The human population is expected to increase by 2 billion in the next 30 years. There have been growing concerns about meeting the increasing demand for animal protein and providing safe food for human beings that is free from antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs). Although AGPs are currently used to improve the health status and growth performance of animals, there has been misuse of these additives in animal production, which has contributed to the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Most countries have either restricted or banned the use of AGPs in animal feed, with consumers increasingly demanding antibiotic-free poultry products. Moringa oleifera has been identified as a potential alternative additive that can improve poultry growth performance, health, and the quality of meat. There is, however, little knowledge about the prevailing perceptions of using moringa in poultry production.
During the month of November, we celebrate World Antimicrobial Awareness Week – a global campaign aimed at improving awareness and understanding of AMR and encouraging best practices. FSNet-Africa contributed to this campaign by hosting a live podcast as part of the #InCoversationWithFSNetAfrica series on Twitter Spaces. FSNet-Africa fellow and animal nutrition researcher, Dr Nobuhle Sharon Lungu, from the University of Pretoria, shared her thoughts on the use of Moringa as an alternative, safe additive for poultry growth. Her project provides some insights into the existing knowledge, perceptions, and practices of feed producers, poultry farmers, and Moringa producers regarding the use of Moringa as an additive in poultry feed.
Sharon’s inspiration and motivation come from the passion that her Master’s supervisor had for animal, meat science, and food security research. Below are some of the highlights from the interview.
Could you explain to us what antimicrobial resistance, or AMR, is?
AMR is when disease-causing micro-organisms, like bacteria, change over time and develop the ability to survive in the presence of chemicals or drugs that are meant to inhibit their growth or kill them. Antimicrobial resistance does not refer to us humans being resistant, it refers to the microbes themselves that develop resistance over time. Micro-organisms exist everywhere, on our surfaces, in our bodies, and in animals. When we take antibiotics too frequently, these micro-organisms develop a mechanism that allows them to survive in the presence of those antibiotics. The antibiotics then become ineffective.
How does AMR relate to African food systems?
There is a difference between antimicrobial and antibiotic resistance. The food system is made up of various components including humans, animals, plants, and the shared environment. All of these components have bacteria. There are a lot of interactions that take place in the food system between these components to deliver food. The food system creates a pathway through which resistant genes can be transferred between animals, humans, and the environment. For example, you can have contaminated meat that is consumed by humans. If the meat is not properly handled or cooked, the resistant genes are transferred to humans. This just shows us how interconnected humans, animals, and the environment are.
AMR can cause economic losses. Currently, 1 million deaths in humans are caused by AMR. This number is projected to increase to 10 million by 2050.
How will your research address concerns around AMR?
The research aims to contribute to the reduction of AMR. In livestock, antibiotics are used for therapeutic processes, such as treatment, prevention, and control of disease. They have also been used to promote growth – especially in poultry. Although the European Union banned the use of antibiotics, many African countries continue to use them.
Scientific evidence shows that Moringa has growth-promoting elements and antibiotic properties that can be useful in broiler chickens. My study doesn’t focus on the scientific aspects but rather looks at the farmers and feed manufacturers to determine what kinds of alternatives they would take up and to understand if Moringa would be an option. The study explores if the feed industry is open to using Moringa. This would help to inform scientists regarding what farmers and feed manufacturers are looking for in feed products. It can also inform government on the value of supporting small-scale Moringa farmers to supply the feed industry. The study will help to unlock the connections between these various food system actors.
Is there something that we, as consumers, can do to reduce AMR?
There are simple things that we can do as consumers such as not misusing antibiotics. We are running out of options in terms of antibiotics; there are no new discoveries and it is going to be very difficult to treat diseases.
- When using antibiotics, consult medical practitioners.
- Little things like handling your food properly can prevent infections.
- When using antibiotics, seek veterinary advice.
- Maintaining good hygiene and biosecurity on our farms could go a long way in preventing infections so that we won’t need these antibiotics.
Call to action
Prevention is better than cure. Let us prevent infections on farms so that we won’t need antibiotics. #PreventionIsBetterThanCure4AMR.
To listen to the original interview, click here