Professor Vinny Naidoo, the new Dean of the Facutly of Veterinary Science at the University of Pretoria.
“Veterinary science is not only about keeping our pets healthy. Looked at from a wider perspective, it’s about food security. Nobody is born a farmer, but they can be trained to become one - and that’s where veterinary science can play a very important role.”

This is according to Professor Vinny Naidoo, the newly appointed Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Pretoria (UP). The faculty is the only one of its kind in South Africa, and the second-oldest in Africa. Naidoo, 41, is among the youngest deans in the country.

Naidoo obtained his veterinary science qualification from Medunsa and has a PhD in Veterinary Pharmacology from UP. He said: “I see the faculty as a driver of food production, because South Africa is food insecure. The land debate is also a food debate. It’s about how we make farms productive.”

Statistics South Africa’s 2016 General Household Survey shows that 7.4million South Africans reported experiencing hunger that year, while food security remains the most urgent issue for citizens living in poverty.

Naidoo said the majority of small-scale farmers own half the cattle in South Africa.

“However, there are problems in that too few calves are born, and they are not large enough in weight. We need healthier calves. We want to change the farming model. If there are 10 cows, ideally, there should be at least seven calves born each year.”

He said cows that had poor diets could not enter the commercial feeding system, and were not valuable to farmers.

“There is no arid land for expansion into plant production, so livestock farming will be an important growth industry for the country. In livestock farming, farmers may be able to recognise basic diseases in cows, for example, but they purchase drugs from co-operatives were the most appropriate drug is not always available, and at times receive poor advice.”

Many farmers have no access to vets who can assist them with animal production.

To help improve animal production and achieve food security, the university was strategically targeting the recruitment of students from rural areas so that they could go back home and work with farmers in their communities, Naidoo said.

There are 3500 vets in South Africa, while the World Health Organisation estimates there should be 9000. UP admits 190 first-year students into its Veterinary Science faculty annually, and is introducing a nursing degree in veterinary science next year. While he has worked as a vet at the university’s animal hospital, ­Naidoo’s interests lie in the unintentional effects of drugs and food safety.

“If I treat a cow with a drug and someone drinks the milk, they might have an allergic reaction to the drug. Exposure to antibiotics in milk can also result in antimicrobial resistance and the generation of superbugs,” he said.