Livestock Research for Rural Development 24 (10) 2012 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

A survey of the management of livestock ticks and other aspects of animal ethno health in Bukusu community, western Kenya

Wycliffe Wanzala

School of Pure and Applied Sciences, Department of Biological Sciences, South Eastern University College (a constituent college of the University of Nairobi),
P.O. Box 170-90200, Kitui, Kenya
Behavioural and Chemical Ecology Department (BCED), International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE),
P.O. Box, 30772 - 00100 GPO, Nairobi, Kenya


Livestock industry is a integral to rural livelihoods and cultural life of Bukusu community in western Kenya. External parasites mainly ticks adversely affect the development of this industry in Africa. The study aimed at comparing traditional and conventional approaches to livestock ticks control and management of animal ethno health in Bukusu community. This approach was hypothesized to provide a basis for further research on efficacy of comparable ethno products that may lead to discovery of useful ethno pharmacological agents.  


As praxis socio-anthropological research, non-alienating, multi-strategic, dialogic, comparative literature review, participatory action research (PAR) and participatory rural appraisal (PRA) approaches involving 272 women and men aged between 18 and 118 years old from Bukusu community were analytically surveyed. This set of triangulation approaches were considered suitable due to considerable intra- and inter-cultural variability, rather than cultural homogeneity in studied population and highly individualized nature of animal health ethno knowledge. Approaches utilized are essential in non-experimental validation process of ethno knowledge.


Both traditional and conventional methods for animal health management are still being used alongside each other.  Ethno veterinary knowledge was acquired, is used and practiced in the context of community’s beliefs and taboos and comprised integrated tick control and animal health management ethno strategies. 27% of respondents recognized ethno knowledge application on livestock ticks control and animal ethno health management on subjects other than livestock (73%). Of 99% respondents motivated to practice ethno veterinary medicines, 63% were driven by socio-economic gains while 36% offered it free of charge to the community. By the end of the survey, community ethno practitioners had started regaining confidence in their ethno veterinary knowledge albeit existence of unresolved issues of bio piracy, spiritualism, bio prospecting, legislation, oathing, witchcraft and ritualism.


Studies showed that the Bukusu community is a repository of ethno veterinary knowledge for livestock health management and both conventional and traditional knowledge systems may complement one another. Integrating anti-tick ethno practices/agents in tick control may locally improve livestock industry, thus giving the already impoverished livestock-dependent rural economy a fresh impetus largely following elucidation of scientific rationale of these ethnopractices/agents and deployment of some of them.

Keywords: animal ethnohealthcare, anti-tick ethnopractices, ethnoknowledge of local communities, livestock industry and revolution, livestock ticks control


In sub-Saharan Africa, livestock ticks and tick-borne diseases (T&TBDs) and related secondary infections adversely affect animal health and impede the development of livestock industry, which is the major mainstay economy of rural Africa (Smith and Parker 2010; Omore 2003). In an African sense, livestock is regarded as an “African hoofed bank”, whose roles in enhancing gender equity, providing household food security, reducing extreme poverty, maintaining community’s cultural life, increasing household income to improve health, education and agriculture, promoting biodiversity, providing material support and mechanical power for farming and many other varied domestic benefits, in rural communities are undoubtedly treasured and indispensable (Smith and Parker 2010). In fact livestock industry is one of the key targeted sectors envisaged to help the world achieve its 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (The World Bank Group 2011). In Africa, south of Sahara, the problems of T&TBDs are particularly acute, where acaricides and drugs for managing tick-borne diseases are either unavailable or are far too expensive for the smallholder poor rural livestock farmers. Furthermore, these conventional methods/approaches to livestock tick control have been noted only to confer partial control and management and the problems of: - (i), tick resistance to a considerable proportion of the existing acaricides, (ii), poisoning of livestock and non-target living organisms by the acaricides in use, (iii), reduction and/or removal of enzootic stability amongst indigenous livestock species frequently exposed to acaricides, (iv), residual environmental pollution resulting from the over use of acaricides, (v), high cost of imported acaricides, (vi), lack of professionally trained personnel to supervise the dipping processes and (vii), resistance of pertinent parasitic protozoa to drugs used for treating tick-borne diseases, had been reported with no eminent solutions (Dipeolu et al 1992, Norval et al 1992).   


The targeted smallholder poor rural livestock farmers constitute the majority of the livestock farming communities on the African continent (Kariuki 1996), hence the need to develop new novel methods and approaches suitable for local and native conditions and smallholder poor rural livestock farmers (Pegram et al 2000, Eisler et al 2003). Under these circumstances therefore, the local communities’ anti-tick ethnoknowledge is envisaged to provide a basis for identifying and applying potentially useful, community-driven and specific tick control and management interventions that minimize tick resistance problem, are wholistic in action, environmentally friendly, economically affordable, easily accessible and safe when handling and the local end user livestock farmer is the expert personnel (Minja 1994). The anti-tick ethno knowledge and related technologies may indeed offer a more lasting and locally suited ethno strategic alternative in sustainable control and management of livestock ticks in tick-prone areas (Marx 1984, Mathias-Mundy and McCorkle 1989, Matzigkeit 1990, Mathias et al 1998, Martin et al 2001). However, this type of local and/or indigenous knowledge (IK), is fast disappearing while still undocumented and unevaluated through: - (1), untimely deaths of persons with ethno knowledge, (2), extinction of plant and animal species and ritual practices (all are sources of ethno pharmacologically active substances), (3) encroachment of development and modernization, (4), adoption of life styles and education systems, which do not embrace indigenous knowledge, (5) the consideration that traditional practices and agents are unhygienic and (6), religion beliefs that ethno knowledge and associated ethno practices/ethno agents are satanic/devilish (Marx 1984, Mathias-Mundy and McCorkle 1989, Mathias et al 1998, Martin et al 2001).


This survey study therefore aimed at a comparative study of the resource potential of traditional and conventional approaches and methods for controlling and managing livestock ticks and other aspects of animal ethno health with reference to Bukusu community as a way of evaluating possible ways of sustainability improving livestock industry in tropical animal agriculture. And further, challenges presented by endeavors to utilize veterinary folk medical knowledge in the era of livestock revolution were evaluated too.

