Vets turn to African herbs as animal drugs stop working

The Desmondium intortum
The Desmondium intortum grows in Ethiopia and has promising anti-parasitic properties (Copyright: Forest and Kim Star, 2004)
The west's veterinary drug drive is not working, say animal disease scientists who have started researching the effectiveness of plant-based treatments used in Ethiopia

Traditional plant-based treatments used by Ethiopian farmers are to be tested by a team of scientists from the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC).

Researchers will visit the East African country and select 30 plants used by native herdsman to control parasites in their animals. These will then be taken to laboratories in Ethiopia and Scotland to test for their effectiveness.

'Like farmers across the world they often do things because their fathers and grandfathers did. Our idea is to find out if and how they work and to feed that information back to the farmers,' said project leader Dr Jos Houdijk.

Drugs not working

Dr Houdijk said the project was a recognition that it was time to look for alternatives to the veterinary drugs on which farmers in industrialised countries had become reliant to control animal diseases.

'When these drugs were introduced in the west in the 1960s we thought they would solve all our problems but we couldn't have been more wrong.

'Nowadays the parasites are becoming resistant and the consumer is becoming more aware about having products that have a minimum use of drugs. Alternative medicines are coming into fashion again.'

The project is one of 16 others given funding to look into helping Sub-Saharan and South Asian farmers tackle the spread of livestock diseases.

Sheep and chicory

The SAC has already undertaken research on how sheep grazed on chicory have fewer worm problems that those grazed on conventional pastures.

Dr Houdijk said farmers in Ethiopia and other less industrialised countries did not have the same reliance on veterinary drugs because of access, cost and knowledge about their proper use.

'What we've done is come a full circle where we are looking into using the kind of medicines that were used 70 years ago.

'We now need to demonstrate and prove to all farmers that these alternatives do work,' he said.

Useful links
For more information on chicory and sheep
Scottish Agricultural College (SAC)

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