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Simple steps to reduce livestock mortality in Ethiopia

SEBI-Livestock worked with stakeholders in Ethiopia to reduce the number of young livestock dying from preventable issues. 

The problem

Ethiopia has one of the biggest livestock populations in Africa. Livestock production is a major source of income for resource-poor farmers, a major employer, and a source of food security and nutrition. Agriculture makes up around 70% of Ethiopia’s gross domestic product (GDP), with livestock contributing up to 40% of that.

Yet too many livestock are dying young. For instance, every year in Ethiopia over a quarter (27%) of dairy calves from urban and peri-urban farms are lost due to foetal death and pre-weaning mortality combined. And amongst pastoralist systems the number of cattle lost pre-weaning can rise to almost 42%. This means that out of the estimated five million cattle born into Ethiopia’s pastoralist systems every year, up to 2 million will die before they are weaned from their mothers. This could be having a major impact on the country’s economy, and is certainly a welfare issue for the country’s livestock.

Ethiopia’s Livestock Master Plan has identified livestock mortality as a major constraint of agricultural development, and a priority area for investment to help achieve the country’s Growth and Transformation Plan objectives of improving animal productivity and household incomes.

The solution

In response to the problem, the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture established the Young Stock Mortality Reduction (YSMR) Consortium, with the aim of decreasing young stock mortality in cattle, small ruminants and camels across different production systems of Ethiopia. This consortium included Addis Ababa University (AAU), Gondar University, University of California Davis (UC Davis), Tufts University, the National Animal Health Diagnostic and Investigation Center (NAHDIC), and Supporting Evidence Based Interventions (SEBI-Livestock) at the University of Edinburgh.

As part of the consortium’s activities, a pilot study implementing basic livestock management, husbandry and health interventions in 900 households across Ethiopia for a minimum of 12 months was performed. Pastoralist, mixed crop-livestock, and peri-urban systems were included, ensuring that the interventions were trialled across Ethiopia’s various livestock production systems.

Farmers were trained by livestock extension agents on low-input, low-cost basic husbandry and health practices. This included:

  • Housing and hygiene: farmers were trained on constructing and maintaining decent housing for herds, pregnant animals and newborns
  • Nutrition: including supplementary feeding of pregnant animals and young animals, and milk feeding prior to weaning
  • Neonatal care: such as how to assist breathing in newborn animals, adequate colostrum feeding and dipping the umbilical cord to prevent infection
  • Health management: including how to deworm for common parasites, the importance of vaccinating against endemic diseases, and frequent provision of water

Originally, a large number of interventions were planned for implementation. However it was decided that this would be difficult for farmers to carry out, so a Minimum Intervention Package (MIP) for each area was created. The key interventions for each MIP were chosen in consultation with local informants and were selected for their impact and replicability potential.

The results

A baseline assessment to understand the mortality risk for livestock in the study households was performed prior to implementing the MIPs. For this study, mortality risk was defined as the risk of an animal dying before it turned 1 year old. Most areas surveyed had a mortality risk between 10 and 20% for ruminants, but one pastoralist area had almost 50% for calves and 55% for small ruminants. Camels had especially high risk in both pastoralist areas surveyed, with an average of a 45% chance of death in their first 12 months of life.

After one year of MIP implementation, the consortium went back to farmers involved and conducted a final evaluation survey. The results were extremely encouraging and showed that mortality risk decreased by 60-75% for all livestock (cattle, small ruminants and camels) across the pastoralist and mixed crop-livestock systems.

In other words, a calf born into one of the pastoralist areas went from having a 50% chance of surviving to one year of age to a 90% chance of surviving. In peri-urban areas, calf mortality risk also decreased significantly – by approximately 30% – following the interventions. The significant reduction in mortality risk achieved show that improvements in basic management, husbandry and health interventions can have compelling results.


Understanding the barriers to adoption is fundamental to scaling this project. Access to affordable veterinary services, including vaccines, diagnostics, drugs and animal health advisory services, also determines how farmers adopt the recommended animal health interventions. This shows how we need to address problems within the system as a whole to ensure that all parts of it function effectively.

Next steps

The next steps will be to understand how this project can be scaled across Ethiopia to achieve sustained reduction in livestock mortality risk across the different production systems. SEBI-Livestock in collaboration with AbacusBio are currently undertaking a cost-benefit analysis, to further understand the financial benefits to farmers and donors and identify opportunities for future investment.

For more information please contact Ciara Vance or Johanna Wong at SEBI-Livestock (University of Edinburgh) Ciara.vance@ed.ac.uk or Johanna.t.wong@ed.ac.uk

Photo (c) Shubisa Abera, NAHDIC, Ethiopia


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