Materials and Methods

Bukusu Community and its Geographical Location


The Bukusu community is one of the seventeen sub-tribes of the Luhya Bantu people of East Africa. Also calling themselves BaBukusu and/or Bakitoshi, they comprise the largest sub-tribe of the Luhya tribe (which is the third largest tribe in Kenya), making up about 17% of the Luhya population. They speak the Bukusu dialect and freely combine both arable and pastoral life forms for their socio-economic survival. The community is found in Bungoma county, western Kenya, living along the southern slopes of Mt. Elgon, which lies between latitudes 0o 25.3’ - 0o 53.2’ N and longitudes 34o 21.4’ - 35o 04’ E (Figure 1). The altitude of the location of the BaBukusu range from about 1300 m asl (thermal zone 3: 20.0-22.5C) in the south to about 3500 m asl (thermal zone 8: 5.0-10.0oC) in the North. The community occupies an area covering 1689 square kilometers, about 25% of the total area of the entire western province of Kenya.

Figure 1.
The location of Bungoma County, which is exclusively occupied by the Bukusu community in western Kenya. However, currently, the Bukusu may be found inhabiting Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Kakamega, Busia, Teso, Butere/Mumias, Mount Elgon and Lugari Districts of Western Province of Kenya. The survey field centres are indicated with stars whereas the ringed dots indicate the neighbouring Districts.

Sources of Information on Anti-tick Ethnoknowledge and Animal Ethnohealth


The survey into anti-tick ethno knowledge and animal ethno health of the Bukusu community in Kenya used mainly participatory action research (PAR) and participatory rural appraisal (PRA) approaches involving 272 women and men of mixed ages (18-118 years old). These people comprised a purposive sample of key respondents who were identified through a number of sources, including the local administration in the office of the President, the Government of Kenya (GOK), the primary school children (who provided very useful leads to the identity of key respondents), the church leaders etc. The key respondents were local/indigenous experts or people in the study area with profound ethno knowledge of particular ethno issues, ethno innovation or ethno technology of interest (in this case, control of livestock ticks and management of animal ethno health). The ages of the key respondents were confirmed from their: - (1), birth certificates and (2), national Identity Cards (ID)/passports in Kenya. These are people with a more extensive understanding of local social and veterinary-cultural systems than others in the community (Etkin 1993). A purposive sample referred to a particular subset of knowledgeable people in the area of control of livestock ticks and management of animal ethno health (Krueger 1988). Intensive and extensive collaboration and interaction with these key respondents was considered to be an efficient and effective research strategy (Oakley 1981, Morgan 1988, IIRR 1994). A random sample would not have been appropriate for this type of socio-cultural set-up, as not everyone sampled randomly may have the required knowledge (Etkin 1993).


Local veterinarians, para-veterinarians and agricultural extension officers responsible for providing extension services to farmers were also able to identify some key respondents. We also attended public meetings organized by local administrators to identify potential key respondents. Local livestock traders and dealers, as well as individual livestock farmers, contributed their knowledge on the control of livestock ticks and management of animal ethno health based on their professional and economic activities, whereas community/village/clan leaders/elders had useful information on communal control of livestock ticks and management of animal health programs funded by the Government of Kenya and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Local ethno practitioners, including traditional healers/herbalists/spiritualists/ritualists, formed a unique sub-set of knowledgeable people from whom key respondents were drawn. Other sources of data included NGOs such as the Council for Human Ecology-Kenya, the German Development Service and the Bungoma Indigenous Trees Conservation Club, which had prior experience and close interaction with local livestock farmers and had earlier documented part of their ethno veterinary knowledge. Centres known for preparation of a local brew (locally known as Busaa) were the only important meeting points of the most resourceful, knowledgeable and highly respected old men and women and formed important venues for the focused discussion sessions (Photo 1). Secondary data were obtained from the County Veterinary Office (CVO) records on prevention and control of livestock ticks and general management of animal health in Bungoma County. All these groups were considered important and consulted because each was associated with a specific aspect of ethno knowledge relevant to the study.

Photo 1: Groups of one of the most resourceful, knowledgeable and highly respected composition of old men and women gathered at a Busaa drinking joint in Mwibale village of Bungoma County, Kenya. They discuss and share ideas of all kinds in life including ethnoknowledge as a local facet upon which decision-making process is anchored in the community.

Focus-group discussions


The focus-group discussions with all stakeholders were held in the selected 15 study centres (Figure 1). In these centres, 15 focus-group discussions were formed, each comprising between 13 and 25 stakeholders based on their geographical location, ethnicity, conventional profession, socio-economic and cultural activities, age, interest, societal status (such as opinion leaders and/or community spokespersons) and ethnopractices of animal ethnohealth. In each focus-group discussion, a leading key respondent was selected by members to chair all the discussion sessions and provide leadership towards building consensus on conflicting issues. A focus-group discussion was an exploratory discussion designed to obtain perceptions on a specific theme from a target group in a non-threatening environment (Krueger 1988, Etkin 1993), in this case, ethnoknowledge on the control of livestock ticks and management of animal ethnohealth. This kind of group interaction produced data and insights that would have otherwise been less accessible (Morgan 1988). The interaction between all the stakeholders formed the collaborative and non-alienating, dialogic, participatory action research (PAR) and participatory rural appraisal (PRA) approaches utilized to build a consensus and verify that the information from other interviewees was accurately recorded (IIRR 1994). The group interaction also minimized the objectification of the respondents as the only source of data (Oakley 1981). One purpose of this form of collaborative research was to shift decision making based on theoretical knowledge to the community, rather than conceding this role to the conventionally trained experts (Warry 1992).


Collection of secondary data


 The collection of secondary data on anti-tick ethno knowledge and management of animal ethno health focused on the ethno-methods and ethno-products/agents used to control livestock ticks and manage the general health of animals in various homesteads and institutions. The information was mainly sourced from the County Veterinary Office (CVO) in Bungoma, followed by an extensive literature search by correspondence with the key persons in anti-tick ethno knowledge and animal health research, browsing of relevant websites/URLs and internet communication, livestock research institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community-based organizations (CBOs), faith-based organizations (FBOs), East Africa and University of Nairobi herbaria libraries and laboratories etc.

