Ninety percent of commercial farmers highly respect veterinarians, with 88% saying they have a good relationship with vets and seek their advice. This is according to a recent survey conducted by the South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) and Marketing Surveys and Statistical Analysis (MSSA), funded by the Health and Welfare Sector Education and Training Authority (HWSETA).
The research found that more than 80% of commercial farmers have livestock. It’s estimated that commercial farmers in South Africa own 7.2-million cattle and 13.6-million sheep.
Most commercial farmers surveyed believe that vets play an important role in ensuring food security. They also agree that veterinary services help control zoonotic diseases, which spread between animals and humans.
However, while 71% of respondents have easy access to veterinary services in their area, most farmers treat their animals themselves – unless there is an emergency. They are generally well informed about animal diseases, and say they have sufficient access to livestock remedies and to scheduled medicines available on prescription.
Eighty percent of the farmers canvassed have livestock, and three-quarters believe there is no shortage of veterinary services in their areas. The 25% of respondents who are affected by perceived veterinarian shortages are principally mutton, goat, wool and mohair farmers.
These findings may seem to be in contrast to recent news about veterinary skills shortages in South Africa, but the insights from emerging and small-scale farmers – where the provision of veterinary and para-veterinary services is much more limited – paint a different picture.
The SAVC’s president, Dr Nandipha Ndudane, says it is particularly enlightening to learn the extent and size of South Africa’s livestock farming sector – which the study estimates as being home to 13.1-million cattle and 19.7-million sheep, roughly a third of which (5.9-million cattle and 6.1-million sheep) are owned by emerging and small-scale farmers.
Of concern is that a third of emerging and small-scale farmer respondents do not use veterinary services at all and veterinary clinics are used by only 25% of the sample, she notes. However, half rely on advice from fellow farmers on how to maintain healthy herds, and most are aware of the need to isolate livestock or consult veterinary professionals in case of disease. Only 10% do not have preventative plans in place to ensure healthy livestock.
More of these emerging and small-scale farmers (45%) are aware of state veterinary services in their area than are aware of veterinary clinics (39%) and community veterinary clinics (26%).
One of the biggest challenges facing up-and-coming and small-scale farmers is their lack of agricultural training, the survey found, with more than three-quarters of respondents expressing a need for more education in this regard.
“Such insights will help the industry to tailor more effective veterinary interventions and services for all farmers,” says Dr Ndudane.
The needs analysis study, conducted by the SAVC and MSSA between 2020 and 2022, surveyed the following groups, in addition to veterinary students and households with pets:
461 commercial farmers
241 emerging farmers and 274 small-scale farmers
703 registered veterinarians
533 registered para-veterinarians
“The aim was to gain an understanding of the perceptions of the veterinary and para-veterinary sector among these interest groups, with a view to identifying needs, addressing issues and finding solutions to take the professions into the future,” says Dr Ndudane.
Here are some of the other findings:
In alignment with the results from emerging and small-scale farmers, the vets surveyed were also aware of the need to provide quality veterinary services in rural areas and to look closely at issues of affordability and socio-economic circumstances when providing care. Vitally, they emphasised that the profession needed a well-defined transformation strategy while being mindful of maintaining standards.
Respondents also stated that the training opportunities available for would-be veterinarians, currently restricted to Onderstepoort, must be reassessed. “The affordability of studying veterinary sciences and the high costs of setting up a practice are barriers to entry for the profession,” says Dr Ndudane.
There was a general feeling among those canvassed that the veterinary industry needs to grow by creating more awareness of the value vets offer to society, and that it must explore synergistic partnerships with other industries and sectors.
“One of the most important issues highlighted, that we frequently address at the SAVC, was that vets should be made aware of the importance of managing their work-life balance, and for enhanced awareness around mental health issues,” says Dr Ndudane.
Critically, para-veterinary professionals believe there should be a heightened awareness and visibility of who they are, what they do, the study opportunities available to them and how they add value to the community.
“Through its communications campaigns the SAVC aims to increase awareness of the various para-veterinary professions – such as animal health technicians, veterinary nurses, laboratory animal technologists, veterinary physiotherapists and veterinary technologists – and the important role they play in society,” says Dr Ndudane.
The needs analysis revealed a strong desire among para-veterinary professionals to further their training and development. They are hungry for more career and professional growth opportunities.
The research found that many para-veterinary professionals are eager to be afforded more independence and autonomy in their lines of work. They would also like to see the status of their professions being elevated in society and in the economy, and for this to translate into higher earning potential.
In keeping with this, recent gazetted rules issued in accordance with legislation allow para-veterinary professionals to operate their own facilities. The SAVC will conduct a workshop webinar for each para-veterinary profession in mid-April 2023 about the implications and benefits of the new rules.
“New opportunities will open up, with para-veterinary professionals now being able to run their own practices. Animal health technicians, for example, will now be able to open primary animal healthcare facilities and extend the reach of their services to emerging and small-scale farmers and educate them about animal healthcare, although certain procedures still need to be carried out under the supervision of a veterinarian,” says Dr Ndudane.
Furthermore, the SAVC is partnering with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the European Commission for the Control of Foot-and-Mouth Disease on a pilot project to train animal health technicians (AHTs) in the Eastern Cape and North West in setting up sustainable businesses. It is hoped that this will expand access to quality primary animal healthcare services to rural smallholder farmers in particular, while creating an income stream for unemployed AHTs, says Dr Ndudane.
She concludes: “We hope this qualitative study will serve as a catalyst for accessing funding for further research and strategic interventions, to grow and strengthen the industry. It’s critical in helping identify challenges and opportunities, and map a way forward – to maintain and improve veterinary and para-veterinary standards, and create a safe environment for animals and people.”