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Acacia leaves to treat gastro-intestinal parasites in Sahelian sheep

Gastro-intestinal parasites are a major threat to small ruminants raised under field conditions. In the Sahel, livestock farmers have traditionally used medicinal plants such as acacia to manage parasite infections in sheep. Researchers at INERA+ and partner institutions++ have recently assessed the effectiveness of the leaves of local acacia species against these parasites. Their findings will be used to create sheep-feed recommendations for livestock farmers. The findings were published as a part of Geneviève Zabré’s doctoral thesis, presented on 12 June 2018.

Small ruminants in the Sahel. © Cirad, Sophie Molia
By Geneviève Zabré, translated by Daniel McKinnon
Updated on 04/30/2019
Published on 03/15/2019

Gastro-intestinal worms: a threat to livestock systems

For more than 50 years, various classes of drugs have been used to treat gastro intestinal parasite worms. Increasingly, parasites are becoming resistant to these drugs. Researchers have therefore begun investigating effective and sustainable alternate treatment strategies that could be used to complement or replace the drugs used in livestock farming.

In Burkina Faso, local plants are being studied as possible alternatives to chemical drugs. Livestock farmers in the Sahel often use plants to treat parasitic diseases. Existing drug treatments are relatively expensive and often beyond the financial means of local farmers.

Acacia in bloom. © Inra, Michel Becker
Acacia in bloom © Inra, Michel Becker
Two local medicinal plants

With this in mind, researchers at INERA+ and at partner institutions++ began to investigate two varieties of locally present acacia: Acacia nilotica and Acacia raddiana. These species are used by livestock farmers in Burkina Faso’s Sahel region to treat parasitic infections in small ruminants. Their goal was to assess the effectiveness of these acacia species against parasitic infections when used individually or in combination.

Anti-parasitic acacia

Researchers first studied the anti-parasitic properties of the two acacia species on the parasite Haemonchus contortus, which is considered the most dangerous digestive-tract parasite in sheep. Laboratory tests using acacia extract were carried out on both H. contortus eggs and L3 larvae. The findings demonstrated that both acacia species have anti parasitic properties. Of the two species, Acacia raddiana presented higher larval mortality rates and lower rates of egg hatching. This suggests that A. raddiana be used solely or in combination with A. nilotica.

Assessing the effectiveness of acacia as a parasite treatment in animals

Researchers at INERA+ and at partner institutions++ then studied the effectiveness of the two acacia species to treat parasitic infections in naturally infected sheep. To do so, sheep feed was supplemented with acacia leaves. Mossi sheep that had been naturally infected with parasites were given this feed. It was thus possible to study a broad range of ovine digestive-tract parasites. 

The findings are very promising. They show that the consumption of acacia in fodder leads to a reduction of:

  • faecal egg counts when compared to animals that did not have acacia in their fodder;
  • the number of parasite larvae in the sheep’s digestive tract;
  • female fertility in the H. contortus parasite.

In addition, the regulated consumption of these plants, A. raddiana in particular, may also be used to reduce the methane produced by ruminants in their farm environments.

The findings will make it possible to put forward recommendations for best practices in the use of acacia plants in Burkina Faso’s Sahel region. The research is ongoing as it seeks to identify the molecule, or molecules, responsible for the anti-parasitic properties of acacia. The research should lead to optimised feed strategies for livestock farmers in the Sahel.

+ INERA is one of the four research institutes of Burkina Faso’s National Centre for Scientific and Technological Research (CNRST), a specialised government agency charged with developing, carrying out and coordinating environmental and agricultural research in the country.

++ French partners: INRA Joint Research Unit for Pathogen–Host Interactions (IHAP)*; INRA Herbivore Joint Research Unit (UMRH)**; Research Institute for Development (IRD)

African partners: University of Ouagadougou

Brazilian partners: University of São Paulo; Federal University of Maranhão (São Luís)

Scientific contact(s):

Scientific contacts in Africa and Brazil:
Geneviève Zabré (University of Ouagadougou 1 Pr JKZ, INERA Burkina Faso ), Adama Kaboré (INERA Burkina Faso), Adibe Abdalla (University of Sao Paulo), Helder Louvandini (University of Sao Paulo), Livio Costa Junior (Federal University of Maranhão (São Luís))
Associated Division(s):
Animal Health , Animal Physiology and Livestock Systems
Associated Centre(s):
Occitanie-Toulouse, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

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Lifecycle of Haemonchus contortus

Internal parasites in ruminants have two life stages:

- free-living phase where eggs are passed out through sheep faeces. Once on the ground, the eggs will hatch, becoming L1 stage larvae. When environmental conditions are favourable, the larvae will develop into L2 stage and then infective L3 larvae. In general, the free-living phase lasts a minimum of between 4 and 10 days, depending on the parasite species.

- parasitic phase, which takes place in the sheep’s digestive tract and begins when the animal grazes on grass contaminated with infective L3 larvae. After ingestion, L3 larvae develop into adults that mate and feed on the host’s blood. Females are very reproductive and produce between 5,000 and 10,000 eggs per day. The parasitic phase lasts from two to three weeks.

Life stages of Haemonchus contortus. © INRA
Life stages of Haemonchus contortus © INRA

My thesis in 3,500 characters. © INRA, Véronique Gavalda

My thesis in 3,500 characters

Begun in 2016, the My Thesis in 3,500 characters is a programme for PhD candidates and junior researchers who prepared their dissertation in the INRA Division for Animal Health.

The programme is designed for junior researchers to develop skills in communicating with the general public. The programme is a part of the research training that they receive. Junior researchers are supported as they write a web article intended for the general public about their research that is approximately 3,500 characters in length. The article is then published on the Division for Animal Health’s website, with the name of the junior researcher appearing as the author.

Geneviève Zabré at the 2018 international My Thesis in 180 Seconds competition. © Felix Imhof


Geneviève Zabré, the author of this article, is the winner of the 2018 international My Thesis in 180 Seconds competition. Candidates have three minutes to orally present their research work, with a single slide and no notes. PhD students from 18 French-speaking countries participated in the competition.

Ms Zabré was awarded first prize in the contest while representing Burkina Faso. She holds a PhD, conferred on 12 June 2018, from Ouaga 1 Professeur Joseph Ki-Zerbo University in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Her work is part of a France–Africa–Brazil tripartite project on the fight against desertification. Her thesis is entitled The anti-parasitic and nutritional properties of Acacia nilotica var. adansonii (Guill. and Perr.) O. Ktze and Acacia raddiana (Savi) Brenan, two Sahelian fodder plants in Burkina Faso. French partners in the project are the INRA Joint Research Unit for Pathogen–Host Interactions (IHAP) and the INRA Herbivore Joint Research Unit (UMRH). The project began in 2015 in Burkina Faso and is supported by France’s Research Institute for Development (IRD), INRA and their partners in Africa and Brazil.

Ms Zabré also received support from IRD/Burkina Faso, together with the Francophone University Agency (AUF) and Ouaga 1 Professeur Joseph Ki-Zerbo University, through the “Innovation Campus” programme to prepare for the My Thesis in 180 Seconds competition.

See the video (in French)