Use of Children from Primary Schools to Identify Key Respondents


This was the main method used to identify key respondents and obtain ethno knowledge on the control of livestock ticks and management of animal ethno health from largely illiterate people located in very remote areas. This method was used as extensively described previously (Wanzala et al 2012). This methodological approach was able to generate 200 key respondents who were identified based on whether or not the primary children’s responses indicated that a respondent had potentially useful information on the control of livestock ticks and management of animal ethno health. The primary school-based method was considered the main method of: - (1) identifying the key respondents and (2) sourcing localized and very remote information on the control of livestock ticks and management of animal ethno health within the study area. This method was considered very useful and robust due to reducing bias viz: - (1), modeling bias, which was the projection of the interviewer’s views onto those studied, (2), strategic bias, which was the expectation of benefits by the subject, (3), familiar prior relationships between interviewers and interviewee (children and parents/neighbours), reduced acquiescence and response set answers, and outsiders bias and (4), reduction of “key personae” bias (Etkin 1993). This approach was also realized to provide a bridge between elders and school children in terms of transmission of ethno knowledge between generations as school schedules do not add local and indigenous knowledge into their curricula and school children therefore rarely appreciate this ethno knowledge from their illiterate parents, guardians, relatives and neighbors.

Results and Discussion

State of Tick Control and Animal Health Management in Bukusu Community


Some General Aspects of Beliefs, Acquisition and Use of remedial Ethnoknowledge


A survey into the beliefs, acquisition of ethno knowledge and its general use in livestock industry amongst the Bukusu people, revealed a forgotten and yet most powerful, less expensive and locally available, native and natural pharmacy that was easily accessible. It was indeed very interesting to note that unlike previous times, most ethno practitioners were willing to discuss and share their ethno knowledge freely following the award of an inducement fee (ranging from US$ 5-10) and/or buying of local brew (Busaa) for a group of 5-15 people amounting to US$ 20-30 (Photo 1). This was followed by self-identification and a comprehensive explanation of the importance of the survey study through the local administration in the office of the President, Government of Kenya. The fee was believed to be an appreciation token for the custody of ethno knowledge and factual acceptance of folk remedies for their value to humanity and as a vote of thanks to community ancestors and spirits for pioneering its discovery and empowering its continued use. If this was not done, it was believed that the remedial medicines given out or shown to anybody for use may not work or the healing power of the ethno practitioners may disappear under the influence of unhappy community ancestors and unappeased spirits. This was rooted deeply in the belief that folk medicines had come down to its present state from the community ancestors and spirits and hence, the alleged honor and respect (Mathias-Mundy and McCorkle 1989, Martin et al 2001). It was also believed that once an ethno practitioner prepared and gave out ethno medicines, the recipient was not supposed to say, ‘‘thank you’’, as it was normally believed that by saying the vote of thanks, one would be communicating with foreign ancestors and spirits when one  had not been traditionally ordained and officially permitted by a community council of elders. From the consensus built up during the focus-group discussions, the resultant effect of breaking such a community taboo was three fold viz: - (i), the victim would die mysteriously, (ii), the victim might be followed by ‘‘bad omens’’ of the ancestors and spirits throughout lifetime, involving the development of chronic mental illnesses, physical disability, emaciation of the body, chronic wounds, paralysis of the body etc., and (iii), the remedial products given out to the victim (whether in ritual formats, herbal preparations or in spiritual form) may not work as anticipated. Additionally, if one was given the remedial products and forgot the instructions on how to administer them and in due course used them wrongly, they would not provide the desired curative measures, instead they were believed to turn out to be witchcraft as a punishment to the recipient who was considered to be disobedient to the community ancestors and spirits of the ethno practitioner. Finally, it was believed that before the health seeker would leave the homestead of the ethno practitioner following treatment and/or collection of any remedial products, the health provider must perform a blessing ritual using certain specific words/statements, which took different forms including holding hands and spiting saliva on one’s chest and face, depending on the ethnicity, sex, age and societal status. This was done in the belief that community ancestors and spirits would be appeased so that in turn they bless the treatment and/or the remedial products that had been collected (Martin et al 2001). These beliefs about ethno practices of folk remedies for either livestock and/or humans revealed a great deal about the taboos, customs and the entire cultural life of people in the Bukusu community (Mathias-Mundy and McCorkle 1989, Martin et al 2001).


From the many discussions held during the survey with 272 key respondents and members of focus-group discussions, it was noted that, over the years, ethno practitioners accumulated a lot of folk medical knowledge (FMK) from a wide range of sources including those within and outside the community (Krueger 1988, Morgan 1988).  Some of the sources and the corresponding percent of key respondents identifying them included:-  (i), through dreams and visions from the ancestors and spirits depending on ethnicity (33%), (ii), by interactions amongst friends and relatives, ethno practitioners, foreigners etc. (23%), (iii), during cultural days and ceremonies within and outside the community (12%), (iv), by exchange programs with ethno practitioners of neighboring areas, regions, countries etc. (10%), (v), by buying ethno medical secrets through paying the equivalent in terms of either batter trade or monetary funds (8.5%), (vi), rewarded for being a reliable messenger of a given ethno practitioner as a lot of ethno knowledge was revealed to one when the ethno practitioner was still alive or about to die (8.5%), and (vii), through inheritance from parents, uncles, aunts etc., depending on the already existing and established friendship and relationship (5%). Ethno practitioners were ordained and officially permitted to practice ethno medicines through traditional ceremonies conducted by a council of elders in well designed community shrines with a number of traditionally made artifacts unique to Bukusu community.


