Order in the market please!
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CTA. 1999. Order in the market please!. Spore 83. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Almost twenty years after their privatisation, have veterinary services in Africa at last grown up? They have corrected their youthful excesses to be sure, but they still have a long way to go before they can provide adequate services to livestock...
Almost twenty years after their privatisation, have veterinary services in Africa at last grown up? They have corrected their youthful excesses to be sure, but they still have a long way to go before they can provide adequate services to livestock farmers. In the beginning, there was Before. Then came the withdrawal of the State and the liberalisation of the veterinary sector in Africa, and there was After. Before, it was the State which, as the official importer of veterinary medicines, supplied and appointed the vets. As public services, veterinary services had the double disadvantage of costing the State dear and of being inaccessible to breeders in isolated rural areas. In rushing to apply the medicine of structural adjustment to the veterinary sector, African States withdrew from their involvement, leaving the sector operationally weak. Privatisation aimed at strengthening veterinary services, improving the distribution of medicines, and encouraging the development of private businesses, veterinary or not, which could support or even implement animal care strategies. Under the new motto of 'to privatise is to liberalise', veterinary privatisation certainly did lead to more sources of supply, but also to the emergence of a parallel market full of dubious products. Suddenly veterinary medicines were available everywhere and every way. This liberalisation carried a double set of threats. The first was to the vets whose main source of income - the sale of medicines and vaccines - was subjected to fierce competition. That competition came from wholesale importers, who as well as supplying distributors, sometimes operated as retailers, selling directly to farmers. It also came from illegal middlemen who positioned themselves between wholesalers and the vets; from engineers and livestock auxiliaries; and from state employees, who still kept a backstage involvement in distribution networks. Why should farmers pay for the services of a private vet when they can get medicines anywhere? This question was raised at a workshop organised in Arusha, Tanzania, on the provision of animal health services in eastern Africa (see Spore 80). There the workshop participants spoke out their wish, just as the participants at an international meeting had done in Bamako in 1994, that vets should be the only people allowed to prescribe and distribute medicines and vaccines, and to profit from their exclusive sales. How could they otherwise make a living from their profession? How could they do their work if they could not even afford a bicycle to move about on? The second threat derived from the farmers' own application of medication which liberalisation had encouraged. It touched upon animal health, consumer health and environmental issues. Recently, attention has been paid to the risks of using ivermectine, a very strong wormer medicine. 80% of the product is evacuated in an animal's excrement. But when applied to excess, ivermectine weakens or even kills dung beetles with a resulting accumulation of excrement, loss of flora covered by it, and a proliferation of flies, etc. The reappearance of some illnesses - rabies has returned to certain regions of Western Africa - points to lower standards in sanitary controls, or the feeble presence of veterinary services in some areas. It is clear that a veterinary medicine is more than just a normal agricultural input. Its quality, efficacy and safety matter. The Arusha meeting recalled that the fact that there are more veterinary products available does not mean that there is a proper veterinary service. The issue is more complex, and the meeting listed some of the barriers to the emergence of sound veterinary services in eastern Africa: lack of financial and technical resources, difficulties in accessing start-up credit, lack of information for breeders who usually care for their animals themselves, training for student vets (copied from European veterinary education) which is not appropriate to local conditions, lack of training for livestock auxiliaries and an absence of recognition of veterinary associations at national level. For proper veterinary services to take shape, the process of privatisation has to include programmes of technical support, support and awareness building among the major players all along the veterinary chain. And that process has to involve breeders, both individually and in organised groups, private operators (vets, technical staff and livestock auxiliaries), veterinary laboratories (which are mainly foreign), donor agencies and with organs of the State, the latter playing only a regulatory role. It all depends on the vet All the countries of Africa are not in the same boat, but it seems that only some have fully grasped what is at stake in privatisation, the possibilities offered by rapid changes in the market, and the key role played by the vet. Which countries have done so depends to a large extent on the importance they attach to their livestock and the means at their disposal to develop it. The success of any privatisation of veterinary services depends very highly on coherent policies which encourage farmers to invest profitably in animal health, and to organise themselves to do so. They therefore need to be assured of a viable livelihood by having guaranteed access to veterinary inputs of quality. This has been done in the case of Senegal, for example, where private veterinary services have been organised in a sector producing four million chickens. Similar steps have been taken in Mali, where services have been organised in the sector which exports 200,000 head of cattle annually, through setting up a monitoring committee composed of the Livestock Department and the professional body of vets. In Togo, Mali and Madagascar, the organisation Vétérinaires sans frontières have set up partnerships with local authorities, the World Bank and the European Union around projects which encompass the setting up of private veterinary practices, the constitution of farmers' groups, the training of auxiliaries and the supply of common medicines. Progress has also been made, more in West and Central Africa than in eastern Africa, in streamlining distribution networks. Throughout West Africa, according to Jean-Loup Leclerc, the marketing director of Mérial Laboratoires, privatisation has led to more professionals entering veterinary services. In Dakar and in Kenya, professional vets trained in African veterinary schools now control 80% of imports. They are on the spot, and are developing promotion campaigns and extension, training and information activities with the key players in the veterinary sector. 'Our products are now distributed more and more as a matter of course; they are mainly external and internal pesticides and vaccines, and this is the main market for the private vets involved in distribution.' 'Of course, conmen still control a part of the import market', Jean-Loup Leclerc says. 'The answer lies in professionalisation: everything will go well when professional vets turn to laboratories with professional standards worthy of their name.' With the market open to competition from European, Asian and Indian suppliers, much still has to be done at the level of quality control and registration of veterinary products circulating in Africa. The establishment of a formal procedure to issue licences to market, aimed mainly as ensuring the quality of veterinary medicine from the point of view of content, efficacy and harmlessness, could be one way to overcome the administrative and customs irregularities which supplying laboratories face. But it would be a costly measure to introduce, and would only be justified if there was a thriving veterinary pharmaceutical industry, which is not the case in Africa. 'For the time being', explains Didier Richard, the Deputy Director of the Animal Production and Veterinary Medicine Department of the International Research Centre for Agricultural Development (CIRAD-EMVT) in Montpellier, France, 'Africa has a choice. Either accept the legislation of exporting countries, as Israel did, drawing on French legislation, or set up some small bodies with regional agencies for registering and controlling medicines. Many countries on the continent are looking at that option.'.
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