One Health the gateway to human, animal and environment wellbeing, say experts

Applied research through the One Health approach will lead to health investments that will accelerate economic development and reduce social inequalities, experts have advised.

Speaking to science, health and environment journalists, Delia Randolph, professor of food safety systems at the Natural Resources Institute in the UK, said One Health allows for integrated thinking across three sectors – human health, animal health and environment health.

Randolph, also a contributing scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), said One Health is therefore a collaborative, multisectoral, trans-disciplinary approach that cuts across the local, regional, national and global levels.

Bernard Bett from the One Health Research, Education and Outreach Centre (OHRECA) said One Health and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are closely linked.

One Health, he said, contributes to SDGs 1, 2, 3, 12 and 17 (no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, responsible consumption and production, partnership). More so, the One Health approach contributes to SDGs 5, 6, 10, 15 (gender equality, water and sanitation, reduced inequality, life on land).

“Ending poverty and other deprivations goes hand in hand with improvements on health, education, reduced inequalities and economic growth,” said Mr Bett.

He said based on the One Health approach, genomic analysis of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has boosted the capacity of COVID surveillance in Kenya.

In this regard, he said, testing for SARS-CoV-2 using qPCR has been ongoing at ILRI since 2020. A total of 24,398 samples have been tested and results shared with the Ministry of Health (MoH).

The ILRI laboratory where genomic analysis is ongoing is part of a network of facilities in the country that is supporting COVID-19 genomic surveillance.

Genomic analysis is the identification, measurement or comparison of genomic features such as DNA sequence, structural variation and gene expression. Essentially, genomics is the study of genes that makes it possible to predict, diagnose and treat diseases more precisely.

Bett said the genomics laboratory “has received additional funding to the tune of $1 million from the Rockefeller Foundation to support genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in the Eastern Africa region.

He also delved into intersectoral collaborations for rabies control in Machakos, saying that Kenya has increased coverage of control measures.

This is a step in the right direction as rabies remains a serious public health issue. Canine rabies, he said, causes an estimated 55,000 deaths annually across Africa and Asia.

As such, with the most effective strategy towards minimising human exposure being controlling rabies in dogs, OHRECA and VSF Germany are in collaboration to develop sustainable and scalable vaccination strategies for rabies through the One Health approach. Bett said that through the collaboration, the target is to vaccinate 200,000 dogs per year.

“New knowledge on the impact of climate and land use change on zoonotic diseases occurrence is being used for contingency planning,” he said.

OHRECA is leading studies to identify drivers of Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever in Burkina Faso and Rift Valley in Kenya.

On institutionalising One Health in Kenya, Dr Athman Mwatondo, who is the co-head of Zoonotic Disease Unit at the Ministry of Health, said the Unit was formed between line ministries of human and animal health.

Established in 2012 through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), the Unit’s structural office is in Kenyatta National Hospital grounds, at the MoH grounds.

The Zoonotic Unit, Mwatondo said, has a mission to “establish and maintain active collaboration at the animal, human, and ecosystem interface towards better prevention and control of zoonotic disease.”

The Unit’s priority areas of outbreak investigation and response include the Rift Valley fever, anthrax and rabies, with a view to particularly eliminating rabies.

Mwatondo spoke of the need to create sustainable county level One Health platforms that will facilitate the devolution of the One Health approach.

Progress thus far includes the epidemiological investigation of a Rift Valley fever outbreak in humans and livestock in Kenya in 2018. Outbreaks of the Rift Valley fever were recorded in Wajir and Siaya counties in 2018, Murang’a from 2019 to 2021 and Isiolo in 2020 and 2021.

There was also an investigation of recurrent anthrax outbreaks in humans, livestock and wildlife from 2014 to 2017.

Mwatondo said rabies elimination activities include improving access to post-exposure prophylaxis and rabies education and awareness. Thus far, he said, there has been coordinated mass dog vaccinations in two pilot counties.

Mwatondo said the challenges in implementing the One Health approach include difficulties in coordinating multiple partners and operationalisation difficulties such as high staff turnover.

