BAIF Development Research Foundation


Key words and phrases:

animal health, community based animal health care, environment, ethnoveterinary medicine, indigenous knowledge, indigenous systems, participation, veterinary

Edited by:
Evelyn Mathias
D.V. Rangnekar
and Constance M. McCorkle
with the assistance of
Marina Martin

Published 1999 by BAIF Development Research Foundation, Pune, India 1999

BAIF Development Research Foundation
BAIF Bhavan, Dr. Manibhai Desai Nagar
Warje Malewadi (Bombay - Bangalore bypass highway)
Pune 411 029, India
Phone +91-212-365 494, fax: +91-212-366 788

BAIF is a non-political, secular non-governmental organisation involved in livestock development. BAIF's mission is to create opportunities of gainful self-employment for rural families, especially disadvantaged sections, ensuring sustainable livelihood, enriched environment, improved quality of life and good human health. This will be achieved through development research, effective use of local resources, extension of appropriate technologies and upgradation of skills and capabilities with community participation.

Correct citation:
Mathias, E., D.V. Rangnekar, and C.M. McCorkle. 1999. Ethnoveterinary Medicine: Alternatives for Livestock Development. Proceedings of an International Conference held in Pune, India, on November 4-6, 1997. Volume 1: Selected Papers. BAIF Development Research Foundation, Pune, India.

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Introduction: Whence and whither ER&D?
Constance M. McCorkle, D. V. Rangnekar, and Evelyn Mathias

Part 1: Applied studies of ethnoveterinary systems

Community-based research on local knowledge systems: The ANTHRA project on ethnoveterinary research

Community-based animal healthcare and ethnoveterinary medicine in Sudan
Stephen F. Ashdown and John Smith

Relation between ethnoveterinary and western knowledge in family-level livestock keeping (examples from Bolivia)
Katrien van't Hooft

Ethnoveterinary medicine in Kerala (South India)
V. Padmakumar

Ethnoveterinary studies among Tzotzil shepherdesses as the basis of a genetic improvement programme for Chiapas sheep
Raul Perezgrovas

Participatory studies with women on ethnoveterinary practices for livestock health management
Sangeeta Rangnekar

Aspects of farmers' knowledge, attitudes and practices of animal health problems in central Ethiopia
G. Wirtu, G. Adugna, T. Samuel, E. Kelbessa, and A. Geleto

Present state of the ethnoveterinary system in northwestern Bangladesh
M.I. Zuberi

Introduction: Whence and whither ER&D?

Constance M. McCorkle, D. V. Rangnekar, and Evelyn Mathias

Whence ER&D?

This introductory paper offers some reflections on the 'whence' and 'whither' of ethnoveterinary research and development (ER&D) based on the authors' professional experiences and background in the field.

Where and how did ER&D first come into being as a recognised and accepted area of research and development, in contradistinction to the 'high-tech' allopathic medicine of the western world? Introduced into developing countries by missionaries and colonising powers beginning around a century ago, in many instances allopathic medicine displaced local systems of animal (and human) healthcare or relegated them to a sort of 'superstitious underground'. Indeed, modern western medicine has challenged even age-old scholarly medical and veterinary traditions such as Ayurveda in India or Unani in Arabia. Yet many indigenous veterinary beliefs and practices persist, given that the benefits of centralised, high-tech-driven, and top-down approaches to animal healthcare have reached only a minority of the world's stockraisers and farmers. Until now, as little as 15-20% of the livestock population in developing nations has enjoyed any regular and affordable access to modern veterinary medicine. And in view of their struggling economies plus the everywhere-escalating costs of high-tech healthcare, there is little prospect that these percentages will change much in the foreseeable future.

Such immediate development issues as these, discussed during the Pune conference, were in fact raised early on, when modern medicine first began encroaching upon ethnoveterinary systems. Illustrating just from India, turn-of-the-century veterinary inspectors there pointed out that "European drugs are expensive and not available in rural areas" (Hirachandra 1924). A few other Indian veterinarians expressed similar views (e.g., Krishnamurthi 1946, Krishnaswamy 1945, Parera 1941) or studied specific local treatments (e.g., Mushtaq 1926, Naidu 1933, Sharma 1933). Likewise for some colonial veterinarians' reports in Africa and for contemporary medical and veterinary research in Latin America.

No matter where, however, such reports and studies initially received little attention or credence. As represented in formal publications, not until the 1980s did many western-world researchers and developers begin to take a serious and sustained scientific interest in traditional livestock healthcare systems and related management practices (e.g., for Africa, Sollod and Knight 1983; for Asia, FAO 1980; and for Latin America, McCorkle 1982). And not until 1986 did any published article appear acknowledging ER&D as an identifiable, cross-country field of study worthy of widespread international and interdisciplinary investigation (McCorkle 1986).

As it today recognised and conceptualised, ER&D cuts across many different disciplines and topics, but it focuses specifically upon the knowledge and needs of smallholders and the poor as versus richer farmers and stockraisers who can easily afford and access formal veterinary services. From a holistic perspective, ER&D includes not only treatments like herbal preparations, surgical interventions, indigenous vaccinations, and other standard veterinary topics that find parallels in local ethnomedical theory and practice. It also embraces, e.g.:

  • different peoples' ideas of disease causation and transmission, including zoonoses;
  • relatedly, religious and cultural attitudes, beliefs, and rituals, that make for different approaches to and practices in animal healthcare;
  • husbandry operations designed to prevent disease or promote fertility, reproduction, and overall good health;
  • people's perceptions of the relationship between environment and animal healthcare; and
  • the social organisation of animal healthcare, that is, who knows, uses, and does what in terms of traditional as versus modern veterinary medicine - e.g., rich vs. poor, women vs. men stockraisers, different kinds of healer-specialists, or varied biosocial units like households, camps, clans, elders, warrior age-grades, hunters, etc.

The foregoing list outlines just a few of the kinds of topics that were typically overlooked by most veterinary researchers and developers as falling into the domain of other disciplines - animal science, range management, ethnobotany, forestry, anthropology, sociology, or what-have-you. Nevertheless, all the topics are interlinked, in that they can all be directly relevant to a people's management of their animals' health, and hence also to the health and well-being of the people who keep animals (which is to say, the majority of people in the world...).

Today few scholars or developers would dispute the fact that local animal healthcare practices are often quite effective, more cost-efficient, and certainly more available, culturally comfortable, and comprehensible than western or northern, scientific or conventional ones (however one might define the latter). The 1980s and 1990s have witnessed a growing number of publications and student theses on ethnoveterinary medicine plus a respectable number of conferences and workshops on ER&D. The very fact of the Pune ethnoveterinary conference, the content of the papers presented, plus the donor, private-sector, and grassroots support the conference attracted - all attest to a 'healthy' new recognition of the value of sometimes age-old veterinary wisdom all around the world.

Indeed, between 1980 and now, a solid core of ethnoveterinary scientists and development workers has emerged, with representatives from every corner of the globe and from many different types of institutions. A number of these individuals and institutions have been systematically engaged in ER&D for some time. Given their recent proliferation, it is not possible to name all such entities, but at least a few of the major ones can be noted.

  • In the 1970s and down to the present, faculty and students of the College of Veterinary Medicine of Tufts University, USA, conducted research on ethnoveterinary medicine in Africa and other places. Since that time, a 'critical mass' of researchers interested in ER&D has grown up at other universities in the developing world. Examples include Ethiopia's Addis Ababa University, Nigeria's Ahmadu Bello University, Mexico's Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Chiapas, and Rwanda's University Centre for Research on Traditional Pharmacology and Medicine (CURPHAMETRA).
  • The Small Ruminant Collaborative Research Support Program or SR-CRSP - an US-funded multinational livestock development program - began its ER&D investigations in 1980 in Peru, later extending these to Indonesia and elsewhere.
  • Beginning in 1980, the Asia Office of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation initiated a ground-breaking series of studies on ethnoveterinary medicine in nine countries of Asia (FAO 1980).
  • Since the late 1980s, a consortium of Belgian and African universities has been hard at work on the ethnobotany and ethnopharmacology of traditional veterinary (and human) medicine in Africa, under the rubric of PRELUDE (Santé, Productions Animales et Environnement). This produced the first anthology on ER&D for Africa (Kasonia and Ansay 1994).
  • Several international NGOs have been real leaders in ER&D beginning in the 1980s and continuing until the present. They include, e.g., Heifer Project International (based in the US), Intermediate Technology Development Group (headquartered in the UK), and the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction (based in the Philippines).
  • In 1996 the first scholarly anthology of ER&D worldwide appeared edited by an international team of anthropologist and veterinarians from university, World Bank, and NGO background (McCorkle et al. 1996).
  • Also in the 1990s, Government livestock research and extension organisations in various countries began to take a serious interest in ER&D, sometimes working in tandem with national NGOs. One example is the 1996 addition of a section of Traditional Pharmacy and Veterinary Medicine to the National Livestock Direction of the West African nation of Guinea-Conakry (Somopogul 1998). Another good example is BAIF's work in India in association with groups like the National Dairy Development Board and local NGOs (Rangnekar 1996).

Meanwhile, a 'second generation' of ethnoveterinarians has been born. This generation is comprised of both First and Third World students who have recently completed or who are now embarking on ER&D studies all around the world, based out of some of the universities just mentioned, plus others like Harvard or the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine in Scotland. At the same time, internet sites and global databases on ethnoveterinary medicine and alternative or adjunct therapies and issues have begun to spring up (see the annex Resources). Along with the wide range and numbers of professionals (including local healers) who were present at the ethnoveterinary conference in Pune, all these events stand as witness to the vitality of one of the most exciting fields of research and (especially) development to have emerged during the final decades of the present millennium.

Whither ER&D?

As we approach the Year 2000, however, the question of 'whither ER&D' arises. What are the next steps or new directions ER&D should take?' The first answer that comes to mind is 'towards increased holism'. By this is meant that, in order to have a real impact and make a real difference, ER&D needs to strengthen many linkages of many different kinds and to build new linkages with a greater diversity and disciplines.

Interdisciplinary linkages

Implicit in the notion of holism is that of interdisciplinarity. The Pune conference was fortunate to have in attendance the full mix of veterinary disciplines (like parasitologists, microbiologists, and so forth) plus animal scientists and geneticists, anthropologists and rural sociologists, ethnobotanists, pharmacologists, and representatives of still other disciplines. This mix is critical because, when it comes to solving real-world problems, solutions do not come in little disciplinary boxes. It takes many different kinds of scientists along with still other kinds of professionals putting all their little boxes together to make any real difference in livestock development. That is, a difference that leads ultimately to increased quality of life for human beings - which should be the goal of any development initiative.

A classic example of the need for greater interdisciplinarity is the vitiating split between veterinary medicine and animal science. In academia as well as in development organisations like FAO, for some reason these disciplines are often perceived as being at loggerheads and as having essentially distinct natures. But each has valuable inputs to make into practical animal healthcare, whether on the side of therapy or prophylaxis. Together, they can offer producers a much wider range of often mutually reinforcing healthcare options which either discipline alone cannot. To this list we can also add animal genetics and range management.

All these disciplines ultimately speak to animal health and well-being. But they don't always speak to each other. Veterinarians may indeed identify a valid traditional pharmacotherapy to treat some vexing livestock disease. But animal or range scientists may be able to identify a traditional non-pharmacological practice somewhere that, if adopted, could forestall the disease in question in the first place. Or, breeders and geneticists may identify traditional or so-called 'antique' breeds of livestock that tolerate or resist the disease. If all these disciplines work together closely, they might well come up with a 'package' of ethnoveterinary interventions that is more powerful than any one intervention or they may be able to offer a broader range of healthcare options to stockraisers.

Other groups that need to be drawn closer into ER&D are ethnobotanists, pharmacologists, and clinical scientists. Medicinal properties and the efficacy of plants can vary with the growth stage, season, soil, and climate - facts that are reflected in the recommendations on the collection of plant material and rituals prescribed in the ancient literature in India. Ethnobotanists are familiar with such influences on a plant's efficacy and can provide guidance on the collection, processing, and storage of medicinal plants and on the identification of new plants. Pharmacologists and clinical scientists, on the other hand, are essential in studying the efficacy of medicinal plants for livestock. While studies on the biochemical composition of plants are valid in both human and animal medicine, efficacy and dosages need to be determined for each individual species due to physiological differences between species. Validation of ethnoveterinary medicines in non-laboratory animals is still in its infancy and needs to be greatly expanded. However, this is expensive and it would be foolish to overlook the fact that farmers have used many of the remedies for ages under field conditions. Tapping their experience and knowledge can help to target and streamline pharmacological and clinical studies.

With their special skills in field interviewing, social networking, and translating across cultures (including disciplinary cultures), anthropologists and sociologists can assist in all such efforts at identifying potentially useful local information, beliefs, practices, and breeds. Social scientists are also key players when it comes to determining what kinds or parts of packages are within the reach of what kinds of stockraisers for which species and under what particular cultural or socio-economic circumstances. However, greater advantage still needs to be taken of social analysis, particularly in investigating how traditional socio-organisational structures might be brought to bear on strategies to prevent and control livestock disease, e.g.: in instituting community-wide systems of rotational grazing; in promoting herd dispersal across different social units to limit the risk of herd decimation from disease; in sharing studs among different groups in an area, to ward against inbreeding, build up disease resistance, or otherwise improve herds; in establishing apprenticeship systems whereby the younger generation can acquire their elders' ethnoveterinary savvy before it disappears; and so forth.