The survey study further revealed that, in the Bukusu community, albeit its importance, little attention has been focused on the promotion and utilization of ethno veterinary medicines (Wanzala et al., 2012). There was a real danger therefore that such important ethno knowledge may be lost when ethno practitioners died unless the information was conventionally documented, particularly by people who were born and bred in the Bukusu community and have even benefited from ethno health services rendered by the ethno practitioners (Wanzala et al., 2012). From the survey responses, it was apparent that the integration of veterinary ethno medicines into the modern veterinary service delivery system in local communities, may automatically achieve a better animal healthcare delivery system and improve livestock productivity than either one of them being used independently (Krueger 1988, Morgan 1988). The survey further revealed that the utilization of conventional veterinary services within the context of indigenous socio-cultures and therapies in Bukusu community was however very fitting but currently, lagging behind in many ways as ethno veterinary medicine did not have legal framework and not scientifically validated (Martin et al 2001). From the consensus built in a series of focus-group discussions, it was clear that for the integration of ethno veterinary practices into conventional veterinary services to be realized, it required the full involvement of all stakeholder players (including ethno practitioners of all kinds, paravets, veterinarians, government officials from relevant ministries etc.) (Wanzala et al 2009, 2012). To sustainability achieve this integration accurately, there was great need to document, evaluate and understand in details all the kinds of ethno veterinary healthcare practices of each target ethnic group and conduct the interpretation of the information obtained in their social and cultural context without bias (Hoffman and Gallaher 2007).


Other very interesting ritual aspects of the Bukusu ethno veterinary knowledge included livestock marketing (Photo 2). For instance, one of the key respondent, Mzee Musoka Musiebata noted that for healthy and peaceful marketing of any animal from a homestead, one needed to prepare a mixture of kitchen ash, grass (locally known in Bukusu language as busindakusi) and the cow dung of the animal to be sold and throw the mixture a cross the herd while the target animal was still in the cattle shade, very early in the morning. This applied to any animal being removed from the homestead and signified that the animal taken from the homestead was with good motives and it was peacefully given away in good faith for a greed price to be fruitful, useful and helpful wherever it went and/or for the purpose taken.

Photo 2: Livestock marketing at Nzoia shopping centre and Bungoma town by local livestock farmers. Every market day, is a bee-hive of activities of livestock farmers at the shopping centres; buying and selling all kinds of livestock in a traditional fashion.

Indigenous Strategies for Control of Livestock Ticks in Bukusu Community


Before the conventional methods for control of livestock ticks and management of tick-borne diseases and other ill-health problems of livestock were initiated amongst the indigenous Bukusu people, a variety of ethno methods, ethno agents and ethno practices were used (Martina 1998, 2001, Wanzala et al 2012). The application of this ethno knowledge depended on the ethnicity, ethnocentric civilization processes, geographical location and inherent cultural set up and traditional taboos and beliefs of a given ethnic group (Mathias-Mundy and McCorkle 1989, Wanzala et al 2012). These ethno strategies were equivalent of the modern integrated tick control strategies and together with the corresponding percent of key respondents recognizing them, comprised the following: - (i), communal, family and individual handpicking exercise of ticks performed every morning, week and/or month, depending on tick burden on host animals and throwing them away, burying them in soil, eating/chewing them and burning them on a traditional guard (43%) (Photo 3), (ii), burning grazing pastures/grounds to kill all the existing stages of livestock ticks (15%), (iii), the use of smoke in cattle-sheds and in the in-coming herds of cattle to make the ticks drop off from the animals and probably, either die and /or run away into hiding places for their safety (13%), (iv), the use of a wide range of ethno botanical products as acaricides (9.5%), (v), livestock movement towards the communally created tick-free zones from tick prone zones (9.5%), and (vi), livestock mixed freely with the Red-billed, Buphagus erythrorhynchus Stan., 1814 and Yellow-billed, Buphagus africanus Linn., 1766 Oxpecker birds (locally known as Kamacharia) were used in a commensalisms relationship (9.5%) (Norval et al 1992). As animals forage, the birds are busy pecking ticks from the animals’ body. The other group of birds known also to feed on livestock ticks to a lesser extend are the Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis Linn., 1758 (locally known as Chinyanja) (Mukhebi et al 1992). A considerable proportion of livestock farmers from Bungoma County, however noted that B. ibis birds had been eliminated completely in some areas in the County while in other areas, their numbers had drastically reduced due to toxicities of chlorinated hydrocarbon acaricides, which were massively used in 1970s upon their introduction (Norval et al 1992). Seven percent of the key respondents noted that chickens were also used as natural predators in a family and community exercise and/or ceremony to control livestock ticks (Hassan et al 1991, 1992, Dreyer et al 1997, Kaaya 2003). The application of ethno botanicals as acaricides was mainly limited to the community ethno practitioners and rarely could they be revealed to any other persons in the community as they were considered ethno medically holy secrets of life for livestock. And finally, only 3% the key respondents recognized the collection of residues from cattle-shed and subsequent burning and/or burying them under the soil in order to kill all the tick stages present was considered a sustainable home-based ethno method for livestock tick control (Wanzala et al 2012). Many of these ethno methods were however, rapidly replaced with the conventional counterparts because the conventional ones had the ability to control livestock ticks at a faster rate than the traditional methods (Bizimana 1994, Catley 2003). Some livestock farmers however, had maintained the use of these ethno methods up to date (Martin et al 2001, Marx 1984, Mathias 1998, Mathias-Mundy and McCorkle 1989).

Photo 3:  Individual handpicking exercise of ticks by a livestock farmer in Bungoma County, Kenya. An animal and/or herd is first examined of its tick situation (a), then ticks are plugged one by one (b), put together
and thrown away, buried in soil, eaten/chewed and/or burnt on a traditional guard (c).

Advent of Conventional Methods for Control of Livestock Ticks in Bukusu Community


From the time East Cost fever (ECF) was recognized in Kenya in about 1904, the strategy for control of livestock ticks and management of tick-borne diseases and general animal health has always based on conventional chemical control agents of Rhipicephalus appendiculatus Neumann, 1901 to prevent the transmission of aetiologic agent, Theileria parva parva (Norval et al 1992). A variety of acaricides have been used to control livestock ticks since 1913 when the European settlers introduced the use of arsenic acaricides in community-based dips upon their arrival. The introduction of conventional chemicals for tick control by dipping or spraying was started in large-scale farms owned by white settlers and gained momentum after Kenyan independence in 1963 following the introduction of exotic cattle in many parts of the country including Bungoma County, the study site (Figure 1). During the early period of 1900s and 1963, several communal cattle dips were constructed by the government and/or on harambee (a Kiswahili word that means "let us all pull together our resources for a common goal") basis with the government and/or donor monetary assistance. During the survey study in Bungoma County, there were over 156 cattle dips on record of which about 143 had been built but only 131 were sporadically functioning (CVO, Pers. Commun.). Due to rapid spread and establishment of ECF in new areas throughout the country, Bungoma County included, the Cattle Cleansing Ordinance was subsequently introduced by the Colonial Government on 27th April, 1937, in order to enforcing cattle dipping mechanisms as a means to control livestock ticks and manage tick-borne diseases and general animal health. This Ordinance was later reviewed in 1968 and 1972, respectively, and became Cattle Cleansing Act, Cap 358. The Act is again being reviewed to be in line with the new government policy of privatization of cattle dipping services in livestock industry under the Kenyan new constitution, which was promulgated by the President of Kenya on Friday, August 27th, 2010. All the acaricides used in Kenya since 1968 had to be legally approved by the Director of Veterinary Services in line with Cattle Cleansing Act. Such an approval was only given after extensive trials of a candidate acaricide in both the laboratory and field. The approved acaricides were gazetted if their use were required immediately or may be kept for future use.


