal with regards to relative veterinary capacity ratios. These figures can be misleading given that the ratios herewith proposed and used have no connection whatsoever to livestock or economic indicators. Nevertheless, they reflect the current status of installed veterinary capacity and can very well be compared and contrasted with two East African countries, namely Tanzania and Kenya. For instance, these two countries report between 4 and 14 thousand veterinary professionals, respectively. Their VC per 10,000 inhabitants ranges from 1.0 to 3.5, whereas their VC per 1,000 Km2 ranges from 4.5 to 20.


Crude comparisons between East and West suggest that there is still ample room for improvements, and it is here that there are opportunities to expand veterinary capacities in line with a robust national livestock development programme directed towards increased meat and meat products production to domestic and regional markets. This push recognizes the vital roles played by livestock farmers, particularly if momentum gains ground under a twin-track approach to livestock sector development: supporting large-scale production to meet growing demand for volume in consumption centres while not neglecting the all-important smallholder sector which can continue to produce high-value, low-input local livestock products.



Animal diseases, climate change and veterinarians


It is relevant, too, to recognize that climate change (especially in the form of raising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns) will have enormous implications for animal and human health given that substantial effects are expected on the burden of infectious diseases that are transmitted by insect vectors and through contaminated water (Lafferty 2009; Shuman 2010). Both the medical and veterinary professions are equipped with the necessary knowledge and tools to address many of the anticipated disease threats. Collaboration between animal and human health professionals is imperative to tackle those diseases that have an animal origin but tend to successfully cross over to humans.


According to this rhetoric, the urgent need to boost veterinary monitoring and surveillance services has been repeatedly stressed by member countries of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), thus indicating that sufficient political trepidation might already be in place to swiftly address veterinary capacity deficiencies in the region (CFNBV 2006).


Furthermore, to this end, the adoption and implementation by national animal health agencies of modern technologies such as geospatial mapping capabilities and traceability software could further improve understanding of disease (re)-emergence and the multidimensional ecological factors that underpin pathogen evolution, establishment and persistence. If West Africa wishes to incorporate itself successfully into the regional trade of safe and healthy livestock, then it must heartedly harness and embrace the multiple benefits rendered by technological developments applied to epidemiological tools to improve disease intelligence in order to expand the portfolio of options to better manage animal diseases (Burgos and Otte 2009; 2010ab).


Implications for livestock sector development


Globally, livestock contributes forty percent of the global value of agricultural output, as well as supporting the livelihoods and food security of almost a billion people (FAO 2010a); however, aggregation of data underplays the crucial roles played by livestock at macro and microeconomic strata in any given nation.


In Burkina Faso, for example, Somda (2005) found that livestock rearing not only alleviates poverty but also empowers rural communities. At the macroeconomic level, livestock contributed 15 percent to national value-added figures, while at the microeconomic level, livestock ranked fifth as a source of revenue, with 49 percent of households raising poultry, 44 percent goats, 28 percent sheep, and 25 percent cattle, and in extensive livestock farming, dairy production was found economically and socially profitable.


Against this favourable background, it is nonetheless regrettable that livestock farming has been neglected in poverty-reduction strategy documents. This abstruse neglect is particularly worrisome given that in developing countries —where dietary diversity is limited and malnutrition levels are high— inclusion of some meat and dairy products can make a vital contribution to people’s nutritional status, particularly those of vulnerable groups such as children and pregnant women, and help liven up a monotonous cereal-based diet.


Over the short term, with regard to veterinary capacity in Western Africa, the immediate expansion in demand for meats is already a strong enough incentive to produce inexpensive, good-quality meat-based products for a growing regional population. The intensification of agro-pastoral systems and diversification of animal-protein sources are prerequisites to cope with supply challenges and necessary productivity performance benchmarks to be attained.


This will require, in parallel, a comparable up-tick in veterinary services delivery to deal with more animal flocks, higher disease burdens, increased inspections and certifications, and diverse territorial livestock coverage. On the other hand, in anticipation of heightened regulation of regional and international trade, strategic harmonisation and conformity with sanitary and phytosanitary norms and standards for the use of products and inputs forms part of the institutional and policy reforms to be confronted by policymakers given that it defines the conditions for fair competition among producers while protecting consumers from abusive and dangerous practices. If these reforms were to take place, senior veterinary officials must serve as active committee members or, at the very least, act as advisers.


Over the long term, the increasing national and regional size of demand for animal products makes it necessary for animal health specialists, veterinary professionals and veterinary epidemiologists to uptake progresses in the fields of biology, and physical, social, and environmental sciences to overcome the new constraints encountered and expressed by producers, processors, traders, and consumers.