While working to bring together such disciplines as the foregoing - who are already engaged in ER&D - the field also needs to build linkages to others not yet involved. Economics is one. Notably lacking in ER&D to date are credible formal studies that compare the costs and benefits of choosing ethnoveterinary alternatives over conventional ones. In India, where the commercial exploitation of traditional, especially herbal, medicine has started at a large level, it appears that commercially prepared herbal medicines are sometimes more expensive than their allopathic equivalents. It might be much cheaper for farmers or farmer groups to prepare their own remedies for selected diseases than to buy commercially produced traditional medicines. Cost-benefit studies are urgently needed to understand under which conditions ethnoveterinary medicine indeed provides cheap alternatives. Only when we know under which conditions ethnoveterinary medicine is advantageous and how it can be best used, will we be able to involve other important groups that are needed to carry ER&D forward into the next millennium: political scientists and policymakers and analysts. Experts in these fields advise on or make decisions about how to spend scarce research and extension monies. If the economics of an ethnoveterinary intervention can be shown under certain conditions to be superior to a conventional, imported, high-tech one, then policymakers can be persuaded to devote more funds and personnel to research, development, and extension of alternative rather than conventional animal healthcare options.

Intersectoral linkages

Another kind of linkage ER&D needs to work on is that across sectors. Three sectors in particular come to mind: environment, education, and human medicine.


There are many indications that much of ethnoveterinary medicine may be environmentally more friendly than its western equivalents, with fewer negative impacts on the health of humans, wildlife, and habitats as well as the health of livestock. Most examples in support of this statement are rather complex to describe, because so many different variables are involved. But let's take the case of dipping against ectoparasites, as it has played out in many parts of Africa.

Powerful chemical dipping compounds have been found to create a number of problems, for reasons such as: unscrupulous vendors who sell adulterated, fraudulent, or expired products; stockraisers who are unfamiliar with dipping procedures, dosages, and dangers; producers who want to save money on dipping expenses and thus purposely under-dose; potent dip mixtures that are too strong for smaller, weaker local animals; and more. Some of the environmental and other problems that can result include the following:

  • Dip runoff may pollute local drinking water supplies for people, their livestock, and wildlife.
  • Species of ox-peckers and cowbirds may die out from eating ticks off recently dipped animals.
  • Stockraisers run health risks from mis-handling dipping compounds.
  • Dipping itself can reduce natural immunities in livestock, such that if dipping is suspended, herd losses to ectoparasites are greater than if dipping had never been introduced.
  • Dips that are mixed too weak or compounds that have been adulterated by unscrupulous vendors may lead, in the long term, to increased chemoresistance in the pests they are designed to combat, thus exposing livestock to new threats.
  • Alternatively, if the dip is mixed too strong, animals may be literally dipped to death.
  • Adding insult to injury, World Bank studies in Africa have found that dipping is often cost-ineffective. It adds little to animal productivity and a lot to input costs (Haan and Bekure 1991).

Research worldwide has identified many ethnoveterinary solutions to the problem of ectoparasite control that - often in a 'package' - work as well as, or are at least more cost-effectively as, dipping. These may consist of home-made washes and dips that use less biostable and biocumulative natural materials. Sometimes traditional pesticide strategies involve companion species and simple biological controls - like placing birds in buffaloes' quarters to peck off ticks, or like herding ducks through a pasture to clear it of infective pests before turning animals out to graze in it. And a feature of many indigenous systems of ectoparasite control is ecologically sensitive avoidance of times, places, and forages when/where the infective agents abound.

Clearly, ER&D has a contribution to make to environmental protection. Conversely, since environment is such a 'hot topic' now, donor monies ear-marked for environmental initiatives may provide a new source of funding for ER&D that addresses the kinds of managerial, biological, and non-pharmacological aspects of traditional animal healthcare illustrated in the preceding paragraphs. Such practices represent one of the most under-researched areas in ER&D. So, this field is wide-open for enterprising scholars and developers to make a significant contribution, perhaps working in conjunction with other disciplines such as ecology, ethology, and entomology.

Research on interactions between ethnoveterinary medicine and the environment is also necessary for another reason. If the use of ethnoveterinary herbals increases, plant resources could become overexploited, and counter measures such as growing herbs in kitchen gardens would then need to be developed. In fact, such activities are already underway for veterinary and human herbals by HPI in Cameroon and other organisations in India.


The second sector is education. Once valid and economical ethnoveterinary options have been identified, one way of widely and effectively extending them is to include them in the curricula of rural schools. This is a win-win strategy, because it also addresses the acute lack of appropriate, life-relevant curricular material in rural schools around the world. Throughout Francophone Africa, for example, rural children sit in hot classrooms learning about French history and geography instead of about African history and techno-ecology - including practical ethnoveterinary methods from around the continent that they could take home and put to work themselves.

Links to education need to be forged in another sense as well, by including training in the conduct of, and findings from, ER&D within university faculties of veterinary medicine and animal science. Similarly, valid ethnoveterinary alternatives need to be incorporated into training for any veterinary or paraveterinary extensionists, whether governmental or NGO.

Human medicine

The third sector ER&D should more actively link with is human medicine. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set the goal of providing 'Health Care for All' by the Year 2000. To have any hope whatsoever of achieving this goal, WHO has recognised to need to draw upon all possible healthcare resources, including non-western medical traditions and their practitioners. Indeed, WHO estimates that 80% to 90% of the world's population still rely mainly on local practitioners and 'folk' medicine for the bulk of their human healthcare needs (Duke 1992). These figures are likely about the same for livestock.

At the same time, WHO and WHO/FAO Expert Committees have repeatedly recommended that formal human and veterinary health services be integrated as fully as possible, especially for hard-to-reach rural populations and their livestock (Schwabe 1998). Where such intersectoral co-operation has been implemented, it has resulted in cost-savings, improved services overall, and broader outreach to both people and animals.

There is no logical reason why the same kind of joint action should not incorporate ethnoveterinary treatments and practitioners. Indeed, under the original 'one medicine' concept, most local practitioners deal with both humans and animals anyway - just as did veterinarians and medical doctors in frontier America. Furthermore, in all medical traditions - western or non-western - much the same treatments and techniques are applied to all species (McCorkle and Martin 1998). Thus, wherever appropriate, demonstrably valuable traditional treatments for animals could readily be encouraged and extended to humans, and vice versa.

A good example is provided by PRELUDE in Rwanda. There, a traditional and highly effective remedy for scabies in cattle was successfully and cost-effectively reformulated for local production and use in human scabies (Puylvede 1994). Conversely, in highland Peru veterinarians compounded an effective endoparasiticide for sheep from a proven traditional recipe for intestinal parasites in humans (McCorkle 1996). In like vein, any traditional treatments that are harmful for both animals and humans could be discouraged, and appropriate alternatives extended in their stead. A simple example is some ethnomedical traditions' withdrawal of drinking water from livestock and children suffering from diarrhoea. In such cases, healthcare trainers and practitioners could 'kill two birds with one stone', as it were, by extending basic first-aid information that applies across species.

Valuable analogies can also be drawn between existing ethnomedical techniques and any conventional equivalents that it is desirable to extend, whether in veterinary or human medicine. For example, in Africa, healthcare workers' analogising with indigenous vaccinations for livestock made it easy for stockraisers to understand and accept modern vaccines for themselves, as well as for their animals.

Intercultural linkages

At least two kinds of intercultural linkages that ER&D should explore and expand are techno-blending, and what might be termed conceptual blending.


This refers to the functional interlinking of information and skills from different knowledge bases - like animal and human medicine (as in the Rwanda example), or conventional science and ethnoscience. 'Ethnoscience' is the anthropological term for what developers more typically call local or indigenous technical knowledge. Each of these two types of science has much to give to the other, although neither is perfect - as we saw for the western technique of dipping. Via what is called techno-blending, however, the two can profit from each other.

In its simplest form, techno-blending may consist merely of scientists' working with stockraisers to rescue disappearing knowledge, find new uses for old techniques, or make existing local treatments a little more powerful or systematic. Illustrating again from ER&D work in Peru (McCorkle 1996), there scientists and stockraisers worked with an old-time local therapy for lice in equines and bovines that consisted of a tobacco-leaf rub to turn it into an cheap, effective, and environmentally safe prophylactic dip for kids in ovines. In another experiment, scientists were able to help Peruvian stockraisers recover a forgotten prescription for a squash-seed vermifuge in livestock, based on research and reformulation of the equivalent traditional treatment for gastrointestinal parasites in humans. In yet another case, via participatory action research on family herds, Peruvian stockraisers discovered more effective preparation methods and dosing regimes for a local plant-based flukicide.

Going the other way around, in working with ethnoscience, western medical/veterinary science may discover 'new' drugs or discover new uses for known drugs by learning from local practices. Or, as has become the case with veterinary acupuncture in the US, whole traditions of ethnomedicine may be taken up by conventional science.

Conceptual blending

The idea of conceptual blending has been borrowed in part from the emerging study of bioethics. Besides just technology, cultures have much to share with each other with respect to ideas about animal-human relationships. This is a complex topic that ethnoveterinarians are only now beginning to explore for its application to animal health. An example is non-western ways of treating and handling sick animals that, in addition to more empirical, biomedical interventions, often include such seemingly extra-medical actions as singing to the patient, praying or chanting over the animal, stroking or massaging it, and so forth. It is quite possible that such adjunct actions may soothe the patient, reducing stress or encouraging generalised immunogenic or other positive physiological responses. Another example is humane means of traditional slaughter - means that, again, may reduce stress and fear-responses in the selected animal and in its flock- or herd-mates.

Our formal scientific knowledge of animal ethology and especially of animal (or for that matter, human) psychosomatics is as yet sketchy. But such issues offer tantalising research possibilities, especially in light of, e.g.: the rich ethnographic record on people's beliefs about animal souls and psyches in relation to livestock health; emerging research on stress, disease, and behaviour patterns in humans in the context of complementary treatments such as massage and aromatherapy; and research findings such as cows' giving more milk when exposed to soothing music. It is highly likely that the so-called developed world has some important lessons to learn for animal healthcare from the cultures and religions of stockraisers in developing countries like India, Mexico, and Peru when it comes to livestock-human interactions.

Inter-institutional linkages

The discussion of the 'whence' of ER&D highlighted the many different kinds of organisations have been involved in this field of study. These have ranged from United Nations units like FAO and WHO, through universities, government livestock and extension agencies, NGOs, and certain segments of the private sector (such as dairy operations and pharmaceutical houses specialising in natural medicines). Other entities that belong on this list include botanical and zoological gardens (some of the latter now treat zoo animals with traditional therapies), rare-breeds societies, wildlife reserves, and a multitude of professional organisations like those that now exist in the USA and Europe for holistic veterinary medicine, veterinary acupuncture, veterinary homoeopathy, and in India for Ayurvedic medicine. Neither should we forget that local organisations and farmer groups are valuable partners in ER&D. Also, in many countries of the developing world (especially Africa), national associations of local medical/veterinary practitioners exist or are now forming. Experiences from a growing number of community-based healthcare projects indicate that involving local healers and training them in the use of some modern medicines and techniques can increase the healthcare coverage of livestock projects. Local people's faith in their own healers influences their acceptance of medical interventions.

ER&D needs to find ways to interlink these different groups in order to foster awareness of the value (and also sometimes the shortcomings) of the ethnoveterinary savvy that exists worldwide, and to win their support in putting this treasure of knowledge into action to the benefit of human, animal, and environmental health and productivity around the globe, and especially for the peoples who originated and stewarded this knowledge. This is no small task, but the timing is favourable: the trend is towards decentralisation of services, maximising the use of indigenous knowledge, local expertise, and local knowledge in order to minimise the dependence on external inputs. Besides, with the information age upon us, with development emphases on civil society and grassroots organisations, and with the growing body of professionals involved in ER&D, there is reason to expect that such linkages will become increasingly feasible and fertile. To this end, one outcome of the ethnoveterinary conference in Pune has been a worldwide electronic mailing and information-exchange network on ER&D (see the annex Resources), via which we can continue to share and explore new findings in ethnoveterinary medicine as it moves forward into the next millennium.


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Somopogul, A. S. 1998. Médecine vétérinaire traditionnelle: Note de synthése des activités. Le N'Dama: Journal du Sous-Réseau PRELUDE Santé, Productions Animales et Environnement 11/12(1&2):4-7.


Community-based research on local knowledge systems: The ANTHRA project on ethnoveterinary research



ANTHRA is a non-government organisation (NGO) active in the field of livestock development in India. Since May 1996 it has been involved in a detailed and extensive research project on traditional veterinary and animal management practices evolved by different livestock rearing rural communities. The project especially focuses on gender issues and the role of women in livestock rearing. The overall goal is to understand and integrate the beneficial aspects of local knowledge systems and expertise in an appropriate way into ongoing livestock development programmes.

To understand the differences across agro-ecological zones, this study covers six distinct regions of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. It also looks at differences across communities and castes of livestock rearers as well as between species of livestock reared.


Livestock farmers all over India can draw on over 4000 years of knowledge and experience conserved in oral histories and traditions amongst different groups. Over time, this information has got scattered, diffused, or is not used any longer. However, traditional practices still form the building blocks on which the foundations of development lie. Unless they are understood in their entirety, sustainable development becomes difficult. This understanding is necessary not merely for those of us who actively work in the field of development. It is also important that people who practice these systems, understand them, analyse them, and are able to make a conscious and informed choice of the development path they would like in their region. This research study has tried to foster this process through several activities outlined in this paper.