In the Bukusu community, the use of conventional chemical agents for the control of livestock ticks either by dipping or spraying, started during the colonial era (between 1900 and 1940), with the application of Arsenic acaricides, as it was the case elsewhere in the world. Arsenic acaricides were followed by the use of chlorinated hydrocarbons, carbaryls and organophosphorous acaricide groups, respectively, during pre- and post- colonial periods. This tick control practice gained momentum after independence in 1970s, more particularly following the introduction of exotic cattle in Bungoma County.  Amitraz formulations later replaced organophosphorous acaricides as from 1986 with sprays and dips such as Triatix (from Coopers Kenya Limited), Taktik (from Travetis), Tickatraz, Bovitraz, Boritraz, and Farmtraz (from Bayer East Africa Limited), Trimatix (from Unga Feeds Limited), Ectomin (from Ultravetis East Africa Limited) and Tixfix (from Twiga Company Limited), being widely marketed to livestock  farmers. Amitraz formulation groups in dips and as stock sprays are still in use at present but on a limited scale. However, in a consensus built during the focus-group discussions, residual toxicity, none specificity, ever escalating costs of acaricides, environmental pollution, poor management of dips and ever growing tick resistance problem to these acaricides were identified as among the major problems, which faced and are still facing tick control operations today. Other factors inhibiting proper tick control included lack of adequate knowledge by livestock farmers, irregular dipping programmes, use of under strength dip-washes or a combination of them, shortage of money and inadequate back-up services by Kenyan government and acaricide suppliers.


Collaboration of Livestock Farmers and Kenya Government in Control of Ticks


From conventional point of view, the local livestock farmers were directly responsible for controlling livestock ticks and tick-borne diseases by mainly dipping and/or spraying their respective animals. To achieve this, livestock farmers operated tick control programs through a variety of means such as county councils, co-operative societies, communal groups and as individual livestock farmers. Of these four means, the most effective one was by communal dips, which was either managed by elected dip committee members or by private co-operative farmers’ groups assisted by the government and individual donors. The livestock farmers did also spray by hand spraying and spray races but these too were neither sufficient nor effective (Raikes 1981).  


Between 1977 and 1991, the Kenyan government was responsible for logistics, planning and managing most of the communal dips using its resources and only charged highly subsidized dipping fees. In 1991, the government stopped collection of the dipping fees but continued to provide free acaricides purchased through donor funds, to elected dip committee members. The dipping fee collected by the farmers was banked in individual dip accounts as a revolving fund for the continued operation of the services. The farmers purchased acaricides direct from suppliers and these companies provided back-up services such as emptying and calibration of dips, sampling and analysis of acaricides in use and assistance of training of livestock farmers and dip committee members on the way forward for the control of livestock ticks and management tick-borne diseases and effective and efficient management of communal dips in various villages. The main roles of the government were supervisory and regulatory such as: - (i), testing of new acaricides in government laboratories to determine their efficacy and then gazette those found effective, (ii), approval of what class/group of acaricides to be used in the country following laboratory analysis and confirmatory test, (iii), control of importation/exportation of acaricides by either individual livestock farmers or companies, (iv), monitoring and evaluation of tick resistance to various acaricides in use, (v), provision of extension services to farmers in their respective villages, (vi), provision of commercialized dip-sample-testing facilities at regional levels, (vii), approval of sites, size and type of communal dips to be build in order to avoid mismanagement and environmental pollution in the located site and (viii), data collection, analysis and provision of effective and efficient advice to the livestock farmers regarding management of communal dips, acaricides, livestock ticks and tick-borne diseases found in a given geographical location.


Between 1991 and 1992, the government of Kenya pioneered and spearheaded communal management programmes for the control of livestock ticks and management of tick-borne diseases following the increased incidences of ECF, more particularly in large-scale farms such as ranches. The government supplied communal dips with free acaricides to reinforce the livestock dipping programme, the practice that never lasted for long. This affected many operating communal dips in many villages within Bungoma County. The period between 1993 and 1995 saw many communal dips for cattle collapse, the surviving ones in either ailing or non-operational conditions with the mushrooming of illegal practices of control of livestock ticks and management of tick-borne diseases by individuals equipped with hand spraying tools and purporting to be either trained veterinarians or paravets. This group of individuals targeted mainly farmers practicing zero grazing in which animals were not taken to communal dips for removal of ticks. These behavioral practices in the livestock industry became costly as a considerable proportion of livestock farmers incurred a great deal of socio-economic losses and fatality. The government subsidy to communal dips by provision of acaricides and technical advice gradually became insignificant to livestock farmers, as the impact was not being felt any more following withdrawal, reluctance and lack of funds. In 1996, the government initiated a program called Agricultural Sector Animal Health Rehabilitation Programme (ASAHRP), which focused on the strategic control of livestock ticks and management of tick-borne diseases throughout the country in local and native communities, Bukusu community of Bungoma County inclusive. In 1997, ASAHRP as a government agency for the initiated program in livestock industry started again subsidizing some amount of acaricides to communal dips to enable them start off immediately. After 2 years of successful operation, many problems compounded this program and as result, it was forced to end between 1999 and 2000, thus forcing the livestock farmers to go back to the initial communal dipping system. However, the above problems continued to undermine the previously outlined ASAHRP system for the control of livestock ticks and management of tick-borne diseases and other aspects of animal health. It was confirmed from Bungoma County Veterinary Office that such problems included: - (i), poor management of communal dips and funds collected for banking due to negligence, lack of seriousness and illiteracy of the composition of the committee members, (ii), poverty within the local communities and communal dip committee members implied that fee levied for the cattle dipping was not affordable by many farmers and other pressing problems within families such as food security, health and malnutrition, arable farming, unemployment and education among others were given attention at the expense of cattle dipping, (iii), ignorance amongst the livestock farmers, lack of interest and motivation made them not to take livestock farming seriously as a business-oriented strategy to earn them a living, ( what about less confidence/untrustworthy (of few groups) from the community due to over charging, misappropriation of levies etc, availability of water and human activities increase do they have any influence on dipping scheme/program (iv), a small population of livestock resistant to infestation of ticks and tick-borne diseases blindfolded farmers not to care so much about the control of livestock ticks and management of tick-borne diseases for the majority of animals, (v), reluctance amongst the livestock farmers to develop the livestock industry due to the poor returns from livestock and their products, (vi), escalating costs of acaricides in foreign currencies made the prices of the acaricides not to fall within the affordable range of many livestock farmers, (vii), ever growing tick resistance to the existing acaricides in use by the livestock farmers (was it due to under dilution of acaricides aiming at either maximizing the little procured acaricides so that they could last long?), (viii), residual toxicity, particularly to food products emanating from livestock industry, (ix), non-specificity of acaricides in affecting none target organisms in the environment and (x), environmental pollution and human toxicity.


