Poultry farmers in Murewa, a farming area about 100 km from Zimbabwe’s capital of Harare, are killing two birds with one stone by practicing sustainable farming practices through limited and judicious antimicrobial usage.
By substituting indiscriminate antimicrobial usage with sustainable practices to maintain the health, production and welfare of their chickens, the farmers are not only contributing to the global antimicrobial resistance (AMR) fight, but their sustainable practices have also increased farm productivity, thereby improving livelihoods.
With support from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and their local agricultural extension officers, the farmers are educated and capacitated to practice sustainable farming methods that protect the health of the planet through farmer field schools.
The Farmer Field Schools program, which started in June 2021, and is still ongoing, consists of two groups of 25 farmers each.
Before enrolling in the farmer field school, Christina Muunganirwa, a poultry farmer, used to practice indiscriminate antimicrobial usage. She said some of the reasons that prompted the use of antimicrobials by some villagers were to mask suboptimal poultry farming practices such as the use of unclean water, improper housing, poor hygiene and improper vaccination.
“We ensure that the poultry are not exposed to cold and excessive heat. If you take care of the chicken, they can reach maturity without the need for antibiotics,” Muunganirwa told Xinhua Wednesday. “If they get sick, we don’t rush to use antibiotics, we have to consult professionals before doing so.”
Happymore Muchenje, another poultry farmer, said the initiative has been a game-changer. “They taught us that the water we give the chicken for drinking should be clean to such an extent that you can drink it,” Muchenje said.
Muchenje, who had traditionally practiced subsistence farming, said best farming practices have also resulted in increased production, which in turn empowered women, thereby improving livelihoods.
Amanda Gwangwadze, an agricultural extension officer, said all poultry farmers should be educated on antimicrobial resistance.
“We taught farmers how to use the antibiotics so that they will not misuse or overuse the antibiotics because that’s the major driver of antimicrobial resistance,” Gwangwadze told Xinhua.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), antimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites no longer respond to antimicrobial medicines, and the misuse and overuse of antimicrobials in humans, animals and plants are the main drivers in the development of drug-resistant pathogens.
As a result of drug resistance, antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines become ineffective and infections become difficult or impossible to treat, increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness, disability and even death.
As the world marks the World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW), which started on Nov. 18 and concludes on Nov. 24, the farmers have proved to be proactive in addressing AMR, which WHO identified as one of the top 10 global public health threats.
In an address during the opening ceremony of the WAAW Monday, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa Abebe Haile-Gabriel noted that AMR poses an increasingly serious threat to public health and sustainable food production.
“If left unaddressed, AMR may force tens of millions of people into extreme poverty, hunger and malnutrition, and could cripple livelihoods. Therefore, it is crucial to implement measures to reduce the spread of drug-resistant microbes and use antimicrobial drugs more responsibly and only when needed,” he said.
The FAO is supporting national and regional initiatives in Africa to address AMR, focusing on its vision to reduce AMR levels and slow the emergence and spread of resistance across food production and value chains, he noted.
Zimbabwe’s Health and Child Care Minister Douglas Mombeshora said the country must mitigate the AMR challenge by using antimicrobials prudently and rationally.
“We must not forget that the antimicrobial resistance response requires a whole-of-society approach, hence all of us are called upon to play our part in the prevention and control of antimicrobial resistance,” said Mombeshora in an address during the official opening of the WAAW.
The WAAW, which is being commemorated in Harare, is an annual global event that aims to enhance awareness and understanding of the challenges posed by antimicrobial resistance.