Training of local research workers

In each of the six regions of study, ANTHRA has been associated with a collaborating community-based organisation (CBO) or NGO. Animal health workers (AHWs) from each organisation have been trained to document local knowledge systems pertaining to animal health and ethnoveterinary practices, animal nutrition, animal breeding, and local production systems and markets. The specific role of women and gender issues in different livestock rearing systems have been studied and documented. Documentation techniques include written records, case histories, participatory rural appraisal (PRA) techniques, photo documentation and herbariums. Field workers have been trained in all these documentation techniques.

The AHWs have simultaneously been trained on primary veterinary healthcare which includes a mix of modern and local techniques. In turn, the AHWs facilitate the training of their village communities.

This method has had many advantages:

  • These field workers are present at their villages at all times throughout the agricultural year and thus documentation reflects seasonal variations.
  • People are more willing to talk to and share information with someone they know and recognise.
  • Language barriers do not exist.
  • The approach evokes a lot of local interest initiating the process of debate amongst the local communities about their problems.
  • Involvement of the local person has ensured acceptability of the programme, research study, and ANTHRA.
  • Documentation at the local level has also meant the beginnings of a community register of local knowledge and resources prepared by the community and available to them. This ensures that their knowledge is safeguarded as belonging to the community and prevents future appropriation for ends other than those benefiting the community.
  • A local person is on the spot to address emergency situations in the village such as the outbreak of a disease.

The disadvantages have been: while documentation has been precise, it has been slow as these field workers are documenting and keeping records for the first time. Therefore schedules for documentation have been difficult to maintain.

Study of use and practice of ethnoveterinary medicine across the six regions

Based on a questionnaire, the ANTHRA team interviewed over 400 farmer families from approximately 54 villages in different parts of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra on their perceptions of ethnoveterinary medicine. The aim of this study was to assess the relevance and relative importance of this system of animal treatment across different regions. The major observations are summarised here.

Almost all the farmers had used ethnoveterinary treatments at some time for their animals. Specific treatments were found for at least 66 diseases of livestock including horses, camels, and donkeys and 14 diseases of poultry.

Of the 598 farmers interviewed, 508 (84.6%) treated their animals primarily with ethnoveterinary medicine ('users'), while 90 (15.4%) did not use ethnoveterinary medicine at all ('non-users'). This information was further analysed across states and gender but the use patterns did not vary significantly (Table 1).

Table 1. Use of ethnoveterinary medicine among 598 farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.


Users %

Non users %

Andhra Pradesh (n = 318)



Maharashtra (n = 280)



Women (n = 120)



Men (n = 478)



The major reasons cited for using the ethnoveterinary treatment system in order of importance were as follows:

  1. People believe in the system and have been using it for a long time.
  2. It costs less as the plants grow in the region while veterinary doctors when available charge enormous fees.
  3. It is very effective and works quickly.
  4. It cures many diseases.
  5. It is easily available.
  6. It works quickly and results in a more permanent cure.
  7. Veterinary hospitals are far away and other treatment systems such as 'modern veterinary' facilities and veterinary doctors are not available near their villages. It was found that most people use western allopathic medicine that is primarily available from local government dispensaries only in emergency conditions or if the animal does not respond to ethnoveterinary treatment.
  8. It is safe to use while 'modern' veterinary medicine when used did not cure conditions and sometimes even introduced new conditions; for example, when wrongly used, vaccinations did not prevent disease and the use of unclean injection needles in rural areas led to problems more severe than the original condition.

District level analysis indicated that proximity to veterinary clinics was not the most important factor for using traditional ethnoveterinary medicines as we had hypothesised and as is a common assumption amongst the mainstream veterinary service. In villages which could draw on the services of a nearby veterinary clinic, people used the facility for vaccinations, surgical cases, and a few complicated cases but preferred ethnoveterinary medicine for routine cases afflicting their animals. In more remote villages in the Western and Eastern Ghats only ethnoveterinary medicine was used.

The following disease conditions common to both states were most frequently treated with ethnoveterinary treatments:

  • Bloat, colic, diarrhoea, pneumonia, ephemeral fever, foot-and-mouth disease, blackquarter, haemorrhagic septicaemia, footrot, and snake bite.
  • Additionally in Andhra Pradesh: debility, different kinds of swellings (abscesses, cysts, tumours, oedemas, etc.), maggot wounds, and fractures.
  • Additionally in Maharashtra: dysentery, anorexia, stomatitis, and wounds.

The 15% of the respondents who did not use ethnoveterinary medicine cited the following reasons:

  • Animals had not fallen sick.
  • Lack of belief in the system.
  • Local healer not available to administer cure.
  • Diseases do not get cured.
  • Hospital facilities available close by.

Ethnoveterinary knowledge: gender and community differences

When comparing ethnoveterinary knowledge across different groups, the following trends were observed. In most cases it was the local healer and the farmer him or herself who treated the animals. It was also observed that women preferred traditional remedies and were more knowledgeable than men about household medicines for routine diseases. Women were also more knowledgeable about the care of young, pregnant and lactating animals and poultry.

Traditional semi-nomadic animal rearing communities like the Dhangars and Kurumas had more knowledge about ethnoveterinary remedies than other groups. Similarly tribal farmers who live in forests abundant with medicinal plants, have great knowledge on traditional treatments.

Men were found to have greater knowledge on surgical conditions like fractures, snake bite etc. than women.

Younger members of the community neither had the knowledge nor the experience to practice ethnoveterinary medicine effectively. They essentially preferred a system which produced quick results.

Difficulties in practising ethnoveterinary medicine

Although a distinct preference to ethnoveterinary medicine was noted, many families also expressed increasing difficulty practising it.

The main difficulties expressed were:

  • Plants used for treatment are getting scarce and are not available in the summer.
  • Not enough experienced people or healers are available.
  • Preparation of medicines is time consuming.
  • Emerging diseases like enterotoxaemia in cattle and blue tongue in sheep have no traditional cures.
  • Excessive use of chemicals in agriculture such as pesticides and fertilisers results in animals not responding to treatment.
  • There is confusion between superstitious beliefs (bhoot vaidya) and ethnoveterinary treatment.

Most farmers expressed a desire to learn more about the proper use and application of ethnoveterinary systems as these were economically, socially, and culturally more acceptable for marginalised communities.

Farmers who were interviewed suggested different methods for the dissemination of this knowledge:

  • Booklets, pamphlets etc.
  • Creative methods including theatre and songs.
  • Paravets should be trained to use and prescribe ethnoveterinary medicine.
  • Healers should get together, share information, and help train others.
  • Medicinal plants must be grown in kitchen gardens and community plots.
  • Processed and prepared ethnoveterinary medicines must be sold in villages.

Conclusions of the study of ethnoveterinary medicine

The study revealed that ethnoveterinary medicine continues to have strong roots amongst the local community. Farmers believe it provides a permanent and safe cure for a select range of commonly occurring diseases but it does not have answers for many 'newly emergent diseases'. It is also less successful in treating fatal contagious diseases. Major problems identified by farmers in the current practice of ethnoveterinary medicine such as 'lack of medicinal plants and local healers' pose a major threat in the sustainability of ethnoveterinary healing in rural India. The perceptions of farmers provide important insights for practical strategies in future development interventions in the area.

Working with local experts

Through the course of this project we have identified local experts in the field of livestock healthcare. These healers or local resource persons have enabled the documentation process enormously and given very valuable insights. In turn, the process of documentation has also benefited the healers as these meetings have given them the opportunity to get together, exchange knowledge between themselves, discuss their constraints and problems, and also learn new techniques and approaches for conditions for which they do not have answers.

ANTHRA is in the process of compiling a healers' directory which profiles the local healers in terms of their personal bio-data, experience in treatment, areas of specialisation, and problems experienced as healers. It also includes information on diseases the healers cannot cure. This directory will be available for each region in the local language.

Taking knowledge back to the community

The ultimate goal of the programme is to take validated indigenous knowledge back to the communities in the form of appropriate educational aids. However, even at the documentation stage, information from the different areas is being shared with the communities through a variety of audio-visual aids. Village yatras and fairs are being organised to share this information. These have generated and evoked a favourable local response. When people see their own surroundings, the biodiversity, the environmental implications of losing this biodiversity if it is not preserved, documented in print, photograph, slide or herbarium, it initiates debate and discussion and also respect for their knowledge systems. Seeing information and documentation of other regions but located within the same state or a neighbouring state, exposes the community to new ideas and encourages them to experiment and evolve. It further enables people to actively participate in the development of educational aids which are ultimately designed for them.

This project has also helped younger members of the community to appreciate their environment and the biodiversity they have inherited. They have also learned about traditions which their forefathers once practised and they have now lost. The ecological, cultural, and social implications of this could have an extremely positive impact in strengthening rural livelihoods.

Community-based animal healthcare and ethnoveterinary medicine in Sudan

Stephen F. Ashdown and John Smith

CBAH efforts in Sudan

Civil strife across the past 15 years in Sudan has led to the collapse of basic government services in much of the country, leaving efforts like UNICEF's Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) plus those of its associated NGOs and various other, international NGOs as the main service providers. These efforts rely heavily on training local people themselves to provide services. In the livestock sector, the goal is to establish sustainable community-based animal healthcare (CBAH) systems that also support the eradication of rinderpest as per the government's Pan-African Rinderpest Campaign (PARC).

Fortunately, most of the populations targeted for assistance are long-time stockraisers, who thus control a wealth of ethnoveterinary knowledge and expertise. Equally fortunately, all the organisations working in CBAH in Sudan support the premise that successful training of CBAH workers, or 'paravets', must start by understanding local veterinary knowledge and practice, including the way people use modern medicines. In these regards, although varying in methods and approach, CBAH programmes countrywide include respect for and promotion of traditional methods of disease prevention and treatment in their curricula. In addition, CBAH programmes seek to reduce the reliance on project-supplied commercial drugs by instead linking paravets in with private pharmacies and other sustainable sources of veterinary drugs.

Such locally informed CBAH training methods and programmatic approaches are now well-established in southern Sudan. Training has produced good results, although the proportion of paravets and vaccinators who cease working after a year is sometimes disappointing. In northern Sudan, the emphasis has so far been on rinderpest vaccination. But UNICEF is now gearing up for paravet training there by conducting research on local veterinary practices and preferences and on drug supply and distribution networks there.

In furtherance of the trend to include stockraisers' own perceptions and experience in CBAH programs in Sudan, this paper highlights selected findings from the author's UNICEF-supported investigations in two areas of the north among mostly Arab peoples.. The conclusion then compares and contrasts these findings with those from parallel studies among Nilotic (Dinka, Nuer) peoples in the south (Adolf et al. 1996, Linquist et al. 1996) and from research on medicinal plants of Sudan (Andrews et al. 1957a, b, and c, El Ghazali et al. 1986, 1987, 1994, and 1997). Also noted in passing are overlaps between livestock and human ethnomedicine.

Veterinary knowledge and practice in Northern Sudan

The Butana Region

Butana is an isolated desert region of northeastern Sudan that supports camel, sheep, and goat herding. The region is inhabited by a wide variety of pastoral groups, among whom the Shukria predominate. Together with a selection of local stockraisers, six traditional healers were interviewed in Butana during the author's five-day visit there. Interviewees named and discussed 37 different diseases and 38 types of treatment.

According to interviewees, the most common and deadly ill of small ruminants is diarrhoea, which they traditionally treat with a drench made from Acacia nilotica pods, sometimes along with lemon or lime juice. People say the drench is usually effective; but urbanised stockraisers now prefer antibiotic boluses.

There is also an urban/rural split on the use of modern versus traditional immunisations for contagious caprine pleuropneumonia (CCPP): The home-made crude vaccine (made from lung tissue of a diseased animal) is widely used mainly in rural areas. For pneumonia in small ruminants, interviewees all agree that antibiotics out-perform traditional treatments.

Conversely, for helminthosis people prefer traditional cures, such as adding sodium carbonate mined from nearby hills or Citrullus colocynthis seeds to the drinking water of their livestock. In support of this preference, some stockraisers described how their sodium-carbonate treatment proved best when they compared their traditional remedies with store-bought ones like tetramizole and albendazole in self-designed trials.

For trypanosomosis in cattle, the most popular traditional remedy is cauterisation of the abdomen. Healers reckon that about 50% of affected cattle respond to this treatment. Few interviewees claim to be able to cure trypanosomosis in camels, however. But all could diagnose it by weakness, emaciation, blackening of the skin, a certain odour in the urine, and the way in which flies settle on the skin.

Cauterisation is also prescribed for mastitis (along with applications of salt and oil to the udder) and for cricked necks and a certain circling disease in camels.

Treatments for camel mange consist of topical applications of C. colocynthis tar or the oil extracted from Agnosceles versicolor beetles. The latter oil is also used for human mange caught from sheep.

Bloat in cattle can be treated with a preparation of the parasitic witchweed Striga hermonthica. Two types of bloat are recognised in camels. Treatments include drenching with goat urine or (sometimes intra-nasally) sesame oil, or feeding Coronopus niloticus seeds or water-soaked onions. Some interviewees said the most important cause of mortality in their animals, especially cattle, is ingestion of plastic bags. Drenching with oil is considered effective if done early enough. And in one village, there was a healer who specialised in the rectal removal of such foreign bodies.

