Lack of knowledge on tick control a significant barrier for communal cattle farmers in the Eastern Cape study finds

Read time: 4 mins

Low education and literacy levels under communal farmers in the Eastern Cape’s Joe Gqabi district have created a significant barrier to proper tick control in the province, a study that included a team of researchers from the University of Fort Hare has found.

A team of academics from the Department of Livestock and Production Science at the University of Fort Hare, the Döhne Agricultural Development Institute in Stutterheim, Eastern Cape, and the Department of Veterinary Tropic Diseases at the University of Pretoria did the research.

The team members were Mandla Yawa, Nkululeko Nyangiwe, Ishmael Festus Jaja, Charles T. Kadzere, and Munyaradzi Christopher Marufu.

Their research first appeared in the journal Tropical Animal Health and Production. 

The research team examined the knowledge base and practices for tick control followed by communal cattle farmers in the Eastern Cape’s Joe Gqabi district. The seat for the Joe Gqabi District is Barkley-East, and it borders the Free State and Lesotho. 

For their project, the team interviewed 160 farmers in the Sinqu and Elundini communities to examine what farmers knew about ticks developing resistance to acaricides, the pesticides used to kill ticks.

Their results included that the most prevailing tick-borne disease in cattle was Gallsickness (59% of cases), which occurred mainly during summer (61% of cases). 

About 59% of the farmers did not know the effect of tick-borne diseases on cattle production, and 78% of respondents reported that ticks were their most significant challenge to cattle farming. Pour-on (61%) was the most commonly used treatment system. Farmers treat their cattle every fortnight (40%) during the summer and (31%) during the winter. 

Pyrethroids (73%) were the most used acaricide compounds to control ticks. Most farmers (65%) said they did not know about ethnoveterinary medicines used to control ticks. 

Ethnoveterinary medicines are associated with traditional beliefs and indigenous knowledge and practices. In other parts of the Eastern Cape, farmers, for instance, use certain medicinal plants to treat tick-borne diseases.

Data collected by the researchers showed that farmers regarded inefficient acaricide and undipped animals as the major contributing factors to the increased tick population and acaricide resistance.

Most farmers (about 85%) said they had no knowledge of rotating the type of acaricide they were using, and 88% of the respondents had no knowledge of ticks developing acaricide resistance. 

Communal farmers in the Eastern Cape produce about a quarter of South Africa’s cattle (3.2 million), and given socio-economic conditions in the province, especially in rural areas, successful cattle production is vital for food security.

However, in resource-poor farming systems (and most farms in communal areas fall in this category), diseases and parasites, especially ticks and tick-borne diseases, negatively impact cattle production by lowering the body weight and fertility and killing cattle. 

In the early 1940s, the South African Department of Agriculture introduced a tick control program. Within that program, farmers had to bring animals fortnightly and monthly during the rainy and dry seasons to receive acaricides. The program was so effective that East Coast fever (a tick-borne disease) was completely eradicated by the 1960s. 

In later years, however, the government returned such responsibility to livestock owners due to financial constraints.

This decision led to a breakdown in effective communication between farmers and agricultural authorities. 

“As a result, ticks and tick-borne diseases began to infest cattle again. [C]ommunal cattle are the most vulnerable to infestation with ticks. The indigenous breeds of cattle in the traditional sector tend to become immunologically resistant to tick infestation compared with exotic breeds of cattle in the commercial sector,” the article continued.

The researchers stressed that it was vital to investigate what communal farmers knew about tick control and acaricide resistance. These farming practices are no longer strongly informed by government policy but by affordability and farmers’ preferences.

Their data further showed that most farmers only had a primary-level education and did not have knowledge of proper tick control. Prior research also confirmed a link between education and effective tick control, as farmers could not read the dosage instructions. 

They added that they also found farmers needed to learn about ticks developing resistance to acaricides and ascribed this to the age of farmers, a lack of formal training, and low literacy levels.