On October 16, 2021, Alinea joins the international community in recognizing World Food Day and commits to continuing to improve how our global agri-food systems work.

In low- and middle-income countries, the livelihoods of more than half a billion people depend on livestock – and this number is increasing at up to four per cent per year for the foreseeable future, according to the International Livestock Research Institute. Actions taken to achieve food security with sustainable development must include livestock, the nourishing foods they produce and strategies to mitigate disease risks at the human-animal-environmental interface, including potential pandemics.

Farmers, especially women, are the first line of defence against infectious diseases transmitted from animals to people, such as COVID-19. They are in a unique position to protect themselves, their families and communities from these endemic and emerging zoonotic disease risks.

Earlier this year, Dr. Brian Bedard, Alinea International’s Director of Food Safety and Animal Health, trained veterinarians and agricultural specialists who work with women farmers in Ethiopia on protecting their livestock and reducing the risk of zoonotic diseases that are a priority in Ethiopia, such as rabies, TB, brucellosis, anthrax and parasitic diseases. This training of trainers program was part of the Agricultural Growth Program-2 Capacity Development Support Facility – the CDSF Project – funded by Global Affairs Canada and led by Sacha Innes, Project Director and Alinea International’s Director of Education & Capacity Development.

Stopping the spread at the source

Twenty months after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries around the world are still trying to stop the spread. The continued threat of COVID-19, and impacts experienced to date, underscore the importance of preventing the transmission of zoonotic diseases at their source. Education through programs like Alinea’s One Health Zoonotic Disease Course is a practical step to addressing this issue.

“This type of training engages producers first-hand to raise awareness and provide them with basic strategies to assume personal responsibility for ensuring the health of their animals and preventing the introduction and spread of diseases among their livestock and communities,” said Dr. Bedard.

The blended virtual and in-person program covered farm biosecurity for livestock producers in Ethiopia and provided a technical refresher for government and private veterinarians, community animal health workers, doctors, public health workers and agricultural specialists who engage with and train livestock producers. Following the program, participating farmers reported a significant improvement in their understanding of zoonotic diseases, appreciation of the risks and ability to care for the health of their animals.

The program is now available as an open-source e-learning course to meet local needs in Ethiopia and adapt and translate for other countries. This resource is only one example of how members of Alinea’s CDSF project team built sustainable long-term support for Ethiopian farmers into their work.

E-learning through the Agricultural Training Portal

Over the past five years, the CDSF Project developed the Ethiopian agriculture sector’s capacity to deliver high-quality training and services to farmers, both women and men, in more than 150 districts. The project team worked with Ethiopia’s Agricultural Growth Program to transform traditional training methods into digital learning solutions and on-the-job supports for farmers – directly reaching more than 60,000 people in Ethiopia. While the CDSF Project is ending, the resources developed will live on through a digital platform to continue supporting Ethiopian farmers today and in the future. The Agricultural Training Portal, in English and three local languages, houses training materials, tools, templates, videos and e-learning courses produced throughout the project. These resources support agricultural specialists, veterinarians and decision-makers as they work to scale-up agricultural production in Ethiopia.

“Seeing is believing for Ethiopian farmers,” said Innes. “Through the Portal, agricultural specialists have immediate access to new, innovative agricultural technologies. We also equipped them with computer tablets so they can provide useful information visually to women and men farmers.”

The One Health Zoonotic Disease Course and materials are among multiple e-learning resources available on the Portal. Others include the AGP2 Gender Toolkit to improve gender equality at the household level; the Maradol Papaya Production Course covering the selection of mother trees and seed extraction, papaya propagation and planting, as well as disease management; Poultry Biosecurity focusing on common poultry diseases in Ethiopia and how to identify, treat and prevent them; and more.

Focus on gender equality

The Portal also features an extensive Training Resources Library, which includes the Women Empowerment Manual. This manual provides agricultural specialists, Women’s Affairs Officers and district-level subject matter experts with a tool to engage women in structured discussions about their lives and build skills to enhance individual and collective empowerment. This manual and the Gender Toolkit are among key resources designed to promote gender equality for women farmers – an area of particular focus for the project team due to the inequity faced by women in access to and control over land combined with high burdens of domestic household labour.

“We helped families redistribute household labour to increase women farmers’ access to information and agricultural inputs, such as seed, fertilizer and animal feed,” said Innes. “We also supported the development of basic financial literacy and business planning acumen as key tools in their economic empowerment.”

Other materials available on the Portal include highlights about project impacts, success stories, videos and up-to-date information about COVID-19 in Ethiopia.