Winding down and starting up: Two four-year projects in Kenya

Improving the lives of Kenyan farming communities
| Atlantic Veterinary College
Dr. John Vanleeuwen, Department of Health Management, Atlantic Veterinary College, and Dr. Jennifer Taylor, Department of Applied Human Sciences, UPEI Faculty of Science
Hannah Hone and Chantal Doyle, AVC Class of 2023
Hannah Hone and Chantal Doyle, AVC Class of 2023

“We sure have come a long way…from being overwhelmed by the bustle and chaos of a Kenyan market day, to knowing our main vendors, bartering prices, and greeting familiar happy faces from the dairy farms along the way. And we really enjoyed working with the Kenyan dairy farmers to make their cows healthy, productive, and happy.”  
- Hanna Hone and Chantel Doyle, AVC Class of 2021, after their 2019 Kenyan internship 

It was a busy year of activities for faculty, staff, and students from UPEI, the University of Nairobi, and Kenyatta University (Kenya) participating in a program entitled “Integrated Innovative Research & Training for Improved Sustainable Livelihoods of Kenyan Farming Communities.” They are winding down the first four-year project, which improved human nutrition and cattle health, welfare, and productivity in Kenya, and starting up the second phase, also four years in length.” Both projects were funded primarily through the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarships Program, with support from the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre, Canadian and Kenyan pharmaceutical companies, and private donors.

The first project, worth $1.3 million, had 6 Kenyan graduate students involved in training and research projects successfully completing masters or PhD degrees at UPEI, 14 Canadian undergraduate students (eight veterinary and six nutrition) from UPEI helping the graduate students with their Kenyan research projects, student supervisory committees, translators, drivers, and local people involved in logistics. Farmers Helping Farmers, a PEI-based non-governmental organization, was a partner on the project as well, and their volunteers and staff provided logistical support. 

The direct beneficiaries for the project were the Naari Dairy Farmers Cooperative Society (NDFCS) and two women’s groups in Kenya. The three Kenyan veterinarians involved conducted research projects that identified the frequency, distribution, and determinants of nutrition, reproduction, and comfort of dairy cattle on smallholder dairy farms in Kenya. Two Kenyan nutritionists conducted research projects that assessed and enhanced the nutritional knowledge, attitudes, and practices (KAP) of the farmers belonging to the NDFCS and the women’s groups. The projects also explored options for training farmers using cell phone messaging. Benefits included better human nutrition and diet diversity, and improved cattle disease control, calf growth, and cow reproduction, welfare, and milk production through enhanced KAP.

The program team was thrilled to receive another four years of funding (2018-2021) for a second phase of research, worth $750,000. This second project involves 13 Canadian undergraduate students (seven veterinary and six nutrition) and three Kenyan graduate students scheduled to complete masters (Dr. Edward Kariuki and Julie Oyoo) or PhD (Dr. Daniel Muasya) degrees at UPEI. Their research projects in Kenya will explore the benefits and costs associated with vaccination for bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV and three other viruses); prevention of mastitis in recently calved dairy cows; and food-based nutrition education interventions incorporating nutritious crops from school gardens sponsored by Farmers Helping Farmers.

In May 2019, veterinary students Hanna Hone and Chantel Doyle and nutrition students Julia Heckbert and Haley Mackenzie from UPEI completed three-month internships in Kenya. The veterinary students worked with Dr. Daniel Muasya in his BVDV vaccination project and trained farmers in better cattle health management. The nutrition students worked with women’s groups and schools to improve the nutritional quality of meals served. They also assisted Julie Oyoo who conducted a needs assessment for her school intervention.  

It has been a pleasure to collaborate with so many people working enthusiastically to improve the lives of Kenyan farming communities. The changes are obvious, and the improvements are gratifying. We thank all those who have been a part of it. 

We started with a noteworthy quote, and we end with another…

“It has been a great learning experience, and we have hopefully helped some schools along the way to make dietary changes in order to get the best possible meals at school, given the many challenges they face!” 
 – Julia Heckbert and Haley Mackenzie, UPEI Nutrition Class of 2020, after their 2019 Kenyan internship 

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