Women in agriculture: Mary learns to protect her livestock

Mary Choombwa (left) and Georgina Hachimwa, who have benefitted from the use of the tiphrosia
Cattle are vulnerable to tick borne diseases

“The real cause of hunger is the powerlessness of the poor to gain access to the resources they need to feed themselves.” ― Frances Moore Lappé


Mary Choombwa is a 65 year old widow and subsistence farmer who lives in Mwonze, about 200kms from Lusaka, Zambia. Over the years, Mary lost all the 12 herds of cattle which she had in her household to tick-borne diseases. Mary recalls; “When the cattle died it was painful. They were my wealth. We used them for ploughing and drawing our carts. Now overnight, I was left with nothing.”

Mary’s case is not unique, in sub-Saharan Africa, ticks and tsetse flies transmit some of the most economically devastating diseases which claim close to 2 million cattle annually. Some of the diseases transmitted by ticks include: zambeziensis; babesiosis, and anaplasmosis.

The solution to ticks is to spray the cattle with arcaricides or take them to a dip tank. The challenge in Mary’s case is that the dip tank is 15kms away and it costs one kwacha per cow. Dipping should be done every week in order to be effective. This means that for Mary’s 12 cattle, she would have had to spend about seven American dollars per month on cattle dipping. Although this amount might seem merger, it is a huge amount of money in sub-Saharan Africa where more than half of the population survive on less than a dollar a day.

For Mary, the loss of her cattle marked a turning point in her life. She decided that she would do everything in her power to protect her animals. In 2013, Mr Misa Hachalala, a lead farmer under the Southern African Network for Biosciences (SANBio) Livestock Node based in Lusaka, spoke to her on the possibility of using an organic plant, Tephrosia, to prevent ticks breeding on her cows. He gave her a few seeds to plant in her garden and informed her that there was a training scheduled to happen in her area. Mary who was in the process of restocking her herd embraced this opportunity and availed herself for the training. “I asked my five children to also attend the training so that my whole household knew how to use the plant.”

Through the training, Mary was taught how to grow the plant, pick the leaves, pound them, and mix them with water to create the formula she can use for spraying the cattle. She learnt that once the plant was ready for harvesting, she needed only 2 hours every week to both prepare this formula and spray her cattle.

Today, Mary boasts that she has not lost any cows since she started using the Tephrosia plant. Her children help her to spray the animals and she feels very happy with the effects of the plant. She now has eight cows. She has also found other innovative uses of the spray, which include spraying the interior of her house to kill bed bugs.

To commemorate International Women’s Day, SANBio would like to celebrate women like Mary who have risen above the challenges they face on a daily basis. Mary is a perfect example of how women can benefit from capacity building initiatives and pull themselves and their households out of poverty.

By Gwadamirai Majange