He said there is a need for domestic funding of One Health activities for sustainability purposes and to understand and adapt because the One Health approach is not a one size fits all.

By Joyce Chimbi



New maize variety set to uplift farmers’ fortunes in Africa

By Christine Ochogo I

For the second day in a row, Jerry Oyoo, a western Kenyan farmer from Nyagowa Village, Karachuonyo Constituency has just returned home with a sack of maize from his Kimira wetland farm.

“This is a huge waste of time, energy and money,” Mr Oyoo tells me sounding as if he needs some psycho-social support.

“I spent Ksh 5000 (USD50) to pay for the tractor man to till my land. I spent a further Ksh 3000 (USD30) to pay farm labourers for the first weeding plus a further Ksh 2500 (USD25) for the second weeding, and today I have just paid Ksh 1000 (USD10) to helpers to harvest the produce,” he says looking forlorn and dejected.

In all his calculations he spent Ksh 11,500 (USD115) only to return home with three sacks of maize all valued at Ksh 9,000 (USD90). As he brought home his last sack of maize harvest, Oyoo had just incurred a loss of Ksh 2500 (USD 25) without taking into consideration other inputs and time spent on the farm.

While addressing journalists allied to the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA) in a virtual conference, Dr Sylvester Oikeh, a maize scientist, says farmers like Oyoo need not give up on farming asserting that biotechnology is the way to go in addressing the challenges brought along by effects of climate change, ever growing population leading to shrinking land for cultivation and biological challenges like pests and diseases. He added that biotechnology remains a strong investment for farmers like Oyoo.

The conference brought together 100 journalists from 30 African countries.

“Globally, for each dollar invested in biotech crop seeds, farmers gained an average $3.49. In 2016, farmers in developing countries received $5.06 for each extra dollar invested in biotech crop seeds, whereas farmers in developed countries received $2.70 for each extra dollar invested in biotech crop seeds,” Dr Oikeh said.

To show that scientists are not sleeping on the job, the maize guru said that his organisation, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation with other partners such as the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation  (KALRO) have been working towards getting transgenic drought-tolerant and insect-protected maize varieties to farmers to enhance food security in sub-Saharan Africa.

“We work on a project called TELA maize which seeks to ensure farmers who access the variety will be able to mitigate effects of climate change especially moderate drought and losses to insects such as stem borers and fall armyworm,” said Dr. Oikeh who is the Project Manager at AATF.

Dr. Oikeh spoke on the Status on development and commercialization of transgenic TELA maize for African farmers in a virtual conference that brought together nearly 200 science journalists from 30 African countries and beyond to discuss conservation, climate change, agriculture, and health to bolster factual reporting on science.

“When farmers have access to the TELA maize varieties they will be able to mitigate effects of climate change especially moderate drought and losses to insects such as stem borers and fall armyworm,” said the expert who boasts of over 30 years research trail on maize in the continent.

TELA Bt maize hybrid varieties were released to smallholder farmers in South Africa in 2016 and has been granted environmental release to proceed to national performance trials in Kenya.

“National performance trials (NPTs) are carried out in Kenya by the Kenya Plant Health and Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) to determine the agronomic potential and adaptability of new varieties relative to those currently in the market,” said Dr Mwimali Murenga from KALRO. He added that they have already planted in Alupe, Kakamega and Kibos. Other sites Embu, Mwea and thika will be planted from mid Oct 2020 during the short rains season.

The NPTs are carried out to evaluate maize hybrids that have potential for commercialization. Experimental material under test are usually compared to those in the market. Several sites from a minimum of 6 sites to a maximum 10 sites are usually planted depending on the growing zones, added Dr Murenga.

Bt maize gave positive and significant effect on yield across varieties and trials with 52 per cent yield advantage over non-Bt maize in Kenya and Uganda,” said Dr. Oikeh, noting that full adoption of Bt maize in Kenya could save the country a whopping 400,000 tonnes equivalent to US 90 million that is lost to stemborer damage annually.

Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a microbe naturally found in soil and that has been used as a biological pesticide for several decades to control insect damage mostly in the horticulture industry. Usually used as a spray, scientists found a way to incorporate Bt proteins (genes) into the plant to give the plant protection against certain insect pests such as stem borer and fall armyworm without spraying the plant.

While responding to a question on safety concerns on the technology, Dr. Oikeh re-affirmed the safety of biotech products, noting that farmers from other regions across the world are enjoying the benefits of the technology.

“Several global authorities including World Health Organization (WHO); Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and many Academies of Sciences have all indicated the GM food that have been evaluated and passed through regulatory scrutiny and approved are safe to eat,” he emphasized.

In Africa, nine countries including Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Nigeria and Sudan have approved and released transgenic cotton, cowpea, maize and soybean. Globally, 67 countries are either growing or trading with biotech crops.

The TELA Maize Project works with governments in seven African countries including Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda – to deliver the new TELA maize varieties to farmers. All TELA maize varieties will be made available to smallholder farmers through local seed companies after assessment by national authorities according to the country’s regulatory requirements.



Marine Park extols virtues of local community in conservation

Community involvement in conservation has been hailed for its impact in the expansive Mombasa marine park, a warden at the Kenya Wildlife Service has said. “They charge around Kshs 6500

(USD 65) for the boats that take people around something that instills a sense of ownership of the park and help us take care of it,” Julius Ngeti, the Tourism Warden at the park said.

The park also known as “Allure of Beauty” lies between the Mtwapa and Tudor Creeks and its blue waters are ideal for wind surfing, water skiing, snorkeling and diving.

“The coral reef here at the park also provide a home to a colourful variety of marine species including crabs, starfish, stone fish, cucumbers sea urchins, corals and turtles as well as sea grasses in addition to interesting migratory birds including crab plover,” he said.

While addressing participants at the Kenya Science Journalists Congress 2019 last week, Ngeti said that the Service has been working hand in hand with the local community to ensure that the park remained safeguarded and free of intruders.

Ngeti says KWS works closely with the local community to conserve the park by allowing locals to operate boats for ferrying tourists to generate income. This way, they become the guardians of the park because they accrue benefits from the resource.

Ngeti added that the park is well known for parties, picnics and weddings. Even as we seek to increase revenue collections from both local, regional and foreign tourists, we remain assured that our park’s marine life remains intact hence visitors get value for money.

Droves of people are expected to visit Mombasa town and its environs to spend the long holiday, with KWS now positioning the park as a must-visit destination.

He added that they expect that such visits to the park and to the nearby coral reef will boost the revenue collections.

“On such peak seasons, the Park collects around Kshs 1 million (USD10,000) in a month and we expect the same this season,” says Ngeti.

“Our rates are very affordable. Kenyan citizens only pay Kshs 130 (USD1.3) to visit the park while non-citizens pay Ksh 1,700 (USD17),” Ngeti noted.

He affirmed that the park is a no fishing zone and is under a 24-hour surveillance from KWS officers to deter poaching and improve security of visitors



Want to keep fruits fresh? Try these Malian innovations

The sight of rotting mangoes in a few weeks’ time will be awash in the country. Mangoes, a second fruit crop in Kenya, is a seasonal crop with high and low seasons. In most counties the seasons start from December and peaks in January to February.

Interestingly, this scenario predisposes fruit farmers, especially small-scale farmers from Makueni, Kitui, Kilifi,

Pot-in-pot evaporative cooling

Murang’a and Embu counties in Kenya to exploitation by traders who offer very low prices for their produce.

Post-harvest experts estimate that 40-50 per cent of fruits and vegetables produced in Kenya are lost or wasted along the value chain. In Kenya alone, 80 per cent of the mangoes are eaten while still fresh, hence the need to increase their shelf life. The losses are majorly caused by lack of access to affordable and appropriate technologies for handling and storage of the highly perishable commodities. However, these ugly scenarios will soon be averted through the use of simple technologies that fruit and vegetable farmers can adapt and use in the farm to curb the losses of agricultural produce hence supporting livelihoods and food security.