To overcome most of these problems, particularly from number (i) to (vi) as outlined above, the government implemented a prolonged quarantine and compulsory cattle dipping program at all levels throughout the country, Bungoma County included. This legislative program was introduced initially in one of the ten divisions of the former Bungoma district (currently Bungoma County), Tongaren division as a pilot project. However, this enforcement by the law was very perplexing in its early implementation and operational stages and compounded by lack of trained personnel and technical-know-how amongst the livestock farmers, the program did not yield any desired results and completely collapsed eventually.


Basis for Continued Preference of Ethno veterinary Knowledge to Conventional Counterpart


Although people valued highly conventional methods for managing animal health, they preferred to continue using their centuries’ old ethno veterinary methods alongside the conventional counterparts for various reasons (Bizimana 1994). The experience with the respondents during the interviews and sessions of focus-group discussions highlighted livestock farmers’ continued preference of ethno veterinary knowledge to conventional counterpart for certain specific occasions and situations. Through consensus building during focus-discussion groups, it was realized that, over time, livestock farmers had noted keenly and recognized the fact that cattle did not become sick more frequently than it is today until the advent of the modern acaricides and other conventional pharmaceutical agents, currently in use. They undoubtedly believed these conventional agents to have caused other undesirable, non-understandable side effects and further initiated complicated diseases in animals due to accidental oral and non-determined continuous doses of the acaricides. “The resultant accumulation of residues of these acaricides in animals are what is today’s causative mechanism of escalating rates of deaths in various herbivores” – noted a key respondent, Mzee Reuben Wanyonyi. The continued use of conventional agents to alleviate and suppress livestock diseases worsened the situation of the deleterious effects of these acaricides. How did it have happened? This is a question that many key respondents contemplated upon during the initial realization and reorganization of these undesirable side effects of conventional agents. Local livestock farmers, among them, the key respondents ambiguously hypothesized that acaricides and conventional drug agents could have freely reacted in the animals’ bodies giving way to new toxic and lethal molecules, forming a new toxic product that might have greatly contributed to the above described and claimed lethal side effects of conventional agents. The local livestock farmers also noted that ulcers were more commonly encountered in animals when slaughtered than it was before the advent of conventional agents. Many livestock farmers interviewed believed the current frequent occurrence of internal ulcers in their animals might have started developing following the simultaneous application of combined conventional drugs to treat livestock etiologic agents and acaricides for tick control. These internal ulcers were confirmed during slaughter when the carcass is inspected according to the Kenya Meat Control Act 1977. Silongo, the naturally found salty soil, which had been fed to livestock since time immemorial, was believed to have natural healing powers to control all types of diseases in livestock, including tick infestation and ulcers (Wanzala et al 2012). At the present time, this type of soils is no more and has been gradually replaced by a less powerful conventional salt product, which is licked by livestock only in a few homes, which can afford it. This state of affairs therefore reminded livestock farmers the need to revisit ethno veterinary medicines once again, a holistic costless and easily available product of just local community’s ethno knowledge and nature’s gift to mankind (Mathias-Mundy and McCorkle 1989, Matzigkeit 1990, Alghali 1992, Bizimana 1994, Gueye 2002). It was however realized that the local communities were repositories of untapped valuable ethno botanical and ritual-related ethno knowledge that can be a significant scientific resource, which may provide leads to the development of new and sustainable acaricide molecules (Mathias-Mundy and McCorkle 1989).


Ethno knowledge Application in Tick Control and Animal Health Management


Since pre-historic times, the traditional folklore did not only have medicines for human treatment, but also for managing animal health (Minja 1994), although lagging behind (KofiTsekpo and Kioy 1998). From the survey study involving 272 key respondents, showed that the Bukusu community had well developed ethno strategies for control of livestock ticks and management of tick-borne diseases and general animal health, which comprised a traditionally integrated system, equivalent of modern integrated tick control and animal health management (Mathias-Mundy and McCorkle 1989). The results in Figure 2 showed that the problem of livestock tick infestation was really widespread and required such concerted efforts in order to solve it. Of the 272 respondents conducted during the survey, 27% applied their ethno veterinary knowledge on the control of livestock ticks and management of animal ethno health on subjects (humans, pets and wildlife) other than livestock in their backyard (73%) (Figure 2). From the consensus built up during the focus-group discussions on the application of traditional remedies, the colossal African pharmacopoeia plays an invaluable role in the healthcare delivery system with the development of ethno medical remedies that can be able to treat both animal and human illnesses (Mathias-Mundy and McCorkle 1989, Hoareau and Silva 2001, Confessor et al 2009). This is indeed important since livestock ticks are well known to be involved in intricate cycles of zoonotic transmissions of etiologic agents equally affecting human and animal populations (Wanzala et al 2012), thus posing dangers for tick-borne zoonotic epidemics erupting in either human or animal populations if appropriate and effective measures for tick control are not put in place. Furthermore, it is imperative to develop ethno control strategies for livestock as well as humans, pets and wildlife as all these animals are almost sharing the same ecological niches and become infested by ticks of the same species that may cause similar socio-economic losses (Wanzala and Okanga 2006). Besides, the overlap between traditional medicines used for both humans and animals may be pinpointing of the effectiveness of these remedies in the community where it is used for application (Mwale et al 2005, 2007).  

