I just returned to the capital of Mauritania, Nouakchott, after spending the last eight days traveling to the vaccination sites that were part of the program we told you about here, here, and here. This trip was a follow-up to monitor the progress of the veterinary auxiliaries Spirit of America funded and to see how the initial round of deworming had gone. I am happy to report that this project has been very successful thus far and that your generous donations have gone a long way towards improving stability in the region.
As a brief refresher, Spirit of America has been working over the last year with a US Army Civil-Military Support Element (CMSE) on an initiative to improve livestock health in southern Mauritania, a country in western Africa. This strategically important area borders Mali, the heartland of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and a source of significant regional instability with global ramifications. Livestock health was targeted by the US team because it is vital to food security – cattle and other animals are the primary economic driver, as well as a main food source, in an area plagued by famine and drought. Improved food security leads to greater overall stability, which in turn helps counter the extremist threat.
An SoA-funded vet auxiliary works with a government vet to measure results of the vaccination demonstration
For this particular project, Spirit of America supported training for eleven veterinary auxiliaries, men from seven key communities who would take basic animal care knowledge back to their villages and serve as the first line of defense against diseases and parasites that decimate herds in this region (operating as private businessmen cooperating with the government to meet the needs of their communities). We also linked both them and the Mauritanian government veterinarian organization up with a leading pharmaceutical company who agreed to provide top quality medication for a cattle deworming demonstration project free of charge. These efforts were undertaken in conjunction with an ongoing US Army project to build vaccination parks, large corrals with narrow chutes that facilitate the rapid vaccination of large herds. Our combined initiatives – harnessing the power of both the public and private sectors in a collaborative effort – were designed to transform herd treatment in this critical area, thereby helping to forestall the spread of extremism.
The auxiliaries received their training this summer, and with their assistance, the initial phase of deworming was completed about three months ago. The purpose of this visit was to gauge the effectiveness of the deworming and to see how the auxiliaries were doing.
Wherever we went, curious village children followed our every move
The US Army team and I drove across almost the entire southern portion of Mauritania over the last eight days, traveling with the Mauritanian military and members of the national veterinary agency, CNERV. Mauritania is an incredibly diverse country: great sandy dunes give way to vast savannah, which in turn transforms into rocky plateaus dotted by oases of date palms, while along some parts of the borders with Senegal and Mali, the terrain is lush, verdant river valley. While there are no longer any exotic animals in the country, herds of cattle, goats, donkeys, and camels populate the landscape.
Field rep Isaac Eagan finds out how the last three months have gone for the auxiliaries in the village of Kendra
We spent about half a day at each site, speaking with the village elders and auxiliaries while CNERV collected results from the deworming demonstration and administered the second round of medication. The difference between the cattle who had been given the premium drug compared to those that had received either poor-quality counterfeits or none at all was profound: in the span of three months, adult animals had gained up to 200 pounds, while younger calves had grown by up to 100 pounds. These visible results made it easy for the herdsman to see that the brand name drug, while more expensive in the short term, would lead to improved herd health and greater income overall.
The auxiliaries were an integral part of this initiative. They had been almost universally embraced by their communities, providing services and medication where before there had been neither (in many rural Mauritanian areas, there is simply no veterinary care available, so herdsman must try to solve any issues that arise by themselves). In addition to performing basic diagnostics and administering correct dosages of appropriate medications as part of their business, they had also worked closely with regional government and livestock officials to identify disease trends and share other vital information; one auxiliary had even been seconded to a government disease eradication campaign. Having this expertise at the lowest level has been tremendously beneficial for the villages; as one elder told us, "this project is the engine of our business." The auxiliaries themselves recognized the importance of their work and were very enthusiastic about being able to contribute to the wellbeing of their communities in such an impactful manner.
At every village, we were presented with large bowls of fermented milk from the herds we treated
At the end of the trip, both the US Army team and I were very pleased with what we'd seen. Initiatives like this, while relatively small in scale, can have a tremendous positive impact on at-risk communities. Stabilizing regions adjacent to conflict zones like Mali is a key way to prevent the spread of violent extremism.
We are currently exploring more ways to reinforce the auxiliaries' knowledge and expand their skillsets so that they can continue to assist their villages. To contribute directly to this effort, please visit the project page here. As always, thank you for your support.