In discussing ethno-obstetrics, interviewees described how they cut their nails and lubricate their hands before correcting dystocia or replacing prolapsed uteri. In the latter operation, the uterus is first washed with salt and milk. Milk is also used to cleanse the uterus after birth. For persistent post-partum vaginal discharge, the vagina and uterus are flooded with a decoction of A. nilotica pods and salt. Antibiotics may also be injected. A drench of strong tea or Coronopus niloticus seeds is given for retained placenta. Finally, fractures are splinted with Calotropis procera wood.

Southern Darfur

During two week's interviewing in and around five towns of Southern Darfur among Fellata, Hebaniya, Beni Helba, and Ta'aisha pastoralists plus older government animal-health technicians, 35 animal health conditions were described along with 74 traditional treatment possibilities. Most of this information came from Fellata, who are famous for their ethnoveterinary skills, and from the technicians. Other groups were reticent to share their knowledge with an unknown outsider. Herbalists (habir mashia or shadari) treat both humans and livestock in southern Darfur, but none were encountered during fieldwork. Likewise for specialised local horse and donkey doctors. However, technicians described traditional treatments for equine colic, muscle and back damage, bruising, and African Horse Sickness.

By far the most popular veterinary treatment in Darfur is cauterisation. It is used for diarrhoea, arthritis, mastitis, bovine farcy, trypanosomosis, retained placenta, fractures, and many other diseases. The author observed one patient with chronic bovine farcy that had at least 30 separate burns on each side of its body.

In all five towns and their environs, indigenous lung-tissue vaccines for CCPP and contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP) are widely employed. Mortality from these vaccines is reportedly low; and in fact, there is little CCPP or CBPP in southern Darfur.

For foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), pastoralists use a different vaccination technique in which saliva from the mouth of an infected animal is passed to the mouth of a healthy one. FMD lesions are commonly dressed with honey or glycerine. Footrot lesions are treated with A. nilotica preparations. A valued topical application for rain scald and mange consists of boiled and filtered sorghum ash. An alternative is evaporated cow or camel urine.

As a purge for gastrointestinal parasites and sand, at the start of each rainy season Darfur pastoralists graze their animals on a certain shrub, which is found only in a limited area and which, they say, is effective only at the very beginning of the season. Although it causes diarrhoea, the shrub simultaneously improves milk production and overall animal health, say herders. At the start of each dry season, Darfur pastoralists take care to dose their stock with a special type of salt mined in northern Darfur, which is said to act as a vermifuge. This salt is also used in conjunction with certain surgical procedures for musculo-skeletal conditions.

For mastitis and udder inflammation, the udder is massaged with fresh, hot ash that has been soaked in water. Herders say this treatment gives good results within 12 hours. Bloat is treated with drenches of: tamarind; sour milk; tea; Artemesia spp.; or onion, lemon, and tea. The latter recipe is also prescribed for general debility. Pastoralists steer their herds clear of plants known to induce bloat.

Darfur healers and herders have an impressive array of obstetric and orthopaedic skills. Using an okra preparation as a lubricant, they deal expertly with dystocia, foetotomies, and uterine and vaginal prolapses. In the latter procedures, sutures of horses' tail-hair are used. For retained placenta, cows may be fed: ground Cissus quadrangularis (also used to treat wounds and swellings); dried okra and tobacco; or moulted snakeskin. Native bonesetters are preferred over the orthopaedics of the veterinary service.

Comparisons and conclusions

In comparing findings from Arabic groups of northern Sudan with researches among Nilotic groups of southern Sudan, several similarities and differences emerge.

An obvious similarity is the continuing importance of traditional medicine in preventing and treating many common diseases. Another similarity is the existence of technical specialists such as herbalists and bonesetters, who typically attend people as well as livestock. Specialisation is even more marked in the south, where experts are further distinguished by their handling of swellings, dystocia, infertility, and foetotomy. Whether in the north or the south, most ethnoveterinary savvy falls within the 'public domain'. A partial exception to this rule may be herbalists, however. In northern Sudan, they proved hard to locate; and in southern Sudan, reportedly they are rather secretive about their prescriptions.

A further commonality is evident when one compares ethnoveterinary data with findings from research on medicinal plants in Sudan. To wit, many of the same plants figure in treatments for livestock and people within and across both areas. Coupled with the facts that traditional specialists commonly attend humans as well as other species and that obstetric and orthopaedic skills are well-developed in both areas, this overlap opens new prospects for CBAH, perhaps in combination with human healthcare services. But certainly further work needs to be done across the board to assess the absolute efficacy of traditional remedies plus the relative efficacy and cost-effectiveness of traditional as versus modern treatments.

Although not discussed here, an overarching difference is local attitudes towards livestock production - which can have implications for the ways in which traditional health services are provided. Whereas northern Sudanese tend to have a fairly commercial, profit-oriented attitude toward stockraising, southerners like the Dinka and Nuer raise cattle much as other people raise a family.

Other differences are found in the realm of ethnoveterinary technique. Whereas cauterisation is extremely important among the Arabic pastoralists of the north and also in central Sudan, Dinka do not practice it. There is also a not-so-surprising difference in botanical materia medica. Peoples of the more arid north employ fewer types of plants than do Dinka in the south. Northerners also appear to have relatively less respect for herbalists. However, factors other than sheer ecology may be at work here. It is possible that Dinka use a larger number of plants because, due to prolonged civil war, they have been unable to access modern medicines.

In sum, CBAH programs are right to take traditional practices seriously, incorporating clearly useful ones (like indigenous CCPP and CBPP vaccination) into paravet curricula and critically evaluating others (like cauterisation) for their potential as targeted adjuncts to modern treatments. In the latter regard, studies by experts on medicinal plants can be informative for assessing herbal treatments and for providing an official platform from which work on ethnoveterinary studies can proceed. CBAH programs would also be well-advised to involve local healers in paravet training. Such moves make for greater acceptance and sustainability of health services. They cannot be done quickly or abruptly, however. Rather, they need to be planned for from the outset, and then progressively integrated into mainstream program activities.


This research reported here was funded and supported by Tufts University Veterinary School's International Programs. Tufts co-ordinates the UNICEF OLS Livestock Program, Northern and Southern Sectors. The assistance of Dr. Gamal Ghazali of the National Center For Research in Khartoum was much appreciated in the identification of plants and the provision of reference material. Dr. Hassan Jaffa of the UNDP program in Butana was very helpful in arranging the author's visit to that region. Transport for fieldwork was provided by UNICEF Khartoum, PARC Sudan, and the UNDP Area Development Program.


Adolph, D., S. Blakeway, and B. J. Linquist. 1996. Ethno-veterinary Knowledge of the Dinka and Nuer in Southern Sudan: A Study for the UNICEF Operation Lifeline Sudan Southern Sector Livestock Program, December 1996. UNICEF, Nairobi, Kenya.

Andrews, F. W. 1957a. Vernacular Names of Plants as Described in "Flowering Plants of the Anglo Egyptian Sudan" (Vol. I). University of Khartoum Department of Botany, Khartoum, Sudan.

Andrews, F. W. 1957b. Vernacular Names of Plants as Described in "Flowering Plants of the Anglo Egyptian Sudan" (Vol. II). University of Khartoum, Department of Botany, Khartoum, Sudan.

Andrews, F. W. 1957c. Vernacular Names of Plants as Described in "Flowering Plants of the Anglo Egyptian Sudan" (Vol. III). University of Khartoum, Department of Botany, Khartoum, Sudan.

Ashdown, S. F. 1997a. Trip Report: Traditional Animal Health Care in Butana. UNICEF, Khartoum, Sudan.

Ashdown, S. F. 1997b. Trip report: Traditional Animal Health Care in South Darfur. UNICEF, Khartoum, Sudan.

El Ghazali, G. E. B. 1986. Medicinal Plants of the Sudan - Part I: Medicinal Plants of Erkowit. Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Research Institute, National Center for Research, Khartoum, Sudan.

El Ghazali, G. E. B., E. A. Bari, A. K. Bashir, and A. A. M. Salih. 1987. Medicinal Plants of the Sudan - Part II: Medicinal Plants of The Eastern Nuba Mountains. Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Research Institute, National Center for Research, Khartoum, Sudan.

El Ghazali, G. E. B., M. S. El Tohami, and A. A. B. El Egami. 1994. Medicinal Plants of the Sudan - Part III: Medicinal Plants of the White Nile Provinces. Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Research Institute, National Center for Research, Khartoum, Sudan.

El Ghazali, G. E. B., M. S. El Tohami, A. A. B. El Egami, W. S. Abdalla, and M. M. Galal. 1997. Medicinal Plants of the Sudan - Part IV: Medicinal Plants of Northern Kordofan. Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Research Institute, National Center for Research, Khartoum, Sudan.

Linquist, B. J., D. Adolph, and S. Blakeway. 1996. Dinka Ethno-veterinary Knowledge - A Resource Manual: Findings of a Preliminary Study. UNICEF Operation Lifeline Sudan Southern Sector Livestock Programme, Nairobi, Kenya.

Relation between ethnoveterinary and western knowledge in family-level livestock keeping (examples from Bolivia)

Katrien van't Hooft


To enhance the responsiveness of livestock services to the problems of small and poor farmers, it is necessary to explore the possibility of an alternate system, combining traditional and modern veterinary medicine. This so-called techno-blending is based on the notion that traditional and modern knowledge can influence and enhance each other. The advantages of this approach can be observed with rural families throughout the world who are constantly combining modern and traditional in their daily life.

Meanwhile, this concept is not used in formal agricultural education. Here modern is presented as mainstream and solution for all. The result is the well-known communication gap between agricultural technicians and rural families.

This paper outlines the different elements that influence the use of traditional and modern knowledge in family-level livestock keeping in Bolivia, a country in the heart of South America. I will first discuss different kinds of family-level livestock keeping as the main element that determines the use of traditional and modern practices; then mention 11 other elements that influence this balance and finally reach some general conclusions for a future approach.

Elements influencing use of traditional and modern knowledge in family-level livestock keeping

The kind of livestock keeping

Broadly, we can differentiate between two main kinds of family-level livestock keeping, which form the extremes of a continuum: diversified and specialised livestock keeping.

The majority of the Bolivian rural population uses diversified livestock keeping which is part of a risk management strategy, draws mainly on the labour of women and children, and is flexible. Specialised systems, on the other hand, produce for markets, keep one species under specialised management in addition to others under diversified management, and may be supported by projects. The main characteristics of both extremes are listed in Table 1. However, we should keep in mind that the table generalises and that there are marked variations of management between families and regions.

Table 1. Comparison of diversified and specialised family-level livestock keeping.


Diversified livestock keeping

Specialised livestock keeping





Many different under extensive management

One under specialised, others under diversified management


Mostly (but not exclusively) local breeds

Highly productive breeds or crosses

Functions of animals

Multiple (e.g., consumption, savings, fertilisation, medicine)

Mainly for income generation





Mainly women and children due to work division and absence of men because of wage labour and migration

Whole family (including men)



Production for markets to bring in money and counter the need of migration


Mostly traditional, sometimes with elements of modern knowledge

More uniform; based on modern knowledge with elements of traditional knowledge


High through use of multiple species; animals are purchased or sold at strategic times


Dependence on inputs from outside


High; therefore usually located near villages, towns or roads

Assistance from outside


Frequently supported by research, extension, education and projects

Family situation

Young families with small children or elderly people have labour shortage. Therefore they tend to have more diversified livestock keeping and use traditional knowledge. If the family has no children or teenage children, there is more labour available, and there is a tendency to specialise in one of the species with more western elements.

Who manages and decides

Women are more involved with diversified livestock management, and therefore tend to have a stronger tradition of ethnoveterinary practices than men.

Individual interests and experiments

There are personal differences in contacts and experimentation. This influences the use of both traditional and modern knowledge.

Differences between species

In Bolivia, animals for home consumption like guinea pig, chicken or pigeon, or that serve a domestic function like dog and cat are managed without any inputs that cost money, so basically with ethnoveterinary practices. In case of illness they may also be killed or sold as a prevention strategy.

Animals with relatively low individual value are often managed in flocks, for example, sheep, goats, lamas, pigs, and young male cattle. Their treatments are usually based on traditional methods and the use of modern medicine depends on the level of specialisation.

For animals with high individual value, like a milk cow or a rooster for fighting, spending money for western medicine is likely.

Relative value of species

A species considered of poor value in one region may be highly valued in another, which influences the treatment used. For example, in the tropical region of Chapare dogs commonly suffer from severe scabies infections. While in other regions of the country no money is spent on dogs, here dogs are treated with an expensive medicine (Ivermectin) because of their value as companions during walks and their role in chicken protection against wild animals.

Cultural-religious influences

As shown in different studies, in regions with strong tradition of Andean religion, ethnoveterinary practices are also integrated in different religious rites and traditions.

Socio-economic change

Socio-economic changes influence the management and treatments used. For example, in Bolivia many families have migrated from the highlands to the tropical lowlands to produce coca leaves. Their traditional practices do not suffice under these new circumstances, and western medicine becomes more important.

Ecological changes

Droughts often lead to increased migration of men in search of wage labour, resulting in a shift towards diversified livestock management with little or no western elements.

