by Bedah Mengo
NAIROBI, Aug. 31 (Xinhua) -- Joseph Malenya, a dairy farmer in Kakamega, western Kenya, knows too well the pain of losing a high-yielding cow.
And the agony is more severe when such a highly-priced dairy animal dies from a cause that is preventable.
Four months ago, Malenya returned home in the afternoon to find his Friesian cow that was producing 18 liters of milk per day - not a mean achievement -sleeping at the cowshed.
The animal had not left the shed since morning, which was unusual, despite its handler trying as much as he can to persuade it.
Kept under a semi zero-grazing system, the animal and four others would be shepherded out of the units for grazing at an open field in the morning hours before being returned in the afternoon for intensive feeding.
"I called a veterinary officer urgently upon realizing the animal was sick and he arrived later that afternoon and diagnosed the cow had a problem with its stomach. He did what he could to treat it but unfortunately it died later that evening," he recounted Wednesday.
The following day the vet with the help of the farmer dissected the animal only to find several plastic bags inside its rumen.
"I was disheartened. Apparently the animal had ingested several plastic bags while grazing in the field and yet the farm worker had not told me," he said.
Malenya is among the hundreds of livestock farmers in the East African nation who are happy with a recent move by the government to ban production, use and importation of plastic bags. Gone with the plastics are meaningless death of their animals.
The ban took effect Monday and Kenyans are currently transiting to alternatives to plastic bags which include canvas bags and carton boxes.
Anyone found with plastic bags will now be arrested and charged, with the offence attracting a fine of between 19,417 dollars and 38,834 dollars, a jail term of between one and two years, or both.
Kenyans used up to 24 million plastic bags monthly, with half ending up in the environment due to poor disposal.
"If we were not using plastic bags then and disposing them badly, my cow would not have died. The death was preventable if people were careful not to dispose the bags as they wished," said Malenya.
Tens of farmers keeping their cows under zero grazing and the free range systems have been affected by the plastic bags after their cows ingested them.
However, those affected most have been farmers free-ranging their animals, in particular the pastoralists in Northern Kenya.
A number of their goats, sheep and cattle have died after consuming plastic bags as they roam from one region to another in search of pasture.
A study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNDP) released two weeks ago found that 15 per cent of all cows slaughtered in the capital Nairobi were full of plastics in their stomachs.
The bags once consumed by animals over time end up in human bodies after people eat meat, with some researches indicating the plastics lead to cancers, birth defects, developmental problems in children and immune system suppression.
"An animal is usually lucky to survive if it ingests plastic bags but a number die due to infections caused by plastics. You only learn of it when it dies or when you slaughter it and check the rumen where they lodge affecting motility," said Bernard Moina, an agricultural officer in western Kenya.
Moina noted that unlike canvas material, which can be broken down by the cow's stomach, plastics cannot.
"They tie themselves around the animal's intestines making it difficult for it to consume other feeds. Most animals eventually die," he said.
However, despite being a menace to animals, some dairy farmers have for years been using plastic bags to pack their produce.
While the practice was outlawed by the government, it had lived for many years until the Monday ban as farmers seeking better prices of their milk hawked the produce.
"I am happy with the ban," said Rosemary Muthini, a chicken farmer in Ruai on the outskirts of Nairobi. "Plastics made life easier because one could buy eggs and I pack them in for them but they were a menace because they dirtied the environment."
Since the ban, Muthini who also slaughters chickens and sells their meat at 4 U.S. dollars noted that initially he was packing the product in plastic bags but has now changed to aluminum foil.
"It is expensive since the bags went for 0.05 dollars and aluminum foils cost double but I believe we will adapt to the change," he said.
The National Environment Management Authority on Wednesday said the ban on plastic bags had largely succeeded as consumers were transiting to alternative even as it formed a joint team with manufacturers to address their grievances.