Figure 2. Distribution of the application of the ethnoveterinary knowledge (EVK) on the control of ticks and management of animal ethnohealth in Bukusu community (n =272).

Justification for offering ethnoveterinary services in Bukusu Community


From 272 key respondents involved in individual interviews and focus-group discussions, an evaluation on the reason(s) for offering ethno veterinary services to the Bukusu community was made and results shown in Figure 3. The reasons for offering ethno veterinary services amongst the Bukusu ethno practitioners varied greatly, were very complex and to some extent, just beyond the scope of this article as some of the reasons given had their origin in “biopiracy” debate, costs, accessibility, affordability, cultural life, ethnicity, efficacy, availability, ease of administration and community “witchcraft” (Pieroni et al 2004, Mwale et al 2005, 2007). The responses revealed very interesting results that will help guide the future development of livestock industry based on ethno veterinary knowledge of the Bukusu community (Okoli et al 2010). From the results presented, a considerable proportion of key respondents (99%) were motivated to practice ethno veterinary medicine in the community and most of them were driven by socio-economic gains accruing from the practice (63%) just as previously evaluated (McCorkle and Martin 1998, Köhler-Rollefson and Bräunig 1998, Souto et al 2011, Souto et al 2011, Masimba et al 2012). The sustainability of the socio-economic benefits accruing from the use of the ethno knowledge by ethno practitioners in the Bukusu community are due to the fact that both the recipients of the services and those rendering the services are locally available and easily accessible and payment is based on mutual understanding and agreement, which best fits the recipients’ economic status and not always in monetary form (Bizimana 1994, Catley 2003). About 36% of the respondents do not use their ethnoveterinary knowledge for socio-economic gains; instead they offer it free of charge to the community for education, prestige, as symbol of appeasing and honouring the community’s ancestors and spirits and as a mere call to serve the community as custodians of the knowledge (Froemming S 2006, Confessor et al 2009, Lans and Turner 2011). By virtue of the holistic nature of the ethno veterinary services and products during the application and their inherent in the cultural and traditional life of the community of origin, supersede any other reason for their offer in the community (Matekaire and Bwakura 2004, Mathias and McCorkle 2004, Mengesha et al 2008, Mengesha et al 2011, Mlambo et al 2011, Maphosa et al 2012). 

Figure 3. The underlying principle for the application of ethnoveterinary knowledge (EVK) for the control of livestock ticks and management of animal ethno health in Bukusu community (n =272).

Impact of the Studied Ethnoveterinary Knowledge in the Bukusu Community


During the colonial period, the application of indigenous knowledge in any form was considered satanic/unhygienic and equated with witchcraft and wholly dismissed and actively suppressed by all means (Wanzala et al 2012). During the interviews with key respondents and sessions of focus-group discussion, ethno practitioners were surprised to learn how this colonial perception of their ethno knowledge has greatly changed during post-independent period and was now considered of socio-economic value to the society. The continued interaction further revealed ethno veterinary knowledge to be a very useful scientific resource, which may form the basis for discovering useful pharmaceutical agents and sustainable technologies that may spur community development a great deal (Chah et al 2009, McCorkle et al 1992, Deeba et al 2009). By the end of the survey study, community ethno practitioners had started regaining confidence in their rich and almost forgotten ethno veterinary knowledge, which is just based on oral tradition, shared information and personal life experiences (McCorkle et al 1992, McCorkle 1986). The entire of Bukusu community had generally realized the importance of developing either natural or exotic farm woodlots as a resource for timber, site for cultural practices (shrines), firewood and medicines instead of collecting them from the wild, a mechanism that constrained wild resources (Rukangira 2001). There was also development of records of plants known to be useful to the community as well as those whose uses were yet to be known. A number of ethno practitioners had started developing ethno botanical gardens at home with purely medicinal plants. There was also a realization amongst the community ethno practitioners on the need of sustainable utilization of plant and animal resources of ethno medicines and conservation of ethno knowledge.


Contentious Issues Affecting Effective Utilization of the Bukusu Ethno knowledge


The bio prospecting and ‘‘bio piracy’’ debate has pitted corporations against a number of developing governments, states and indigenous people who claim they are being exploited by such malpractices, thus emerging pertinent issues concerning Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) discourse. These malpractices have extensively affected the free sharing of ethno knowledge amongst the ethno practitioners and the young generation in fear of the knowledge being secretly leaked out of the community for selfishness reasons based on economic gains (McCorkle and Martin 1998, Köhler-Rollefson and Bräunig 1998, Souto et al 2011, 2011, Masimba et al 2012). This however, makes research into indigenous knowledge very perplexing. The second issue is the development of legislation to protect indigenous knowledge of local/native communities by the government and provide legal guidelines for practice of African traditional medicine.  The third issue is the fear of punishment from the community ancestors and spirits (the owners of the ethno knowledge), for revealing the reserved remedial secrets of health of the community to foreigners, even if these foreigners paid for them. The fourth issue is the fear of interacting with researchers (conventional scientists from all walks of life) who later patent their ethno knowledge without their consent and earning any benefits accruing from it and yet to some ethno practitioners and/or families, their entire livelihood is dependent on it (McCorkle and Martin 1998, Köhler-Rollefson and Bräunig 1998, Souto et al 2011, 2011, Masimba et al 2012). The fifth issue is the distinction between witchcraft, herbalism and ritualism, practices that scare majority of the potential users of ethno knowledge. Witch medicine just like ritual medicine, whether or not it does more than make one healthy, it creates lust and knowledge, ecstasy and mythological insight (Müller-Ebeling et al 2003). Herbalism is familiar with people and normally acceptable but drawing a line between these three contentious practices has remained a mystery that sets a state of confusion and denies traditional medicine respect and its legal recognition in the society. Nevertheless, this state of affairs originates from the fact that indigenous African medicine is philosophically a holistic discipline involving extensive use of indigenous herbalism combined with various aspects of African nutritionalism, oathing, spiritualism, ritualism, zoopharmacognosy/zootherapy and witchcraft (Anon 2012). Probably, the most important and interesting part of the survey was the evaluation of the traditionally developed ethno control strategies of the community, ranging from magico-religious beliefs, herbalism to ritualism, a set of strategies equivalent to a modern integrated pest management (IPM) system as described by Alghali (1992). Ethno practitioners claimed that many of the herbal and ritual products used to control livestock ticks and manage animal ethno health are holistic in action (Martin et al 2001, Mathias-Mundy and McCorkle 1989) and therefore, have many positive values to offer to economically impoverished poor rural livestock farmers (Odindo 1991). Such a multipurpose intervention best fits the recent ascendancy of individual livestock owners as the main key players in livestock tick control programs, particularly following the withdrawal of subsidies by most African government agencies in the mid 1980s (Holden 1999, de Haan and Umali 1992).


