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[NAIROBI] Scented cattle will be roaming East Africa in increasing numbers over the next three years thanks to a grant to perfect a technology that keeps tsetse flies away.

Researchers have developed repellent collars containing the synthetic equivalents of the odours of animals that tsetse flies tend to avoid — such as waterbuck.

Worn around the necks of the cattle, the collars confuse the flies — reducing the likelihood of bites, which transmit sleeping sickness (trypanosomiasis).

According to Rajinder K. Saini — a principal scientist at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) which developed the collar — up to three million cattle die each year from the disease.

"We decided to look for an alternative to the tsetse fly traps that were earlier being used by the pastoralists in Africa. Since the pastoralists are always on the move, we realised that they were leaving the traps behind. They needed a mobile technology, and that is why we decided to look for something more effective," Saini told SciDev.Net.

"Africa is losing a lot. A loss of three million cattle means losing half a million tonnes of milk and one million tonnes of meat annually."

Saini also said since 80 percent of the land in Africa is tilled by hand, when the animals are sick, less of the land is cultivated.

The European Union has now signed a US$1.8 million deal with icipe to trial the collars with Maasai pastoralists in East Africa over the next three years to ensure that the technology works in its latest form.

The repellent, which has already undergone some tests in Kenya and Zimbabwe, is expected to be a breakthrough.

"Areas that have been avoiding livestock-keeping due to rampant tsetse flies can effectively use this new technology," said Phyllis Ngunjiri, deputy director for research and development at the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute.

"With our networks of farmers in different African countries, we are hoping to diffuse this information fast so that many farmers can start using it,"  said Joseph Methu, head of partnership and capacity development with the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa.

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