Characteristics of the disease

Characteristics of the disease can influence the treatment of choice, especially the frequency of a disease. In the Cochabamba valleys, bloat in cattle due to overeating is very common. Many different ethnoveterinary therapies are used, like moving the stomach and putting leaves of the molle tree (Haplorus engler) in the mouth of the animal. Others treat the animals with beer orally, still others with cooking oil. For uncommon or new diseases fewer ethnoveterinary possibilities are available.

Whether a disease is life threatening or not also influences the treatment choice. In the same area in case of a light mastitis in a milk cow, the udder will be massaged and wetted with urine or clay. Severe mastitis, on the other hand, is treated with antibiotics and these local treatments at the same time.


The availability of ethnoveterinary and western expertise, especially at the moment of need, will influence the livestock keeper's choice whether to use traditional or modern methods.


The presence of development projects can influence the balance between traditional and modern: the introduction of effective medicines often leads to the loss of knowledge of valuable plants, thus shifting the use from traditional to western knowledge and increasing risk in the long term.


As we have seen from all this, the relation between traditional and western elements in livestock management is highly dynamic. Both are essential for rural families. At the same time, there is a tendency towards the loss of valuable ethnoveterinary knowledge.

People working in this field could address this need and design research to make available as many options as possible, including both traditional and modern knowledge. So families could choose whatever suits them best in their particular situation.

In the light of these observations, I would like to suggest two major items for future work:

  • Prevent further loss of ethnoveterinary knowledge through increased research within the logic of family strategies; disseminate the results in local language and involve formal agricultural education in this process. For example, stimulate thesis research on traditional livestock systems and ethnoveterinary knowledge and produce textbooks based on the analysis of local livestock production systems as recently undertaken in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Ethno-management and ethnoveterinary medicine should become important courses in agricultural curricula.
  • Adapt elements of modern knowledge valuable for family-level livestock keeping to the limitations and possibilities of this sector, so as to provide as many treatment options as possible.


Hooft, Katrien van. 1995. Interfaces between local knowledge and western scientific knowledge in family level and extensive livestock keeping. MSc. Thesis. Management of Agricultural Knowledge System (MAUS), Wageningen Agricultural University, Wageningen, Netherlands.

Hooft, Katrien van. Forthcoming. La crianza pecuaria familiar en America Latina. Draft manuscript.

Ethnoveterinary medicine in Kerala (South India)

V. Padmakumar

In Kerala in South India, many livestock owners, especially those who are poor and live in remote areas, use ethnoveterinary medicine (EVM) for the primary healthcare of their animals. The author conducted a survey among 150 farmers and 19 traditional healers to identify and document the extent of use of ethnoveterinary medicine. The major findings included:

  • Animal healthcare practices in Kerala are influenced by Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine.
  • About 75% of the farmers were using traditional healthcare methods. Most of them tried EVM as a first aid. If an animal failed to respond, then either it was taken to the nearest veterinary hospital or a veterinarian was called, depending on the severity of the disease and the value of the animal.
  • The main reasons for turning to traditional treatments were:
  1. No side effects
  2. Low costs
  3. Lack of modern veterinary facilities.
  • The diseases and conditions commonly treated with EVM included mastitis, fever, bloat, diarrhoea, and foot-and-mouth disease. Especially with husbandry-related problems such as mastitis, farmers believed that no external expertise was necessary but that they could manage treating these ailments with EVM. But the level of effectiveness of the treatment depended on the stage and severity of the disease. Nearly all farmers and traditional healers regarded fever as a disease. They were satisfied with their treatment for fever.
  • Neem (Azadirachta indica) and tamarind (Tamarindus indica) were the most popular treatment plants. Both were commonly available in every village in Kerala. All parts (bark, leaf, root, fruit etc.) were utilised in the preparations. Other plants commonly used included the spices: pepper (Piper nigrum), ginger (Zingiber officinale), turmeric (Curcuma longa), and garlic (Allium sativum). In contrast to other reports (e.g., Ramanathan 1996), the farmers did not seem to use any of the following plants for animal treatment: thulasi (Ocimum sanctum), adalodakam (Adhatoda beddomei), ayamodakam (Apium graveolens), kurumthotti (Sida rhombifolia), thippali (Piper longum), papaya (Carica papaya), and areca nut (Areca catechu).

The use of spices and plant species that are locally available, like neem and tamarind for drug preparation indicated that easy access and local availability were important factors influencing the level of use of EVM. The difficulties in the collection of herbs, preparation of drugs and their administration were found to be important constraints to the utilisation of EVM.

  • Of the farmers using EVM, 70% were doing the treatment themselves.
  • The traditional healers surveyed were good informants on indigenous knowledge for the treatment of animals. They had a thorough knowledge of all herbs with Ayurvedic properties. A considerably high proportion of healers collected the ingredients for drugs themselves or obtained them from local Ayurvedic shops (angadi) that have plant parts (root, bark, fruit, seed etc.) of important medicinal plants available in dried form. In most study villages there was at least one angadi. The healers commonly prepared a single drug from several plants the combination of which was specific for each disease.
  • The majority of the healers were attending 5-10 cases in every month. Most of them were despondent about their future role. They were no longer dependent on this job as the remuneration obtained was significantly disproportionate to the time and work involved in the collection of herbs, preparation of drugs and their administration. It was difficult to make a living with the income obtained solely from this occupation. Therefore, healing was frequently considered as a subsidiary source of income. Most of these healers usually did not go to treat animals. If approached by farmers, they gave treatment directions or prescriptions. If offered, they accepted money. This suggests that in most cases the farmers' dependence on traditional healers is significantly low. This further reinforces the observation that 70% of ethnoveterinary farmers were doing the treatment by themselves.

There were, however, exceptions. A small number of healers were found to be remarkably professional. They had a very good reputation among farmers in their locality. They had their own ready-made drug preparations such as herbal tablets, decoctions and ointments for treating different types of diseases. They engaged tribal people for collecting herbs from forest areas. Traditional treatment was their primary source of income and they were getting more than 50 cases/month. It is worth mentioning that in villages having such professional healers, the nearest veterinary hospital was about 10-15 km away.


Ramanathan, D. 1996. Medicinal plants used in traditional veterinary treatment. Paper presented at the Symposium on Traditional Veterinary Medicine held at Malabar Regional Co-operative Milk Producers Union, Calicut, Kerala, India, May 15, 1996.

Ethnoveterinary studies among Tzotzil shepherdesses as the basis of a genetic improvement programme for Chiapas sheep

Raul Perezgrovas


The mountain region of Chiapas highlands, in southern Mexico, is inhabited by different Indian groups of Mayan origin; maize and sheep are the basis for their scarce subsistence. One of these Indian groups, the Tzotzils, have developed unique survival strategies, one of which is caring for sheep. It has become an integral part of Tzotzil culture as have the use of sheep wool and the ancient weaving process. Nowadays, through sheep husbandry and wool processing, women are able to generate up to 36 % of the very limited annual income of the average Tzotzil family (Farrera and Perezgrovas 1997).

Sheep are sacred animals in the Highlands, protected and respected by Tzotzil religion because they share souls with the people; these woollen souls are never killed or eaten, and thus wool becomes the most important productive aspect. Only women are responsible for the family flock and they have developed a simple but efficient management system designed to maintain sheep healthy and productive (Perezgrovas et al. 1994). The shepherdesses in this region use herbs and plants to treat some diseases of sheep, while some illnesses are prevented by means of animal caring and flock management (Perezgrovas 1996). Still other maladies of supernatural origin are cast out with devoted prayers and rituals.

World-wide, a large amount of ethnoveterinary work has been in the past and is now related to the indigenous knowledge developed to maintain or improve animal health; a great deal of traditional knowledge, however, has to do with other aspects of animal husbandry and production. This information is very valuable in the design of strategies to improve animal production and thus the family welfare and income and we need to dedicate time and effort to gather, register and validate such important information.

Recent field research at the research station of the University of Chiapas focussed on wool production and the traditional knowledge that the Tzotzil shepherdesses have developed regarding the selection of animals for the quality of their fleeces, in an attempt to blend the indigenous knowledge into adequate genetic improvement programmes.

Field work with Tzotzil women

Tzotzil women are the experts to be consulted in order to establish selection and culling criteria for Chiapas sheep, since these parameters are the result of women's intense every day use of wool, and centuries-long careful observation of flocks (Perezgrovas et al. 1995). There are no technicians, veterinarians or extension workers with such expertise.

Through diverse participatory research techniques it was possible to acknowledge, list, and rank the selection criteria Tzotzil shepherdesses use to maintain sheep within their flocks. Twice a year prior to the shearing of sheep, Tzotzil shepherdesses and weavers from different Indian villages visit the University of Chiapas' experimental farm. There they share their experience and grade the quality of the fleece of each animal within the flock. Thus the shepherdesses have become an interactive part of the programme for genetic improvement of Chiapas sheep.

Science meets tradition

Our field research has shown that Tzotzil shepherdesses select their sheep primarily for a number of wool characteristics (combination of short and long fibres, shape and length of wool locks, absence of kemp), and secondly for the quality of the fleece (softness, appropriate growth for shearing, colour, and lustre).

As some detailed characterisation studies (Parry et al. 1994, 1995) revealed, the fleece of Chiapas sheep has a primary coat of long coarse fibres and an undercoat of short finer fibres. This combination of fibres gives the fleece of Chiapas sheep its extraordinary appropriateness for manual spinning and weaving, and explains why women in this region cannot process the wool from other very productive sheep breeds, no matter the "high quality" and the "fineness" of their fleeces. The fact is that wool quality criteria are not universal, and the fleece from Chiapas sheep, while considered harsh carpet-type wool of extremely low quality for the textile industry anywhere in the world, is nevertheless graded "top quality" by Tzotzil weavers and artisans.

Tzotzil women make excellent use of the different proportions of long/coarse and short/fine fibres in the fleeces of their sheep to prepare the two kind of threads required for back-strap loom weaving. Research is now under way to correlate the characteristics found in the "good" fleeces selected by Indian women, with a quantitative proportion of long:short fibres.

Preliminary results show that fleeces with a proportion of long:short fibres of 1:2 serve best to spin the thicker, barely spun weft for the loom, while a wool with a 1:5 proportion is more adequate for spinning the highly twisted, thin and tension-resistant warp for the loom. Tzotzil shepherdesses know and have taught us that it is more difficult to find animals with a 1:2 proportion of fibres, and they are highly appreciated in the village flocks; women also told us that Chiapas sheep produce soft fleeces at the first shearing (6-8 months old lambs) and harsher fleeces thereafter. This empirical knowledge is being considered as a guideline in our selection programme.

Likewise, shepherdesses use a series of hand and finger measurements to estimate the fibre length. This empirical estimation is being correlated with numerical values, to establish objective selection criteria, while softness of the fleece can be correlated to the diameter of the different fibres and the amount of kemp. For the Tzotzil women, "good quality" wool comes from fleeces with conical locks that reach a length of about 18 cm after 6 months (shearing is twice a year), with short/fine fibres having a diameter of 18-25 m m and long/coarse fibres of 33-55 m m. With this information, which is just the quantitative analysis of the shepherdesses' traditional knowledge, a series of standard curves are being developed for each of the three colour varieties of Chiapas sheep, which will be used as selection tools within the genetic improvement programme.

At this time, grading of fleece quality by shepherdesses is assigned gross numerical equivalents ranging from 1 (poor) to 4 (excellent), as part of the genetic improvement programme. In the near future, statistical analysis will establish which objective parameters derived from the shepherdesses expertise can be best used to develop appropriate selection indexes for better quality of wool and fleece in Chiapas sheep.


As it is shown, Tzotzil shepherdesses know a whole lot more than just herbal remedies and rituals to maintain their animals healthy; they have developed a complete management system that keeps animals alive and makes them productive under environmental and nutritional conditions that any other sheep breed has been able to overcome. Their expertise in the husbandry of Chiapas sheep and in the use and processing of wool has to be considered as an important constituent of the genetic improvement programme (see Perezgrovas and Farrera this volume).

This collaborative effort, this close interaction of Tzotzil wool experts with technicians, geneticists, and veterinarians can be the key for a successful programme aimed to improve the difficult economic conditions of the Tzotzils. In the long term, heavier fleeces of higher quality wool coming from their sacred sheep can be one of the best contributions that Tzotzil women are making to their own survival strategies. On the other hand, we veterinarians and technicians are accepting our role as simple students learning from humble, illiterate, yet knowledgeable masters.


Farrera, Norma and Raúl Perezgrovas. 1997. Estudio preliminar sobre el impacto de la ovinocultura en la economía doméstica en Los Altos de Chiapas. Memorias. IX Congreso Nacional de Producción Ovina. Asociacion Mexicana de Tecnicos Especialistas en Ovinocultura-Universidad Autonoma de Queretaro (AMTEO-UAQRO), Queretaro, Mexico. Pp. 180-183.

Parry, A., R. Perezgrovas, M. Peralta, L. Zaragoza, and P. Pedraza. 1994. Wool follicle characteristics of the three colour phenotypes of Chiapas sheep. In: Proceedings of the IV World Congress on Coloured Sheep. York, United Kingdom. Pp. 257-264.

Parry A., R. Perezgrovas, M. Peralta, H. Castro, et al. 1995. Mejoramiento de la producción de lana en el borrego Chiapas. In: Memorias. VIII Congreso Nacional de Producción Ovina. Asociacion Mexicana de Tecnicos Especialistas en Ovinocultura-Universidad Autonoma de Queretaro (AMTEO-UACH), Queretaro, Mexico. Pp. 12-15.

