“It has been suggested that the Jersey breed could maximise outputs and income for dairy farmers in Rwanda, but we need to make sure that smallholder dairy farmers are supported to leverage this potential.”
That was the main message from Dr Oluyinka Opoola from the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health at a public event organised through the Jersey International Development Network today.
Dr Opoola was invited to give an overview of the new Jersey Inka Nziza Project element she is co-ordinating, in collaboration with the Rwanda Agriculture & Animal Resources Development Board. Jersey Inka Nziza (Beautiful Jersey Cow) is a project led by the island based Royal Jersey Agricultural & Horticultural Society and funded by Jersey Overseas Aid. The project element driven by CTLGH is to develop a profit index tailored for dairy farming in Rwanda in particular, by supporting the future profit led management decisions by Rwanda dairy farmers, but with the potential to widen the concept throughout the region in time.
“Agriculture is of vital importance to the economy of Rwanda. The dairy industry comprises of 80% smallholder farmers who depend on small-scale agriculture for their livelihood.”
Dr Oluyinka Opoola, CTLGH researcher
Over a hundred islanders and invited overseas guests, including four senior project technicians from Rwanda and Jersey Island’s Minister for International Development Deputy Carolyn Labey, attended the free event in St Helier, which provided an update on projects within the current Jersey breed led dairy development programmes in Rwanda, Malawi and Ethiopia whilst hearing specifically about the difference the Jersey breed is making to the people of Rwanda.
Dr Opoola commented: “Agriculture is of vital importance to the economy of Rwanda. The dairy industry comprises of 80% smallholder farmers who depend on small-scale agriculture for their livelihood.”
“These farmers generally have only one or two cows but these animals are crucial to the wealth and health of the family. A cow can provide both a sustainable livelihood and an excellent source of nutrition for a family and its manure will support the growth of vegetables.”
Of the 1.1 million dairy cows farmed in Rwanda, more than half are the native Ankole breed that have been crossed with high yielding dairy cows using imported semen. Although crossing the Ankole with breeds like the Holstein Friesian in recent years has resulted in higher milk yields, these large cross breeds require much more feed to maintain them, which is problematical when resources are scarce.
The Jersey cow is much smaller, but produces 13% more milk per kg bodyweight than other high yielding dairy cows. The Jersey breed is also reportedly 69% more resilient to the climate in Rwanda than other breeds normally favoured for dairy production.
With their ability to produce a creamier, more nutritious milk, their lower requirement for water and their higher feed conversion rate, Jerseys make much more sense for low-input production systems in Rwanda than other exotic dairy breeds.
For that reason Rwanda has decided to select the Jersey breed as its preferred breed to support the development of the country’s dairy industry.
“Profit indexes are used extensively in the western world but have not yet been developed for African production systems,” said Dr Opoola.
She added: “It is anticipated that the dairy profit index (DPI) being established by this project, tailored for the Jersey breed, will support smallholder farmers in Rwanda tackle challenges associated with productivity in their cows like fertility, milk yield, disease tolerance, feed efficiency and climate resilience.”
The project will lead to the creation of a large and unique dataset of 4,000 dairy cows across Rwanda, with records on performance and other key production traits alongside genotyping information. Key productivity traits defined through a participatory survey will then be economically weighted to support the development of a DPI that Rwandan farmers can use to decide which bull or imported semen to use to improve the performance of their cows in the future.
The development of a DPI for Rwanda is an example of the work of the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health, a global research and development partnership committed to enhancing the productivity, adaptability and sustainability of livestock in tropical production systems through genetic improvement. With nodes in the UK and Africa, the Centre works with collaborators worldwide to help develop more resilient and profitable livestock systems and reduce poverty in small scale farmers in developing countries.
Alongside The Royal Jersey Agricultural & Horticultural Society and Rwanda Agriculture Board, CTLGH will also be working closely with SendaCow and Pan Livestock Services on this Jersey Overseas Aid funded project to help improve the dairy industry in Rwanda and eradicate hunger and poverty in rural communities.