Depending on their cattle breeds and husbandry methods, the income difference between Senegalese dairy farming families can be as high as eight-fold. Under the FoodAfrica programme, coordinated by Luke, a unique yield monitoring programme was conducted,and is now being expanded to dairy farms in collaboration with a local counselling organisation.

Mame Diarra, Senegalese veterinarian, jumps down from a horse-drawn wagon in a manner which attests long experience, walking to greet the housewife who is preparing breakfast. The breakfast does not include dairy products – In Senegal, coffee is mostly mixed with milk powder, even if the family in question produces milk.

Assane Gueye, who keeps dairy cows on his farm, is raking hay for his cows. He tells Mame Diarra that he is annoyed for his cows not yielding more milk although he feeds them with high-quality hay. It should be noted that access to high-quality hay is not self-evident in the semi-arid climate of the Sahel.

Cattle at well in Senegal. Photo: Stanly Tebug
Cattle at well in Senegal. Photo: Stanly Tebug

Eight-fold difference in income from dairy farming

In Senegal, the westernmost country of Africa, milk production is extremely low, with the country in practice depending on imports. The Senegalese government has made improved and increased milk production one of its priority projects.

Research data available on milk production and cattle husbandry in Senegal is also extremely scant. Under the FoodAfrica programme, coordinated by the Natural Resources Institute of Finland (Luke), the first monitoring study of its kind on milk yield has been carried out by the International Livestock Research Insitute (ILRI), seeking to shed light on the effect of different cattle breeds and husbandry methods on milk production.

Depending on their cattle breeds and husbandry methods, the income difference between milk producers may be as high as eight-fold.

“The results are clear-cut. Following investments in dairy cattle husbandry, the net yield of dairy cattle husbandry will show a surprisingly clear growth rate, irrespective of the cattle breed. The yield also exhibits clear differences between different cattle breeds,” comments Miika Tapio, Principal Research Scientist at Luke.

Local cattle breeds are most popular

picture1-400x346The study monitored a total of 220 milk producers for a duration of 20 months between 2013 and 2015 in the regions of Thiès and Diourbel, located in Central and West Senegal. On average, the producers had 20 to 22 cattle in their herds, of which approximately one half consists of cows. Depending on the breed, the daily milk yield varied from 1.5 to 7 litres.

While an overwhelming majority of the cattle comprised local breeds, the sample also included individual animals from improved breeds. One of the objectives of the FoodAfrica programme was to ascertain the kinds of breeds that cattle farmers in general keep.

“While Senegal has a bustling livestock market, not even the animal’s previous owner may have correct information on its background. Through a genetic analysis, the various breed and crossbreed type were unveiled, and comparisons between their impact could be made,” Miika Tapio says.

Comparisons were made between four different cattle breeds, including their hybrids: African humpback cattle; African humpless cattle; an improved humpless Western breed; and an improved humpback cattle breed originating in South America or Asia.

Producers were enthusiastically involved

In Senegal, traditional nomadism is still very much in evidence, particularly in the countryside. The cattle farmers studied under the FoodAfrican programme owned more steadfast farms on the outskirts of large cities, despite fact that their background in many cases was in nomadism.

Dairy farmers participated enthusiastically in the study, something that the researchers found highly gratifying.

“It is unusual that all research subjects remain in the study for its entire length. However, this was the first time that an expert visited farms on a monthly basis, talking with the producers and providing them with some form of support. Initially, farmers were not provided with advice with a direct impact on the yield, but, later, they were instructed, among other things, in the preservation of feed,” Miika Tapio comments.

senegal-zebu-imgp4923_web-400x300However, the results of the study were so conclusive that many producers adopted new practices from them, applying them to their own cattle husbandry.

“When interviewed, the producers told us that breeds with a high yield also consume a great deal of feed. At first, the producers were critical about this. Now, we were able to measure the difference between the various breeds and husbandry methods, including the advantages brought about by investments. They now have an objective foundation for making decisions at the level of their own farms,” Miika Tapio says.

During the follow-up phase of the FoodAfrica programme, information will be distributed to produces in collaboration with ANCAR, a local counselling organisation. A total of 15 training sessions has been scheduled, distributed across a two-year period.

Following such sessions, morning coffee in Senegal may be more frequently mixed with fresh milk, not just with milk powder.

Text: Niina Pitkänen/Luke

The research in Senegal is coordinated by International Livestock Research Insitute (ILRI). Other partners include Institut Sénégalais de Recherche Agricole (ISRA), Ecole Inter Etats des Sciences et Médecine Vétérinaires de Dakar, Luke, and the University of Helsinki.

The article was first published in Luke’s client magazine Leia, June 2016.