Perezgrovas, R. 1996. Sheep husbandry and healthcare among Tzotzil Maya shepherdesses. In: C. M. McCorkle, E. Mathias, and T. Schillhorn van Veen (eds.). Ethnoveterinary Research & Development. IT Publications. London, United Kingdom. Pp. 167-178.

Perezgrovas, R., A. Parry, M. Peralta, D. Trow, et al. 1994. Chiapas sheep: Wool production and animal health in a unique sheep breed. Proceedings of the New Zealand Society of Animal Science 54:177-180.

Perezgrovas, R., A. Parry, M. Peralta, P. Pedraza, and H. Castro. 1995. Wool production in Chiapas sheep: Indigenous knowledge provides the basis for selection. In: R. D. Crawford, E. E. Lister, and J. T. Buckley (editors). Conservation of Domestic Animal Genetic Resources. Rare Breeds International, Kenilsworth, United Kingdom and AgriFood Canada, Ottawa, Canada. Pp. 240-244.

Participatory studies with women on ethnoveterinary practices for livestock health management

Sangeeta Rangnekar


In India women are closely linked to and involved in livestock management. Extent and nature of their involvement vary with their socio-economic status, region, and the type of animal (Rangnekar 1992a). By and large women carry out most of the critical activities related to livestock production, including cleaning, feeding, milking, and care of the newborn and sick animals. Pastoral communities are an exception. There the work is well shared since livestock keeping is their main source of occupation and income. The condition is reversed amongst tribal communities where women are also required to take care of sale and purchase activities (Rangnekar and Rangnekar 1992).

The contribution of women to livestock production is now well recognised and a number of studies has been carried out on their involvement and particularly on the work-sharing because women have generally been looked upon as workers. However, there are extremely few studies on the women's knowledge and their perceptions regarding livestock production and health-related aspects.

From 1990 to 1996 the author carried out a series of participatory studies in 60 villages in Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh in western India to understand the experience, perception, and preferences of women with respect to animal health problems, health services currently available, and alternatives they would like to suggest (Rangnekar 1992b, 1993, 1994). The studies covered rural families of various socio-economic groups prevalent in western India, i.e., farmer communities, pastoralists, and tribal families.

The studies indicated that women give high priority to health aspects and health services. They have considerable experience and information on livestock production and health-related aspects, namely feeding, breeding, health etc., and they have good knowledge of animal behaviour and production characteristics. In most cases they are the first to notice when an animal is sick. They are concerned about the health of animals not only to maintain productivity but also from a humanitarian angle, since they treat animals as part of the family.

This paper highlights selected findings from the author's field studies. It discusses choices of women in animal healthcare, their knowledge on traditional treatment methods, and women as healers. The results are presented for rural women in general and for pastoral and tribal women in particular as these belong to the most underprivileged groups receiving special attention in India.

Women and animal health

The discussions and surveys in more than 60 villages in the western states indicate that more than 90% of the women from rural areas and about 60% from periurban areas manage the health of their animals according to the traditional system and first consult local healers. The reasons why the majority of rural women, particularly those from interior villages, preferred to consult local healers and use traditional treatment methods range from faith to accessibility and cost (Box 1). The converse was true with respect to women's opinion and experience about modern medicine and consulting veterinarians. Only those women who had easy access to veterinary dispensaries in periurban areas consulted veterinarians directly. Two important factors influenced the healthcare choice of women: (1) the non-accessibility of veterinarians because of their small number and (2) the high costs of consultation and medicine.

Box 1. Reasons for consulting local healers

  • Faith in the person and the treatment prescribed.
  • Good rapport in view of long association.
  • Very low cost of medicines and consultation.
  • Easy availability of the local healers and the medicine prescribed.
  • No harmful effect in most cases.
  • Efficacy of treatments recommended against many ailments.

Women identified diarrhoea, pneumonia, fever, bloat, and loss of appetite as common and important ailments. In addition to these, women also mentioned contagious diseases. They generally felt that these were incurable, like enterotoxaemia in small animals and haemorrhagic septicaemia in large animals. An important disease periodically occurring in these areas is foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), but it does not cause mortality or serious damage to local cattle, and the women use traditional treatment methods for rapid healing of the ulcers caused by FMD (see Table 1 below).

Women's knowledge of traditional treatment methods

During the studies, women were asked to identify ailments that they commonly treated with traditional practices and describe the most common treatments for each disease. Subsequently the women selected the most common ailments and their treatments and prioritised them. This exercise was carried out since one of the objectives of the study was to short-list methods for further validation and initiate validation of the local claims.

The studies indicate that while almost 90% of the rural women were aware of traditional treatment and had some information, 15% of the women were highly knowledgeable about health problems and traditional treatment methods. In tribal communities, the percentage of highly knowledgeable women was higher than 20% and they could recognise several plant species of medicinal value. During the studies the tribal women gathered a large number of weeds, shrubs, creepers, and parts of trees which they used for animal as well as human treatment. Several women identified fruit, flowering, and vegetable plant species with medicinal value. Table 2 provides examples of flowering and fruit plants commonly used for animal treatment. It illustrates that these plants are mainly used for common ailments. The plants are preferred because they are widely available and can be easily propagated by farmer families around their houses.

Women as healers

As indicated earlier, more than 15% of all rural women and more than 20% of women from tribal communities were found to be highly knowledgeable about traditional treatment methods. However, very few women were recognised as healers or practising and advising people other than their own families. It was also noticed that the knowledge about traditional medicine and treatment methods was usually passed from father to son and in very few cases to the daughter. Much of the knowledge was gained by women through self-experience. Socio-cultural factors inhibited the women from becoming healers and hence nearly all local healers were men.

However, a few women in tribal and pastoralist communities were recognised as healers and consulted by several farmers for animal treatment. Ironically, they were commonly consulted for human treatment, particularly that of children and mothers. They also kept herbal medicine for the use within the family. In some communities there is a belief that if women start practising and advocating traditional treatment methods they may resort to witchcraft or turn into witches and this belief precludes them from practising.

Concluding remarks

The studies in the western states of India indicate that women play an important role in health management of livestock besides their role in production. The women have gained good knowledge about health problems and traditional treatment methods. They are also most affected by the inaccessibility of conventional livestock health services and hence they prefer traditional approaches.

Women can provide precise information on effective traditional practices of livestock health control and treatment because they have direct experience and are critical observers. For developing alternate approaches and validating claims of some of the traditional methods, involvement of women is essential. Selected women could be further oriented and trained to become paraveterinarians or para-extension workers and effectively use combinations of traditional and modern systems. Such trained women could improve the accessibility of health services and create awareness amongst farmer women.


Rangnekar, S.D. 1992a. Women in livestock production in rural India. Paper presented at 6th AAP Animal Science Congress in Bangkok, Thailand, 23-28 November, 1992. Pp. 89-101.

Rangnekar, S.D. 1992b. Perception of women farmers regarding animal health and production services - as effected by socio-economic conditions. Proceedings of the Seminar on Livestock Services for Small Holders, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Nov. 15-21, 1992. Pp. 223-226.

Rangnekar, S.D. 1993. Studies on knowledge of rural women on local feed resources for livestock and the feeding systems developed. Proceedings of the International Conference on Livestock Production held at Beijing, 18-22 October, 1993. Pp. 84-93

Rangnekar, S.D. 1994. Livestock feeding by women in India. Proceedings of 7th AAP Animal Science Congress, Denpasar, Indonesia. Vol-I, pp. 89-101.

Rangnekar, S.D. and D.V. Rangnekar. 1992. Involvement of women and children in goat keeping in some villages of Guajrat and Rajasthan. Proceedings of Vth International Conference on Goats, held at New Delhi, 2-8 March, 1992. Pp. 420-426.

Table 1. Extensively used traditional treatment methods for six common ailments in dairy cattle as identified and prioritised by women.



Traditional treatments



Applying turmeric on udder.


Foot and mouth ulcers

Walking animals on hot sand and applying sand to wounds externally; applying linseed oil and turmeric externally; applying kerosene if the wounds are infested with maggots.



Drenching linseed oil along with a mixture of ginger, turmeric and asafoetida; keeping the animal's mouth open by tying a piece of wood into it.


Retention of placenta

Feeding bamboo leaves or a mixture of oil bran and bajra (finger millet) grain.



Feeding of forest tree seed.



Drenching about 1 kg fruit pulp extract of Aegle marmelos and mango seed kernel for 2-3 days.

Table 2. Fruit, flower, and vegetable plants used to treat animal ailments.



Botanical plant name


plant name

Plant type








Tender leaf is applied on wound


Worm infestation

Daucus carota



Whole carrot is fed


Worm infestation

Cucurbita pepo



Seeds are fed


Tick infestation

Annona squamosa

Custard apple


Paste of seeds is applied


Maggot wound

Annona squamosa

Custard apple


Paste of leaves is applied



Jasminum auriculatum



About 50 g of leaf paste is applied



Murraya koenigii

Curry leaf


About 50 g of leaves are crushed in water and drenched

Aspects of farmers' knowledge, attitudes and practices of animal health problems in central Ethiopia

G. Wirtu, G. Adugna,1 T. Samuel,1 E. Kelbessa, and A. Geleto1


Ethiopia has the largest livestock population in Africa. However, its veterinary livestock unit is among the smallest. Besides the sky-rocketing costs of imported veterinary drugs and inputs, poor infrastructure is hindering efficient veterinary services. Therefore we can presume that the majority of Ethiopian farmers in rural areas is relying on traditional practices to control common problems of their livestock.

Understanding the farmers' knowledge, attitudes and practices about the occurrence, cause, predisposition, treatment, prevention, control and local importance of the different animal health problems is crucial to designing and implementing a successful animal health and production improvement strategy. However, only few studies exist on the different methods of traditional animal healthcare in Ethiopia and the extent to which they are practised (Abebe 1993, Alemu 1993, Ghirotti and Woudyalew 1996, Dagne 1997, Tolossa 1996).

This paper reports the preliminary analysis of a baseline study on farmers' knowledge, attitudes and practices on animal health problems in central Ethiopia.

Study area and methods

Starting from 1995, field visits were made for two years in 41 kebeles (peasant associations) of 13 woredas (sub-districts) in and around Addis Ababa, Debre Zeit and Nazareth. The woredas were Adaa, Adama, Aqaqi, Barah, Boset, Gimbichu, Lumee, Minjar, Alemgena, Sululta, Walmara, Woreda 17, and Woreda 28.

In these woredas, 104 farmers were interviewed with a questionnaire on the health problems of their animals and their treatments. About 75% of the respondents were Oromo, 21% were Amhara and 4% Tigri-Worji. The differences in the number of people from the different groups interviewed reflect the proportions of these groups within the farming population in the area. About 88% of the respondents were men and about 12% women; 54% were illiterate and 46% literate.

The project also identified 63 healers. All but two were willing to disclose their skills to the team. However, only 28 healers were interviewed using a questionnaire.

In some areas veterinary personnel was also interviewed to verify local disease names and descriptions and provide information on disease epidemiology.

The following aspects were analysed: the extent of traditional veterinary medicine practice, the major livestock diseases farmers identified, farmers' perceptions of disease causation, prevention and control, and the medicinal substances and healing practices utilised. Whenever possible, the plants which farmers attributed medicinal properties to were collected and identified at the National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University.

The conventional or English synonym of local disease names and descriptions were tentatively determined based on clinical and post mortem findings described, species or group of animals affected, treatment methods and alleged responses experienced, morbidity and mortality rates reported, duration of illness, verification with the veterinary personnel and epidemiological information known to team members. Then the basis for the local terms was analysed.

Farmers' knowledge, attitude and practices on animal health problems

Disease causation and predisposition

Farmers and healers who described the causes or predispositions of diseases associated

  • 'fascioliasis' with 'swampy areas' (but no farmer mentioned the role of snails);
  • 'bloat' with 'intake of the legume Trifolium spp.';
  • 'endoparasitism' with 'rainy season';
  • 'rabies' with the 'bite' of rabid animals;
  • 'mineral' supplementation through salt lick (or at Hora water) with improved 'body condition, productivity and reproduction';
  • 'vaccination' and the 'prevention' of some diseases (typical example is rinderpest);
  • 'wet conditions' with 'footrot';
  • 'retained placenta' with 'poor body condition'.

Respondents were aware that certain diseases were contagious or zoonotic (e.g., rinderpest, anthrax and rabies) and hence took measures to avoid contact (tila (Amharic) 'shadow') with the affected animal or herd. The meat from animals affected with anthrax was not deliberately consumed and rabid animals were either shot or beaten to death.

