The use of antibiotics for livestock has formed part of a study in Kenya aimed at investigating technological challenges in development and food security.

As part of a project, funded by The British Academy and in partnership with lead institution The University of Warwick and the University of Nairobi, CABI surveyed 319 farm households in five counties of Kenya – Narok, Machakos, Isiolo, Elgeyo-Marakwet and Trans Nzoia – and held interviews with 20 key informants.

A stakeholder meeting was also held involving actors from County Government, State Departments of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives, NGOs, and Researchers.

The aim was to see how technologies – that have been introduced as solutions to food insecurity – have contributed to the creation of new technological risks and socio-economic consequences, and how such technologies should be governed.

Technologies, such as the use of biotechnologically produced antibiotics in livestock farming, have been introduced as solutions to food insecurity.

However, inadequate regulations in less-developed countries have allowed for the over- and misuse of antibiotics, leading to the increased risk of antimicrobial resistance which threatens the effectiveness of antibiotics for future generations. 

This project, ‘Technological Risks in Development: Food Security, Super-Wicked Problems and the Decolonization of Technological Governance,’ investigated how technologies have contributed to the creation of new technological risks and how these technologies should be managed.

Food security is a global concern for an increasing human population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050. In Kenya alone, the population is predicted to rise to 84.7 million by the middle of this century – according to data from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. It is anticipated to double to 112 million by 2100.

Kenya is experiencing high levels of poverty, food insecurity, undernutrition and income inequality. These problems are exacerbated by climate change, increased outbreaks of pests and diseases and limitations on the amount of arable land and water that is devoted to agriculture.

The use of antibiotics in livestock act as growth promoters and feed enhancers which are linked to economic gains. Despite this, there has been overuse of antibiotics which has led to antibiotic resistance and Kenya is currently a hotspot for this concern. Kenya’s One Health policy plan to regulate the use of antibiotics – make the focus on Kenya extremely timely and will facilitate policy impact.

CABI sought to assess the local knowledge, attitudes and practices that might inform the responsible implementation of antibiotics use in livestock.

The findings showed that 80% of surveyed farms use antibiotics and 58% of them administer the antibiotics themselves, often without prescription.

The most common reason for using antibiotics was for treatment followed by preventing sickness in groups and individual animals and for faster and bigger growth. There is also frequent use of antibiotics for non-therapeutic and preventive purposes than for therapeutic applications especially in poultry.

Despite existence of legal and regulatory framework guiding manufacture and use of antibiotics, key informants expressed concerns about the misuse of antibiotics exacerbated by collective overuse and/or misuse of antibiotics in both humans and animals which is accelerating antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in Kenya.

Monitoring and enforcement of compliance was considered weak and over the counter sales remain, while some of the agro-vet shops are not usually managed by qualified personnel. Very few or close to none of the agro-vet operators ask for prescriptions before dispensing antibiotics.

The majority agreed with how the issue of antibiotic resistance occurs, how resistant bacteria are spread and possible sources of such bacteria.

Farmers also agreed, generally, that they should only use antibiotics on their farm when prescribed by a vet, observe the withdraw period, and ensure completion of doses.

Dr Monica Kansiime, Project Manager for CABI and Deputy Director, Development and Outreach, Africa, said, “To maintain and improve food security, it is necessary to ensure that agricultural production is effective, efficient and sustainable.

“This project sought to investigate how technologies that have been introduced as solutions to food insecurity have contributed to the creation of new technological risks, and how these technologies should be governed.

“In respect of antibiotic use in livestock, prior diagnosis of infection before treatment with antibiotics is recommended in food animals, and responsible use is essential for the general wellbeing of animals, the environment and food safety.”

Dr Kansiime added that the Government of Kenya has established policies and institutional frameworks for the management of antibiotic use, and strategies for a ‘One Health’ approach to both crop and animal health and welfare, and synchronisation of mandates will be key to avoid potential conflict.

Additional information

Main image: The risks posed by the use of antibiotics for livestock has come under the microscope as part of a study in Kenya aimed at investigating technological challenges in development and food security (Credit: Pixabay).

Project page

Learn more from the project page ‘Investigating technological risks in development and food security.’

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