Adopting low-tech post-harvest innovations for storing fruits and vegetables could save Kenyan farmers unnecessary wastes by prolonging the shelf life of their fresh farm produce, adds the experts.

Evaporative cooling technologies for improved fruit and vegetable storage from Mali would be most effective in helping farmers increase farm produces’ shelf life in Kenya and other countries. The low-cost technology will enable farmers attain the quality, quantity and consistency required by mango traders hence the ability to increase profits by negotiating for better prices.

Unlike Kenya, Mali farmers have explored widespread use of brick, straw and sack evaporative cooling chambers (ECC) and pot-in-pot, round pot-in-dish and cylinder pot-in-dish clay pot coolers. A survey on evaluation of various low-cost vegetable cooling and storage technologies in Mali that looked at the impact of evaporative cooling on vegetables shelf life, painted a promising picture on its benefits to farmers.

Conducted between May and July 2017, the study was led by Dr EricVerploegen of the D-Lab and Dr Ousmane Sanogo and Dr Takemore Chagomoka former World Vegetable Center-Mali scientists among farmer groups in Sikasso and Mopti regions in Mali. The study titled “Evaporative Cooling Technologies for Improved Vegetable Storage in Mali” looked at the seasonal temperatures and humidity profiles of the two regions in Mali and how it affected the shelf life of vegetables including eggplant and tomatoes.

Cylinder pot-indish evaporative cooling chambers suitable for fruits and vegetables

To gain insight into evaporative cooling device use and preferences, the team conducted interviews in Mali with users of the cooling and storage systems and with stakeholders along the vegetable supply chain. They also deployed automatic sensors to monitor product performance parameters.

According to results from 80 respondents involved in the study, the shelf life of eggplants and tomatoes were significantly longer in Sikasso than Mopti for all vegetables. This difference, says the authors, is likely due to the significant variations in climate conditions between the two regions, which affect the storage conditions experienced by the vegetables in the ECCs.

The eggplants and tomatoes in the straw and sack ECCs in Sikasso were stored in conditions that were an average of over 2 °C lower and 20 percent higher humidity than the vegetables in the straw and sack ECCs in Mopti. “Similarly, the average ambient conditions throughout the study period were more favourable for vegetable storage in Sikasso than in Mopti, as Sikasso is situated in the Sudan-Savanna zone while Mopti is part of the hotter and dryer Sahel-Saharan zone in Mali,” reads the study.

Straw evaporative cooling chambers

Just like Mali, intermittent power supplies and lack of proper storage facilities mean that a lot of farm produce often goes to waste before it arrives in the market in Kenya. But the researchers, now think, that by exploring such ecofriendly off-grid innovations farmers can manage without electricity. In potin-pot technology, a small clay pot is inserted into a large one leaving space between the two. The cavity is then filled with sand, which serves as a medium for holding water for the evaporative cooling. The innovation, adds the authors, is also best suited for household use because of the small volume of produce storable.

However, warns Dr Sanogo, one of the authors of the report, evaporative cooling devices are not appropriate for all settings. He adds, “It is best suited to communities where there is access to water and fruits and vegetable storage needed during hot and dry weather.”

Automatic data sensors used in the study revealed that users were more inclined to water the cooling devices in the dry season and reduce the usage of the devices as the rainy season started.

The decrease in the temperature, along with the increased humidity and protection from pests provided by the devices, resulted in significant increases in shelf life for commonly stored vegetables including tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, cabbage, and hot peppers.

Low-cost evaporative cooling innovations used in Mali to increase shelf life of fruits and vegetables

As Kenya gears up for another mango fruit glut and other successive vegetable seasons, the Mali experience is quite an eye opener and potential in aiding small-scale farmers address many of the challenges that face rural households and farmers in need of improved post-harvest vegetable storage.