The above associations and the awareness of the contagious nature of certain diseases are in accordance with scientific knowledge. However, the following perceptions were difficult to construe on scientific grounds:

  • The descriptions of simbiraa (Oromic) and ye wof (Amharic) both meaning 'bird' suggest endoparasitism; but respondents believed that the worms seen in the viscera come from bat's urine deposited on the skin of the animal.
  • Similarly, budaa (Amharic/Oromic), ija (Oromic), ije-Seb (Amharic), ayin (Amharic) all meaning 'evil eyes' were described by the signs of emaciation, weakness, depression, anorexia, inability or reluctance to work and worms in internal organs (believed to have been introduced through evil eyes). Respondents said that well-conditioned animals and those very good in traction were frequently affected. The descriptions suggest that the problem perceived could be endoparasitism.
  • New cases of anthrax were thought to arise from ingestion of 'urine' of the abbaa sangaa bird (Oromic, Walmara area) while both anthrax and blackleg were believed to be caused by grazing animals on grass with dew (Barah and Alemgena areas) and from grazing on pasture contaminated with the 'menstruation' of reptiles (Adama, Adaa and Sululta areas) or from the sun (Adama area).
  • Blackleg was thought to be exasperated by ingestion of water and hence owners and healers limited ingestion of water by sick animals (Adama and Woreda 28 areas).
  • Bovine mastitis [michii mucha sa'aa (Oromic)] was believed to be caused by urga'aa (Oromic) 'aroma from spicy butter and food' (Woreda 28 area).
  • Rabies was believed to arise from water shortage (Boset and Adama areas).
  • Consuming meat from a ruminant bitten by a rabid dog was believed to protect people from acquiring rabies and hence the meat of such ruminants was badly wanted.

Disregarding budaa, neither the healers nor farmers mentioned spiritual or supernatural forces associated with causes of animal diseases. However, some spiritual practices were followed during traditional treatments or for prophylaxis. These included praying after making coffee to prevent diseases (e.g., rinderpest), giving sacrifices after silet (Amharic, meaning a word of pledge usually to the church), going to tebel (Amharic) 'holy water' for rabies, speaking loudly for alleged frightening of the disease, and avoiding to mention the name of some diseases [e.g., abbaa gorbaa (Oromic) or abbaa sangaa (Oromic)] in the vicinity of animals because of alleged infection by doing so. Tolossa (1996) describes further spiritual practices from the northern Shoa Zone.

Disease diagnosis

Healers and farmers used similar methods:

  • They relied mainly on clinical manifestations including state of feed and water intake, faeces and defecation, condition of coat, activity in the herd, rate and depth of breathing and discoloration of mucus membranes.
  • They assessed the body temperature by introducing the fingers into the rectum or the oral cavity (e.g., abbaa sangaa, arraaba jalee).
  • They conducted physical examinations such as skin palpation for formations under the skin or in the muscle (e.g., blackleg).
  • They considered season and the level of herd involvement in their diagnosis.
  • They made observations in faeces and dead animals and were able to describe different types of worms in lungs, stomach, intestines or liver.

They also diagnosed anthrax by examining dead animals. Respondents claimed that on roasting, the size and length of beef strand from an animal affected with anthrax would remain the same while that from negative ones was reduced to about half the original size. Even though the consumption of meat from animals with the disease was usually avoided, the skinning and carcass manipulation to determine the cause of death and the use of the skin to prepare carpets has serious public health implications.

Types of animal healthcare in the study area

Animal healthcare in the area was provided by the owners, traditional healers, and veterinary professionals. The owners gave both traditional and some modern drugs (mainly anthelmintics) purchased from veterinary pharmacies or non-licensed drug vendors. Owners usually drenched - in many cases irrespective of the problem type - different concoctions of commonly available ingredients such as pepper, garlic, ginger, tobacco, salt, edible oil, petroleum products, local brewery and alcohol making products, butter, sheep tail fat, Vernonia amygdalina, Solanum spp. Other options, usually after exhausting one's own, were consulting a traditional healer or modern veterinary services, based on their accessibility and the disease type suspected.

Some problems were believed to be better handled and treated by traditional healers (e.g., fractures, dislocations, dystocia, cow disliking its calf, pink eye, arraba jalee (Oromic), blackleg, warts, rabies), others by veterinary professionals (e.g., endoparasitism, vaccinations, rinderpest, tick infestations, equine lymphangitis and both open and closed castrations).

Most of the healers practised both on animals and people. Healers were specialised into herbalists, technical healers and those employing a combination of methods. We also observed specialisation by diseases or type of problem (e.g., healers for blackleg, dystocia, blocked teat, gurdaa, budaa, moora, hanqiisaa, and castrations).

For the services rendered healers charged owners either in cash or in kind. This type of charge was known as irreecha or irreesa (Oromic) 'something that gives strength'. When it was in cash it was usually in the range of Birr 0.50 to 3.00 (1 Birr = 0.14 USD in October 1998). When in kind it included making coffee or offering the healer local alcoholic beverages. Most farmers and healers believed that irreecha contributed to the success of the treatment and without it there was risk of failure. However, a few farmers said that irreecha was given to ensure future co-operation of the healer and it had no relation with success of the treatment.

The knowledge of ordinary farmers freely circulated in the society. However, the knowledge of the healers did not. The healers avoided unchecked disclosure of their skills for the following reasons:

  • the knowledge was an asset inherited from their elders who warned them not to disclose it to anyone other than a family member;
  • for most healers, it was the source of income in the form of irreecha;
  • medicines were believed effective only if given in the hands of a healer who was 'blessed' for the healing and knew the procedures of administration very well.

Thus the knowledge was transmitted through sharing the skill due to intimate family ties and friendship or and spying on healers when they were collecting the ingredients for medicines. The research team managed to collect the information by establishing close friendship with the healers.

Animal healthcare alternatives utilised

Table 1 presents healthcare choices of farmers when their animals are sick. The table indicates that traditional veterinary medicine still plays an important role in rural areas. Combining the percentages of farmers who used traditional veterinary medicine and both options at least once, nearly 86% of the respondents had employed traditional veterinary medicine at least once. About 40% of the respondents used most frequently traditional practices or a mixture of modern and traditional. It appears that a high percentage of farmers prefers modern veterinary medicine; however, the majority who most frequently used modern veterinary medicine did so for vaccination.

Table 1. Percentage of farmers using modern and traditional animal healthcare in rural areas in central Ethiopia (n = 104).

Frequency of use


Modern Traditional Both

At least once




Most frequently




In order to evaluate the treatment and preventive alternatives employed for specific diseases, we selected six diseases, namely endoparasitism, blackleg, anthrax, rinderpest, foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), and rabies. All can be controlled through vaccination or strategic treatments. Table 2 presents data on the treatment and preventive options known to or utilised by the farmers.

Traditional veterinary medicine was the primary treatment option for blackleg and FMD while modern veterinary medicine was the primary option for endoparasitism and anthrax. Still, over a quarter of the farmers whose livestock had experienced endoparasitism and anthrax relied on traditional veterinary medicine for the treatment of these diseases.

About three-quarters of the respondents to endoparasitism and FMD did not know preventive control methods for these diseases, and around one-third of the informants did not know prevention measures for anthrax and blackleg. With respect to rabies, eight of ten informants asserted that it could be prevented by traditional veterinary medicine but no farmer mentioned modern veterinary medicine. With regard to rinderpest, 10 of 12 respondents were aware of modern preventive methods, indicating that farmers were better informed about prevention possibilities for this disease than for the others.

Table 2. Treatment and preventive options known to and utilised by rural farmers in the central highlands of Ethiopia for six diseases.








No of respondents (= n)1







Treatment options (% of n)2:









TVM3 first







MVM4 first







Preventive options (% of n)2:






























1 = farmers who provided information to the disease in question.

2 = because the numbers are rounded, they may not always sum up to 100.

3 = traditional veterinary medicine.

4 = modern veterinary medicine.

Medicinal plants

Concoctions of different plants were the main medicines used in traditional veterinary medicine in central Ethiopia. Table 3 lists 39 plant species that were identified during the study and the health problems which the respondents used the plants for. The diagnoses of the health problems are tentative (see above Study areas and methods).

Table 3. Plants claimed to be of veterinary medical importance and the tentative diagnosis of problems they are used for in the central highlands of Ethiopia .

Plant species

Vernacular plant name

Health problem

Achyranthes aspera

Dargu (Or)1

Colic, blackleg

Ajuga intergritalia

Harma gusa (Or)

Red urine, blackleg, colic

Artemisia abyssinica

Arrtta bera (Or)

Penetrating wound

Bersama abyssinica

Lolchisa (Or)


Calotropis procera

Buna gadhie (Or)

Blackleg, wart

Clematis simensis

Hida fiti (Or)


Cucumis spp.

Holoto (Or)


Cyphostemma cyphopetalum

– 2

Rabies, endoparasites, blackleg

Dyschoriste radicans

Qoricha hadha (Or)

Penetrating wound

Echinops longisetus

Qoree (Or)


Ekebergia capensis

Somboo (Or)


Euphorbia schimperiana

Wanbara (Or)


Ferula communis


Foeniculum vulgare

Insilalee (Or)

Colic, dysuria

Gomphocarpus fruticosus

Wahale or hatifachistu (Or)

Blackleg, anthrax

Grewia ferrugina

Toqonou (Or)

Retained placenta

Girardinia bullosa

Dobi warabechaa (Or)

Retained placenta

Hypericum revolutum

Hinee (Or)

Gurda (Or) 'penetration'

Hypoestes triflora


Impatiens rothii

Burii (Or)


Indigofera arrecta


Kalanchoe densiflora

Aba muchoo (Or)


Kniphofa foliosa

Ragadu (Or)


Laggera tomentosa

Keskeso (Or)


Nicotiana tabacum

Tambo (Or)


Pavetta abyssinica


Pavetta gardenniifolia

Buniti (Or)

Blackleg, anthrax

Pentanisia auranogyne

Hindha (Or)


Pentas schimperiana

Hanqisa (Or)

Chitto (Or) / ikek (Am)

Pimpinella hirtella

Aba sangaa (Or)


Plectranthus lanuginosus

Kan waransa (Or)

Colic, endoparasites

Plectocephalus varians

Biliqee (Or)


Polygala sphenoptera

Hida qaqala (Or)


Rumex abyssinicus

Gubduu (Or)

Chitto (Or) / ikek (Am)

Rumex nepalensis

Dangago (Or), tult (Am)3


Salix subserrata

Alaaltu (Or)


Stephania abyssinica

Kalala (Or)

Blackleg, colic

Verbascum sinaiticum

Gurahare (Or)

Blackleg, shotelay (Am)

Verbena officinalis

Dargu (Or)

Colic, blackleg

1 = Oromic, 2 = the local term for these plants is unknown, 3 = Amharic

Manipulative and management practices

The study revealed the following surgical, manipulative and management practices in the region:

  • Gurdaa uruu (Oromic) 'penetration of gurdaa'. This involves, according to the respondents, the disruption of the cervical seal (with a stick carved into the shape of the bull's penis, the indicator finger of metallic material). It is performed on a repeat breeder female bovine or one whose gestation period is prolonged beyond nine months. The former is served soon after the treatment. Respondents described gurdaa as 'an obstructing mass at the entrance into the uterus and interfering with the deposition of semen and with parturition'. We had difficulty in explaining this problem. But the practice was widely believed to be effective.
  • Hanqisaa (Oromic): It involves either anointing of the skin or drenching of plant concoctions. Treatment is given every year with the belief that it prevents animals from any disease. Respondents in the Alemgena area said that anointing produces skin wounding. With a fee of 0.50 Birr for each animal treated, this practice appears to be the most lucrative traditional veterinary practice in study area.
  • Moora kaasuu (Oromic), mora megfef (Amharic): This appears to be the exact synonym of superficial keratectomy which is done for corneal and limbal conditions of the eye such as neoplasms and opacities. The healer raises the "superficial layer" of the cornea with a safety pin or needle and then makes excisions. This is done mainly for pink eye. Different medications are applied to facilitate wound healing and haemostasis.

Other practices included closed castration [tumuu (Oromic)], open castration [kolaasuu (Oromic)], amulets [kitab (Amharic), hidhaa (Oromic)], branding [gubaa (Oromic), metekos (Amharic)], blood letting [mebitat (Amharic), muraa (Oromic)], prevention of calf mortality [shotelay (Amharic)], management of dystocia (mutation and traction, foetotomy), management of teat obstruction (corrected with the shaft of a poultry feather), improvement of mothering behaviour, bone setting, relieving anuria (through riding of affected animals), management of retained placenta (manual removal and drenching with plant preparations), and control of brooding behaviour of indigenous hens (by hanging them head down and penetrate their nasal septum).

Local names and descriptions of animal health problems and tentative diagnoses

The study documented 130 local disease names and descriptions, 90 of which were in Oromic, 35 in Amharic and five in both languages. The local disease names covered over 40 different types and groups of animal health problems and consisted either of single words or phrases. Based on the meanings known to the authors or from dictionaries (Gamta 1989, MBA 1996), 108 of the disease terms were based on nine factors. As some of the 108 terms fell into more than one category (e.g., abbaa sangaa), the percentages in Table 4 relate to 130 terms.

About 17% of the Oromic disease names were neither included in local dictionaries (Gamta 1989, MBA 1996), nor stated in a context related to animal health, nor could their meanings be explained by native speakers.

The data showed that the same ethnic group sometimes used different names for the same disease in different areas or used the same term differently in different areas. Waan aduu (Oromic), for example, is more commonly used in the Adama area, iteecha (Oromic) in Barah and Sululta, and simbira (Oromic) in Alemgena and Walmara. The former two are interchangeably used for anthrax and blackleg and the latter is used for endoparasitism. There were frequent inconsistencies; even healers, while describing diseases, sometimes used the same term for different diseases or vice-versa.

Table 4. Basis for local disease names (n=130).

