Animal disease and the limits of local knowledge: dealing with ticks and tick-borne diseases in South Africa



Some proponents of local knowledge, such as Paul Sillitoe, have expressed second thoughts about its capacity to effect development on the ‘revolutionary’ scale once predicted. Our argument in this article follows a similar route. Recent research into the management of livestock in South Africa makes clear that rural African livestock farmers experience uncertainty in relation to the control of stock diseases. State provision of veterinary services has been significantly reduced over the past decade. Both white and African livestock owners are to a greater extent left to their own devices. In some areas of animal disease management, African livestock owners have recourse to tried-and-tested local remedies, which are largely plant-based. But especially in the critical sphere of tick control, efficacious treatments are less evident, and livestock owners struggle to find adequate solutions to high tickloads. This is particularly important in South Africa in the early twenty-first century because land reform and the freedom to purchase land in the post-apartheid context afford African stockowners opportunities to expand livestock holdings. Our research suggests that the limits of local knowledge in dealing with ticks is one of the central problems faced by African livestock owners. We judge this in relation not only to efficacy but also to the perceptions of livestock owners themselves. While confidence and practice vary, and there is increasing resort to chemical acaricides, we were struck by the uncertainty of livestock owners over the best strategies.