More research is needed on the epidemiology and ecology of animal infectious diseases in Western Africa that will probably be affected by livestock intensification, trade expansion and climate change. The best means for accomplishing these aims would be to engage with local veterinary epidemiologist and animal health experts by raising awareness of the most recent tools to monitor and track disease drivers and to incorporate ‘themed’ research into existing educational frameworks of medical and veterinary faculties in the region. Moreover, expertise in molecular biology, genomics, biotechnology, and bioinformatics is also indispensable, not just to better understand problems and discover previously untapped potential to remove obstacles to improved production, but also to effectively address emerging issues, including food safety.


In the end, promoting and sustaining policy and institutional reforms in the livestock sector with the aim of reducing poverty and increasing resilience thus requires some essential shifts in the dominant thrust of development aid and technical assistance. First, technology-focused livestock projects should primarily be conceived as instruments to achieve and support changes in policies, institutions and attitudes. Second, policy-oriented projects should help to guide and set the broad agenda for sector development rather than aiming at the formulation of all-encompassing livestock sector plans that normally defy implementation. And third, focus shall be given to building consensus about targeted, context-specific policy interventions which are expected to benefit the poor (Otte et al 2009).


These shifts need to be supported by up-to-date veterinary knowledge residing in local veterinary capacity on the conceptual and practical conditions needed to move forward livestock sector development in clear recognition of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that exist at any given time. Similarly, indicators of structural handicaps used to identify bottlenecks, socio-economic vulnerability, and human assets deficits need to be devised to develop a “livestock development progress index”. These crude indicators are particularly relevant to emerging economies (e.g. China)—now acting as influential donors—who are actively trying to diversify their development aid away from classical approaches and into profit-driven, field-tested, private sector-led investments that utilise vast supplies of indigenous natural resources (Burgos and Ear 2010).


Concluding remarks 

Veterinary professionals working in multiple disciplines play pivotal roles between animals, their owners and society; however, it must be stressed that these roles are not confined to animal health, but also animal welfare and public health, including food safety.


In Western Africa, as elsewhere, veterinary epidemiologists and state veterinary officers are studying and combating emerging pandemic threats, communicable zoonoses, and highly contagious animal infectious diseases, thereby helping to make sure they do not become public threats. Veterinary researchers are investigating numerous links between human and animal health, while veterinary hygienists make sure consumable foods are safe and healthy.


Overall, the work of various veterinary specialists upholds animal and human health, while at the same time contributing silently to the wellbeing of the global commons. Tellingly, with the rise in demand for animal products as incomes and populations grow around the world, the need to develop the incipient livestock sectors along with the build-up of the veterinary capacity in countries where its taking place is, therefore, an inescapable axiomatic truth.


Regrettably, in many parts of the world the transformation of the livestock sector, in the absence of strong governance, is resulting in pervasive market failures related to natural resource usage and public health. Interventions to correct market failures have been largely absent; while in some cases, government actions have created further market distortions.


In recognition of these disturbances, some international observers have proposed the theoretical foundations for scaled-up, community-driven rural development programmes (Binswanger and Aiyar 2003), but these have yet to materialise in a sustainable, cost-effective manner and on a large scale to prove their applicability in diverse agro-ecological regions around the globe.


With the abovementioned in mind, designing a coherent and structured development agenda for action supported by governments, international institutions, multilateral and bilateral donors and civil-society stakeholders is a crucial first step towards a livestock sector characterized by and endowed with better governance, a more inclusive development process, levels of investment commensurate with the importance of the sector and the challenges it faces, and improved international cooperation. While taking this first step solidly is by itself a monumental achievement, it nonetheless necessitates a broader portfolio of subsidiary measures to support the process in areas that exhibit feebleness.


Development practitioners, for instance, note that working with and building on informal institutions can also strengthen the sustainability of agricultural and non-agricultural interventions. This myopic ambivalence provides evidence that existing and well-working coping mechanisms are often poorly visible and insufficiently acknowledged by policymakers who fail to integrate them into their aid and development strategies. It is therefore necessary for intervening agencies such as national public and private animal health systems, non-governmental organizations, intergovernmental organization, religious and civic action groups, professional associations, agricultural cooperatives and regional economic bodies to promote livelihood adaptation strategies and avoid weakening existing patterns of resilience (FAO 2010b).


Policymakers thus need to intervene in two fronts: (a) improve access to existing veterinary services through enhanced visibility and support measures, and (b) address the root causes of veterinary capacity deficiencies through long term institutional and structural interventions.


