Science - January 12, 2006

Western livestock does not help Gambia

In many developing countries the use of Western livestock breeds or crossbreeds is promoted. Research by Dr N’Guetta Bosso in Gambia shows however that breeding programmes that focus on genetic improvement of local breeds are often more worthwhile.

Some exotic breeds such as Frisian cattle are bred in Gambia for optimal meat and milk production. But breeds like this are more susceptible to the deadly sleeping sickness, which is transmitted by the tsetse fly. Bosso discovered that indigenous breeds, such as the Djallonké sheep and the West African dwarf goat, survive better in areas with large numbers of tsetse flies, and do not require much in the way of medicines and insecticides. They are also better at surviving the arid conditions in the savannah areas south of the Sahara, where there is often little food.

Dr Henk Udo of the Animal Production Systems Group and a member of Bosso’s graduation committee: ‘Bosso’s work puts the Djallonké sheep, the West African dwarf goat and the N’Dama livestock back on the map. In developing countries most breeding programmes are only on paper, but the ones that Bosso looked at really function and provide farmers with male breeding material.’

A breeding programme started in 1994 in Gambia using the indigenous N’Dama cattle. It is carried out by the International Trypanotolerance Centre (ITC). Bosso analysed the results. The productivity of this livestock breed, measured in terms of meat and milk production, has increased even in areas with high densities of tsetse flies and long periods of drought and food scarcity.

According to Bosso, it is important that government agencies involve livestock farmers in the breeding programmes. Livestock farmers in Africa, even if they only have very small flocks, often have valuable knowledge about their animals, which is passed on from generation to generation. They know for example which breeds are resistant to certain diseases or are capable of surviving in harsh environments. / HB

N’Guetta Bosso received his PhD on 9 January. His supervisor was Professor Johan van Arendonk, chair of Breeding and Genetics.

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