Around 85% of global citizens living in extreme poverty inhabit the sub-Saharan portion of Africa. Civilians rely heavily on agriculture, specifically livestock production, to support their livelihoods and the economy at large. However, these animals can transmit diseases harmful to humans, such as foot-and-mouth disease, ringworm, listeriosis and MRSA. Scientists and farmers in Tanzania have partnered up to create satellite GPS tracking devices to track livestock herds and gain a better understanding of how diseases spread between herds. GPS tracking of livestock in Africa can also prevent further infection.
Livestock Agriculture in Africa
About 70% of African civilians rely on agriculture to make a decent living. This sector contributes to improved food security, industrialization and domestic and global trade throughout Africa. Livestock is an essential part of agriculture. Farmers raise domesticated animals to provide resources such as dairy products, fibers and feathers. In fact, 60%-80% of rural homes in Africa keep livestock to support their economic and food necessities. The East Africa region is the nation’s largest exporter of live animals, “home to 107.2 million head of cattle, 178.8 million goats and sheep, 1.3 million camels and 4.4 million pigs” in 2019.
East Africa derives more than $1 billion worth of annual income from the export of livestock to the Middle East and Northern Africa. In addition, livestock agriculture contributes between 30% and 80% of the agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) across African nations.
Disease Risks of Livestock Agriculture
Due to the heavy reliance on livestock agriculture in Africa, one must consider diseases that could potentially transmit to other herds and humans. The avian flu, Ebola and COVID-19 are only a few of the many illnesses spread through animals. About 75% of emerging infectious diseases are “zoonotic,” meaning that the diseases originate from pathogens of infected live animals and then pass on to humans. With increased interaction between livestock and civilians in Africa, there is a higher risk for disease transmission. This could negatively impact livestock productivity and could worsen poverty and food insecurity across Africa.
GPS Tracking of Livestock
Livestock health authorities in Africa have little knowledge of which areas have the highest prevalence of disease transmission among cattle. GPS tracking of livestock in Africa could be the solution. In 2021, scientists and researchers from the University of Glasgow teamed up with farmers from rural villages of Tanzania to study how diseases spread among livestock to prevent future disease spread. Together, they developed satellite GPS tracking devices that could monitor the transportation of livestock.
Through this method, researchers discovered that disease transmission was most likely to occur in areas where the animals congregated for long periods, “such as at water holes and cattle plunge dips.” GPS tracking of livestock in Africa also reveals the far distances cattle often travel daily. Cattle would cover roughly five miles per day and reach maximum speeds of seven miles per hour, allowing room for intermingling between herds.
GPS tracking of livestock in Africa is paving the way for disease control and prevention. This research could potentially save lives and economies in continents like Africa where disease prevalence and agricultural demand are high. A better understanding of disease transmission between livestock and humans can also improve the animals’ health, contributing significantly to the strengthening of African livelihoods.
– Megan Quinn