Furthermore, African leaders and policymakers must also recognize that poor agricultural support in the form of meagre national budget allocations to crop and livestock production, processing and marketing (or other feasible and viable income-generating alternatives) can potentially result in progressive migration from rural areas to urban centres, which regrettably produces a slew of negative externalities including consistently higher public services expenditures, increased crime and violence rates, risky peri-urban housing construction, increased numbers  of pedestrian fatalities, far too many beggars, mendicants, panhandlers and vagabonds, higher insurance costs to urban businesses, institutions and households, and lastly, localized water pollution and rubbish accumulation —both of which endanger environmental and human health— that can ultimately end up representing higher fiscal obligations to provincial and national governments.


In the last two decades, with the sudden emergence of economically and socially deleterious transmissible infectious diseases, the world seems now ready to accept the idea that these diseases, often of animal origin, can and do appear almost anywhere (Cáceres and Otte 2009). World leaders have caught on to the before inconceivable notion that novel pathogens emerging on other corners of the globe can now turn up close to their shores. In part owing to a much clearer recognition of this notion, and in part as a consequence of improved transcontinental coordination, the international animal and human health community —with substantial backing from multilateral financing institutions— is fiercely advocating for the so-called ‘One Health’ initiative, which, in summary, is a global, cross-sectoral, multidisciplinary approach to address threats and reduce risks of infectious diseases at the animal-human-ecosystem interface.


Given that insidious animal diseases will continue to emerge around the globe, with human-to-human spread potential, and multiple associated costs to societies and governments, there is therefore an urgent and incontestable need for comprehensive disease risk management programmes adapted to specific local conditions that will have to rely on the blending of expertise and insights from veterinarians, physicians, ecologists, epidemiologists, economists, ornithologists, sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists and communication specialists. This multidisciplinarity is particularly warranted to better understand the underlying drivers of disease emergence —and the accompanying socio-ecological dynamics— that must be part of any set of disease mitigation responses.


Specifically, in the last ten years, control and mitigation measures against a few livestock diseases in Africa, Asia and South America have proven harmful to family-farm livelihoods. Incoming veterinary professionals must now recognize that the aftermath of their actions go far beyond animal health, with multidimensional impacts to livestock keepers, traders and sellers, all of which are people enmeshed in an interdependent web. Hence, an inclusive, rights-based, human wellbeing vision must be people-centred rather than pathogen-focused.


This is particularly important considering that people who have become used to recurrent disasters and living with infectious diseases have deeply embedded understandings of risks and resilience that ultimately influence the way they respond to threats. These rigid mental frameworks may sometimes be at odds with the classical medical and veterinary perspectives and approaches, which inevitably results in conflicts between official programmes promoted at international levels and grassroots responses implemented locally.


It is for this reason that social, cultural and livelihood dimensions must be carefully examined and made central to bring people, with their incentives and motivations, back into spotlight, since, after all, human beings are not solely moved by selfishness or gain but, as experts tell us, human behaviour is driven by a much richer set of values and preferences.


Lastly, and on an admittedly different line of discourse, it is noteworthy to highlight that recently the global livestock sector has been under particular scrutiny because it is seen as more emissions-intensive than many other forms of food production. It is indeed of relevance to current and future veterinary professionals as well as to policymakers and opinion leaders to address the questions on how to reduce livestock greenhouse gas emissions while safeguarding the essential features of the sector and the services it provides to the poor.


In view of the hawkish environment in which livestock production is now evolving, it is important to consider the following pragmatic suggestions: (i) advocate for differentiation between and reporting of different types of meat that clearly reflect the differences in emissions intensity; (ii) propose alterations of animal production systems, as opposed to changing consumption patterns, as a more viable and prospective pathway for reducing emissions; (iii) embrace the advantages and opportunities that carbon offsets could have for both poverty reduction and environmental gains, given that it provides payments for emission reductions or carbon removal in developing countries; and (iv) focus more attention on efficiency gains that would both limit land, water and nutrient resource requirements, and sustainable reductions of  livestock greenhouse gas emissions. Although this article initially addresses the implications of veterinary capacity to livestock sector development in West Africa , it is meaningful to note that the discussion presented herewith covers useful information valuable to all practitioners.


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FAO – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2010a The state of food and agriculture 2009 – Livestock in the balance, (Rome: FAO Press, January 2010).


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Somda J 2005 Rôle de l’élevage dans la lutte contre la pauvreté en milieu rural au Burkina Faso – Rhétorique ou réalité. Communication à l’atelier «Mouvement» tenu a Ouagadougou du 7-8 Novembre 2005; 10 pages. Retrieved July 25, 2010, from

Received 26 July 2010; Accepted 31 July 2010; Published 1 October 2010

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