It is imperative to note that these contentious issues have been debated in several international fora under the auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the World Trade Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) without eminent and sustainable solution being reached. The local/indigenous communities are not yet convinced even after several international resolutions and declarations have been made such as:-resolution on “Promoting the role of ethno medicines in health systems: A Strategy for the African Region” adopted by the WHO Regional Committee for Africa in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in 2000, the declaration on the Decade of African Traditional Medicines (2001–2010) by the Heads of State and government in Lusaka, Zambia in July 2001 during the 50th Session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa and the "Beijing Declaration," adopted on 8th November 2008 by participants at the first ever WHO Congress on Traditional Medicines, attended by experts from over 70 countries to promote the safe and effective use of ethno medicines and their integration into primary health care systems of member states and governments. These declarations and resolutions together with the one of the Alma Ata Declaration in 1978  show that the past three decades have seen some tremendous developments and in some cases, adoption of national legislation to protect indigenous knowledge in certain countries and regions. However, the legislation is still weak in many countries and the law is unknown to almost all the local/indigenous communities, which have the required ethno knowledge for tapping and documenting for future reference and use. The failure to resolve these five issues has hindered free sharing, conservation, research and sustainable utilization of the very important ethno knowledge, which end up disappearing in an unknown manner when people who possess the knowledge die without revealing it to anybody in the community.


Some Salient Characteristics Unique to the Bukusu Ethno knowledge



The application of ethno knowledge for the control of livestock ticks and management of animal ethno health is widespread in almost every ethnic group of the Bukusu community but as noted by one key respondent, your common ethno knowledge is not my common ethno knowledge”, philosophically implying that to another community, one’s traditional common knowledge is equivalent to imposed conventional knowledge.



In Bukusu community, ethno knowledge is held in three main levels, namely, (i), common/general ethno knowledge held by almost every adult member of the community, (ii), specific ethno knowledge held by certain community classes and/or professional groups such as hunters, age-groups, gatherers, livestock vendors, herders etc., and (iii), high-level quality ethno knowledge held by elderly trusted and committed ethno practitioners who are anointed and empowered by the community ancestors and spirits.



Anti-tick ethno knowledge (particularly anti-tick ethno botanicals), like any other system of traditional knowledge, is characteristically individual-specific, community/society-specific and geographical location-specific. Each geographical location and ethnic group has its own anti-tick ethno knowledge with unique specifications of application.



Any form of ethno knowledge is considered a remedial secret for living owners’ own economic survival and is not easily revealed to foreigners (mainly conventional researchers and bio prospectors). It exists amongst the trusted and committed friends only within the community.



It’s believed that the community ancestors and spirits own any type of ethno knowledge and that the living humans are considered only the custodian of the knowledge depending on ethnicity, age, sex, experience as an ethno practitioner and societal status.



Storage of ethno knowledge is largely by remembrance of factual ethno knowledge, is rarely recorded in books. This is the basis of its transmission from one generation to another with errors, particularly when some information has been forgotten.



Ethno knowledge is transmitted from one generation to another by word of mouth, only to a few trusted and committed individuals believed to be anointed by the ancestors and spirits in the community.



Ethno knowledge of the Bukusu community was found to exist in 7 major systems viz: - (1), herbalism (purely plant-derived material remedies), (2), ritualism (non-plant derived material remedies and/or a mixture of herbalism, zoopharmacognosy/ zootherapy and spiritualism), (3), Magico-religious system- based on religious beliefs (part of African spiritualism) and animal/plant offerings/sacrifices, (4), witchcraft  (use of either evil ancestors’ and spirits’ powers or magic to harm life of humans, animals and/or plants), (5), zoopharmacognosy and zootherapy (use of animals and animal parts as remedies), (6), ethnonutritionalism (use of food and food products providing health and medical benefits, including the prevention and treatment of diseases) and (7), oathing (is the last resort in seeking traditional remedy and involves all the above 6 types and reciting of specific words/statements by certain chosen individuals of a given ethnic group only). However, herbalism is the most favoured, widely accepted, recognized and used IK system.



This research was jointly supported by the International Foundation for Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, The Hague, The Netherlands through grants AB/12782-1 and AB/12782-2.  We greatly appreciate the work of Mr. Cylus Wekesa Lantana Sinino for helping in identifying key respondents. The author wish to acknowledge the financial and material support received from International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) while under the Dissertation Research Internship Program (DRIP). I wish to thank the reviewer of this manuscript most sincerely for making objective comments that helped my revision a great deal.  I wish to acknowledge the valuable input of medical anthropologist, Dr. Benson Mulemi of The Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Nairobi, Kenya for reading and revising the manuscript with passion and enthusiasms. l too also appreciate the co-operation of Bumgoma ethno practitioners, local primary schools, Bungoma County Veterinary Officer, Bungoma County Agricultural and Education Officers, local administration, village/clan elders and leaders, livestock farmers and Agricultural Extension Officers, throughout the study period.


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Received 3 July 2012; Accepted 12 September 2012; Published 1 October 2012

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