Cooking gas that comes from human wastes

The increase of informal settlements in Kenya is a stumbling block to achieving universal access to water and proper sanitation by 2030, experts say.

According to the Kenya Water for Health Organization (KWAHO), over 2.5 million Kenyans occupy slum areas. The number is likely to increase going by estimation that by 2030, sixty percent of Kenyans will dwell in urban areas.

According to Mr. Patrick Alubbe, the executive director for KWAHO, sanitation in slums remains an issue which must be addressed for the country to attain the universal access to clean water and sanitation as envisaged in goal number six of the sustainable development goals.

Mr. Alubbe said Kenya loses Ksh27 billion due to sanitation related problems and Ksh 8 billion due to open defecation annually, an amount which can be saved if issues of sanitations are properly handled.

He said poor sanitation at the slums and generally within urban areas are consequences of many factors among them uncontrolled garbage disposal and inadequate land to build better latrines.

Other factors include untreated sewerage system.

He added that out of the 12 percent of national sewerage coverage only 5 percent get treated. To achieve proper sanitation, experts says innovative technology needs to be employed especially in slum areas in the country like Kibera, Korogocho and Kariobangi all in Nairobi and even in other slums like Oruba and Pandpieri in Migori county among others.

Kibera slums in Nairobi was several years back known for flying toilets (people defecating in plastic bags and throwing them away anyhow in any direction and everywhere) because of lack of proper disposal of the faecal matter coupled with poor latrine cover.

The good news is, the whole situation has changed with the construction of nine biocentres within the slum areas.

The centres, built by community groups with the support of Umande Trust have not only made steps in addressing sanitation issues at the slum but have also economically empowered many low income earners.

Mr. George Onyango, a member of Muvit group operating one of the biocentres at Kibera says the construction of the latrines, fitted with bio digesters which enabled them to also produce gas beside offering washrooms to the slum dwellers has saved many from the frequent outbreaks of sanitation related diseases in the slum. He said they averagely receive between 500 to 1000 people per day using their washrooms at a relatively low fee, a number he said used to defecate in the open using the “flying toilets.”

According to Mr. Onyango, individuals who try to construct their own latrines in the slum have found it difficult to do so because of scarcity of land.

Provision of an improved latrine for the slum dwellers is hence a reprieve to many who were defecating in the open.

He added that the use of the excreta to produce biogas which is used for cooking by slum dwellers at a very small fee has also helped them in managing the waste from the latrines. The project has seen 90 similar latrines which are also used in production of biogas constructed across the county.

Top View: A couple stands on a high ground to have a better view of the Kibera slums
Top View: A couple stands on a high ground to have a better view of the Kibera slums

However, an expert has warned that achieving open defecation free status is not an assurance to proper sanitation. Hygiene and sanitation specialist at Unicef, Engineer Sarh Kemoh has said.

Stopping defecating in the bush and using latrines at home, he said brings the problem of poor sanitation closer to them unless improved latrines are constructed and better excreta disposal mechanisms are employed.

He said the number of toilets constructed does not translate to usage adding that complementary behavior and practices which include hand washing with soap and water, proper use of toilets, safely emptied, transported, treated and disposed waste.

His call for improved latrine comes as counties in Kenya struggle to achieve total open defecation free status by March 2019 deadline. Currently only three counties in Kenya – Busia, Siaya and Kitui have achieved the open defecation free status.

Migori county director of public health, Dr. Kennedy Ombogo says the urban total sanitation program has met many challenges including inadequate water in urban areas, lack of waste disposal sites, and poverty.

Dr Ombogo said landlords who are key in the urban total sanitation program especially in slum areas have not been accessible hence getting the right owner of rental houses has remained a big challenge in addressing sound sanitation.

Going forward the director public health said the department is in the process of developing better waste management mechanisms including producing biogas from the excreta and also coming up with punitive regulations on sanitation.

Slum dwellers on their side have blamed poor sanitation on lack of political good will saying that leaders have occasionally stopped the government from improving sanitation in some slum areas to protect their votes.