Basis for local name



Clinical manifestations


Azurit (Amharic) 'circling gait' and jaanjoo (Oromic) 'non-coordinated movement' for coenurosis

Alleged cause or predisposing factor


Waan aduu (Oromic) 'of the sun' mainly for anthrax

Effect of the disease


Waaraandoomsii (Oromic) 'dulling the spear' for rinderpest, due to blunting of the spear former generations of Oromos used to slaughter the myriad number of cattle dying from the disease

Organ affected


Af te eger (Amharic) 'affecting the mouth and limbs' for FMD

Species or group of animals affected


Abbaa sangaa (Oromic) 'father of the ox' for anthrax

Adulatory/cajolery naming


Desta (Amharic) 'happiness', maariyye (Oromic) 'that is merciful' both used for rinderpest

Treatment method utilised


Waan muraa / arraaba jalee (Oromic) 'that of incision / ventrum of the tongue' presumably for mucosal disease; treatment involves letting blood from the ventrum of the tongue



Menamentie (Amharic), ilbisa (Oromic) 'trash' for rabies

Course of the Disease


Qaxxisaa (Oromic) 'something progressing slowly' for abscess

Areas for future attention

Farmer training

  • Although the study area had a better infrastructure for modern veterinary services than other regions in Ethiopia, farmers did not seem to be well informed about easily available but key disease prevention and control strategies. Therefore teaching the farmers of prevention measures such as vaccination and regular deworming could have a significant impact on livestock productivity.
  • The month of October is featured by massive flow of animals, from all directions and from as far as 100 km, to Hora Lake in Debre Zeit. Animals are dipped in and made to drink the water. Farmers believe that the water is salty and improves the performance of animals. This practice where animals come from different areas and mix poses the risk of transmission of contagious diseases such as dermatophilosis, lumpy skin disease, and ectoparasites. Thus there is a need to determine the mineral content of Hora water and its role in the performance of animals. This information could be used in farmer training and alternative measures could be introduced to avoid or reduce the risks of such animal movements.
  • A frequent complication of traditional veterinary medicine practice encountered at the clinic of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine is aspiration pneumonia, resulting from drenching concoctions while tightly gripping the tongue against the lower jaw. The animal cannot swallow and fluid goes into its trachea and lungs. Some healers even used coughing during drenching as a criterion of proper administration. It is neither possible nor justifiable, at this stage, to discourage farmers from drenching preparations. However, teaching them not to grip the tongue during the practice could reduce complications. Farmer training could also help to avoid practices related to public health hazards such as skinning of animals affected with anthrax.


  • Although the final analysis of data from this study is pending, this study is by no means an exhaustive one, neither had it covered every sub-district nor all healers in central Ethiopia. Thus there is a need for further comprehensive investigations.
  • The need to investigate Hora Lake water was discussed earlier.
  • This study showed that most farmers used traditional veterinary medicine for the treatment of blackleg and were complacent with the therapy. Thus evaluation of the different treatment methods of blackleg is likely to yield positive results. The type of problem described as gurdaa and the effects of the treatment method also needs to be verified. In view of the importance of controlling endoparasitism in the country, evaluation of the alternatives used by more than a quarter of the farmers could unveil some unexplored resources.
  • The scientific diagnoses for the different local disease names and descriptions were made only tentatively and need to be verified further through appropriate diagnostic methods. Properly documented local disease names can serve different purposes: to train farmers, extension workers, paraveterinarian and university students, to collect epidemiological information (especially in developing countries where the facilities for modern diagnostics are not readily available), to understand related indigenous knowledge, and may be of interest to linguists.


The findings of this study suggest that the impacts, positive or negative, of traditional veterinary medicine could be more marked in other regions of the country because there the veterinary infrastructure is not as good as in the study region. Thus there is a need to initiate similar studies in other regions, besides consolidating the observations in central Ethiopia.

There is a dire need of farmer training on different perceptions and practices of traditional veterinary medicine, alternatives available in modern veterinary medicine, and important public health problems.

A number of the documented practices can be adapted for use in animal production systems.

There is a need to evaluate the documented practices and medicinal plants.

Analysis of local disease names and descriptions can serve a number of purposes.


Financial support for this study was obtained from the Ethiopian Science and Technology Commission (ESTC). The support and understanding by the Commission is highly appreciated. The administrative support of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of Addis Ababa University was helpful in the implementation of the project. We would also like to extend our deep gratitude to all the healers for their co-operation and to the Borana Lowland Pastoral Development Project of GTZ-Ethiopia for sponsoring our participation in this conference.


Abebe D. 1993. Medicinal plants and enigmatic practices of northern Ethiopia. Berehanena Selam Printing Enterprise, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Alemu, L. 1993. Studies on the traditional medicinal plants of veterinary importance in and around Bahir Dar. DVM Thesis, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia.

Dagne, A. 1997. Treatment trial of subclinical mastitis with Polygoncea herb. Paper Presented at the Ethiopian Veterinary Association Congress, June 1997, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Davis, D. K. 1995. Gender-based differences in the ethnoveterinary knowledge of Afghan nomadic pastoralists. Indigenous Knowledge and Development Monitor 3(1):3-5.

Gamta, T. 1989. Oromo-English Dictionary. Addis Ababa University Printing Press, Ethiopia.

Ghirotti, M. and M. Woudyalew. 1996. Madosha: Traditional castration of bulls in Ethiopia. In: C.M. McCorkle, E. Mathias and T.W.S. van Veen (eds.). Ethnoveterinary Research and Development. Intermediate Technology Publications, London, United Kingdom. Pp. 116-120.

MBA, Akkaadaamii Afaan Saboota Itoophiiyaatiin Ministeera Beeksisaafi Adaa. 1996. Galmee Iechoota Afaan Oromoo. Mana Maxxansaa Boolee (Bole Printing Enterprise), Finfinnee (Addis Ababa), Ethiopia.

Tolossa, A. 1996. Ethnoveterinary medicine in the central highlands of Ethiopia. Paper presented at the Ethiopian Veterinary Association Congress, June 1996, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Present state of the ethnoveterinary system in northwestern Bangladesh

M.I. Zuberi


According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 80% of the world's people, mostly in poor and less-developed countries, depend on traditional medicine for their primary healthcare requirements (Bajaj and Williams 1995, WHO, IUCN and WWF 1993). They use medicinal plants not only for themselves but also for their domestic animals. Traditionally, people collected the ingredients for their medicines from forests. But due to rapid and extensive deforestation accompanied by uncontrolled over-exploitation the wild populations of medicinal plants are disappearing very fast (Bajaj and Williams 1995, WHO, IUCN and WWF 1993, Zuberi 1997). Moreover, with the advent of modern medicine, continued neglect and lack of support turned traditional healers and ethnoveterinary practitioners away from their profession.

Bangladesh had very rich traditional human and veterinary medical systems providing primary healthcare and treatment to people and their domestic animals for centuries. But until recently, the elite and the rich undermined and neglected this tradition (Rashid 1997). Although the rural poor continue to use the system, much of the indigenous knowledge has been eroded. WHO's launching of "Health for All by the Year 2000", the fact that national governments of less-developed countries are adopting it, and the urgent need for an easily accessible, efficient livestock healthcare system - these three factors make it imperative to re-vitalise and improve the plant-based traditional healthcare system.

The present paper reports the results of a pilot study in northwestern Bangladesh on the state of the ethnoveterinary system and its future.


Five villages were randomly selected in five different Police Stations (thanas) in northwestern Bangladesh. In these villages rapid rural appraisal (RRA) was used to collect information about ethnoveterinary practitioners in general. One village, Ujankhalsi, was re-visited to interview the ethnoveterinary practitioners with a semi-structured questionnaire.


The results of the appraisal indicated that there were three to nine ethnoveterinary practitioners in the study villages (Table 1), with an average of 5.5 per village. During the appraisal, people reported that they generally go to the ethnoveterinary practitioners known as kaviraj for treating their ailing animals and often get good results. In case of a failure or a serious disease they consult modern veterinary doctors who are difficult to access and expensive.

Table 1. Results of RRA on ethnoveterinary practitioners in five villages in northwestern Bangladesh.


Police station

Number of ethnoveterinary practitioners








Rajshahi Court








The results of the questionnaire survey among nine ethnoveterinary practitioners in Ujankhalsi village revealed the following important aspects of the ethnoveterinary system there:

  • Five of the practitioners were above 60 years old, three were between 45 and 50, and only one was below 30 years.
  • Five were illiterate, the rest had gone only to the primary school.
  • Six were poor and had to buy rice regularly for more than six months of the year.
  • The families of the practitioners had 5.6 members on average.
  • Of the nine practitioners interviewed, only one was female.
  • All practitioners had adopted farming as alternative livelihood and depended more on agriculture than medical practice.
  • Five of the nine had less than an acre of land, so were virtually landless, while the other four had less than four acres of land.
  • Four of the practitioners had been practising ethnoveterinary medicine for more than 40 years, three up to 20 years, and only two up to 10 years.
  • All nine practitioners adopted mantra and other supernatural means along with plant-based medicine and put emphasis on both.
  • The nine practitioners reported to use 47 plant different plants of which 18 have so far been botanically identified.
  • All practitioners complained heavily that the plant materials they have been using had become rare and difficult to obtain.

Discussion and conclusions

This study was short, but as the study village is typical for Bangladesh, the results likely reflect the Bangladeshi ethnoveterinary system. The important outcomes of the study are briefly discussed below:

The high age of the ethnoveterinary practitioners indicates that ethnoveterinary medicine is a declining profession. No young people, even the sons and daughters of the practioners' families, are attracted to this livelihood. Old practitioners often complain that no-one around them was interested to learn from them. Their knowledge is not documented and is transmitted from person to person orally and through practical training, which commonly takes a long period of association.

The low education of the practitioners and the fact that they have no exposure to education, science, or modern knowledge, make them professionally weak and unfit for the modern time. It renders them vulnerable to neglect and they are unable to adopt scientific approaches to re-vitalise the traditional system. Besides, two thirds of the ethnoveterinary practitioners are poor and often face starvation during the lean period, which makes them more vulnerable to abandoning ethnoveterinary medicine as their livelihood. As an evidence, more and more ethnoveterinary practitioners are engaging in farming. But low land ownership, large family size, and acute poverty will make this change in livelihood difficult and non-sustainable.

The majority of the ethnoveterinary practitioners have been practising for a long time, often more than 40 years indicating their long experience, success, and dedication to the profession. They also harbour the vast reservoir of indigenous knowledge and the whereabouts of the wild plant diversity associated with the system. Thus, the break-down of the system will not only affect poor villagers and their domestic animals but will be a permanent loss of a part of our culture, heritage, and biodiversity.

Another important aspect coming out is the fact that all ethnoveterinary practitioners nurtured and highlighted the supernatural aspects of their treatment along with the plant-based activities. This seems to be a very general phenomenon among the traditional health practitioners in Bangladeshi villages. Perhaps, the continued neglect from the elite and rich of the society and long deprivation have led them to resort to supernatural means to amplify their importance. Shifting importance from plants to supernatural powers which they pretend to possess or acquire and which are not transferable, would give them a special position in the rural society where the poor and illiterate would not dare to challenge them easily.

Though the ethnoveterinary practitioners mentioned a fairly large number of plant species, they were very reluctant to tell about many other plants and especially their uses unless a very good rapport has been established. However, every kaviraj emphasised the loss of biodiversity and the rapid decline in the population of wild plants. In addition to spending more money and time, the ethnoveterinary practitioners often have to use substitutes, which may give less satisfactory results.

What can be done?

What can be done to re-vitalise the ethnoveterinary system? It is now agreed that the traditional systems and indigenous knowledge are important to achieve sustainable development and alleviate poverty. At Rajshahi we have been involved with the conservation of traditional knowledge and biodiversity for the last ten years with local NGOs and we have adopted the following strategies.

As most of the educated and well-to-do people consider ethnoveterinary and other traditional healthcare systems as obsolete, backdated, and dead in our society, it is very important to demonstrate that this not at all true. Thus there is an urgent need to collect authentic data from villages to document the importance of the system even at present, when it is largely neglected by almost everybody. Data on the number of ethnoveterinary practitioners working in the villages, number of patients they are treating, the diseases they cure and the plant materials they use, are all recorded and documented. The ultimate aim is to create a complete database on the traditional system for future use. It is already apparent that the ethnoveterinary practitioners are important in the village primary healthcare system and should be included in development planning and for sustainability of the production system.

There is another facet of our activity, i.e., organising the village ethnoveterinary practitioners at the grass-root levels to initiate participatory conservation and utilisation of medicinal plant biodiversity. The village people are motivated to form small groups with traditional healers to collect, cultivate, and market medicinal plant species in their homesteads and in under-utilised lands. They use the plants as needed and market the excess to generate extra income to improve their living standard. Women are more involved in the homestead-based production of these non-traditional items. With the expansion of the production system, attempts to expand into value-addition, research, market and new product development will be made. All these activities will make the interventions successful, self-supporting, and sustainable.

The ethnoveterinary practitioners also need recognition, training, and technical support enabling them to be fit for the modern society. They plan to get organised with our help and achieve these goals.


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Rashid, R. B. 1997. Traditional medicine with a modern approach. Star Magazine, May 30, 1997, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

WHO, IUCN, and WWF. 1993. Guidelines on the Conservation of Medicinal Plants. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

Zuberi, M. I. 1997. Medicinal plant diversity: present state and conservation: Needs in Bangladesh. Country Report, IDRC Expert Group Meeting, IDRC, New Delhi, India.