Vet Shortages from Georgia to Worldwide
This post is written by Mark Mitchell, Director of Livestock Programming, Land O’Lakes Venture37
Land O'Lakes Venture37 recently started the Food for Progress Safety and Quality Investment in Livestock (SQIL) project to improve food safety and quality along Georgia’s dairy and beef value chains. This project works to improve the farm to fork management of livestock and the processing of products such as milk, cheese, and value-added meats. As this USDA-supported project started to refine its approach, the farm-level constraints pointed towards the need for improved veterinary services. It appears that Georgia, along with many other countries, has been facing this shortage of veterinarians for the last decade.
During the post-Soviet era, Georgia went through a phase where agriculture and its associated careers were viewed as peasants. Young people were out to discover all the new and unknown. Staying on the farm or going to university to work on the farm was not a priority. This is also reflected in many other countries such as the United States, where the American Veterinary Medical Association's 2019 census found shortages. The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) worked with the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) to find that the shortage in the number of veterinarians is a major constraint to world food security and safety.
Georgia has started to look for solutions
Agricultural GDP declined from 25% in 1999 to 9.3% in 2011, where it remains today. The same CIRAD study reflected on how economically distressed states allocate insufficient central budget to agriculture even when animal agriculture contributes to their GDP. Georgia has only one School of Veterinary Medicine which is part of the Agrarian University in Tbilisi. The average enrollment of pre-vet students is 20-25 people annually, with a 75-80% graduation rate. In the current academic year (2019/20), there are a total of 79 students enrolled. Because of this shortage, large commercial farms have started to hire Israeli and Estonian veterinarians. Smallholder farms look to government employed vets who provide vaccination services as their primary duty.
The Bank of Georgia wants to offer a loan package tied to a veterinarian mentor to prevent loss of their livestock used as collateral for the loan. That's innovative thinking from the finance sector! Feed and pharmaceutical suppliers now offer advice to large volume buyers of their products. Smallholders again remain without access to professional services and advice. And to address the most obvious need - to entice more students to study veterinarian medicine - there are ongoing discussions and initiatives to establish additional Veterinarian Faculties that would receive public support at the Akhaltsikhe University, Telavi University, and European University.
Where should US aid play a role?
Most livestock development professionals are very aware of the livestock health care needs across Africa and that short-term solutions (community animal health workers) are facilitating improved production gains. This does not get us past farm-level challenges like loss of production and the rapidly increasing emerging threats of antimicrobial resistance and zoonosis because vet students prefer to work in urban areas with minimal exposure to hardships.
One short-term solution is to put a new emphasis on hosting veterinarians on a much larger scale in the US vet schools and providing scholarship opportunities. Summer sessions of 2-3 months, which are split between classroom and on-farm practicum, can provide immediate results to countries such as Georgia where the need is.
I worked in Ecuador a few decades en el pasado, where a year of work in the rural areas was a requirement for graduation. The farm I managed for the ministry hosted one student every year, they had enough education to support the diagnosis of health problems in the cattle and I helped them to learn how cattle preferred to be handled. Each student stated, “This year I learned what a vet really is and does.” Aid to schools and ministries could help establish a year of rural work as part of their curriculum deserves a look.
Longer-term solutions should go toward the capacity development of these schools. For example, in Rwanda, the school of veterinary medicine faces the same challenges - government budget support. Students do not have access to a farm nor adequate laboratories to take theory to practice, and the livestock economy of Rwanda is changing and the curriculum has not kept pace. Long-term placement of US vet school professors and upgrades to the curriculum are needed in many schools worldwide.
At Land O’Lakes Venture37 we have begun to incorporate the capacity development of veterinary sciences into existing projects as well into the design of proposal responses. Our private-sector mentality means that we take what we have learned from our work and constantly look for ways to apply it to future work as quickly as possible.
At the end of the day, this shortage of veterinarians translates to production losses for producers and less high nutrient-dense food to support food security in Georgia and worldwide. Venture37 is a learning organization and we are constantly digging deeper into these topics alongside Land O’Lakes Inc. to support the innovations needed for food security.
 CIRAD, 2011. Contributions of Veterinary Activities to Global Food Security for Food Derived from Terrestrial and Aquatic Animals, 79th General Session World Assembly OIE.