In Senegal, dairy production still faces many challenges. Conquering them would enable the local communities to count on having enough food and money for each day.
It is hard for Senegalese dairy farmers to achieve high yields. The soil is dry and poor in nutrients. Drought usually means that there is not enough nutritious feed for the cattle, which has a negative impact on milk production.
As a consequence, the farmers’ income decreases, making them barely able to cover the costs of farming and their children’s education. Half of the population is food insecure.
Luke-coordinated FoodAfrica programme aims to improve sustainable food production and food security by bringing together a group of researchers from different backgrounds and disciplines. Together with the local farmers, authorities, students and entrepreneurs they have come up with solutions that can make food safer and accessible to all.
The researchers studied different cattle breeds and animal husbandry methods. The goal was to find the best practices and promote them in local communities to improve the productivity of cattle.
The results were encouraging.
“Adopting good cattle management practices is one of the main solutions”, states Luke’s Research Professor Jarkko Niemi.
“When the cattle was managed well and provided with good quality feed, enough shelter and pure water, the yield of dairy cows more than doubled, compared to when it was managed poorly.”
Naturally, some of the farmers can’t afford the resources needed for good animal husbandry. To help them, the farmers were taught how to preserve fodder underground. The new, cost-effective method drastically improved the feed situation.
“The aim was to pass on the good practices through training and farm visits, for instance. I think FoodAfrica succeeded well”, Niemi says.
Senior Specialist Mila Sell believes training local communities to farm more efficiently is an excellent way to improve their quality of life.
“In Africa, 60 to 80 per cent of people get their income from farming, and it will be extremely important in the future as well. Investing in expensive technologies will not be of any help if the basic solutions are not established.”
Local cattle breeds in Senegal are popular but far from productive. With good herd management, crossbred cattle could provide a sevenfold increase in milk yield.
“We noted that the cow types that partially or fully originate from Europe produce more milk. On the other hand, local breeds survive much better in a hot climate”, Niemi explains.
Mapping the cattle breeds was an entirely new research approach for Senegal. Genetic testing allowed the research team to examine the cattle’s origin, which had remained unknown for many farmers as crossbreeds can vary greatly in appearance.
“There is still a lot of work to be done with the breeding. But it has already been proven that breeding has significant potential for enhancing the livelihood of farms”, says Principal Researcher Miika Tapio.
If milk production increases, Senegal’s dependency on imported milk could be reduced. In the research period, the local Zebu cattle produced the smallest measurement of milk production, 307 kilos per year, whereas the High Bos Taurus breed produced 2,251 kilos per year.
“Production could easily be increased to 1,000 kilos per year. The potential is huge, even though we are talking about completely different numbers compared to Finland, for example, where cows produce almost 9,000 kilos of milk per year”, Tapio says.
Now, good practices are being passed on in Senegalese communities and academia. The project’s findings have been integrated into the curricula of the Interstate School of Veterinary Science and Medicine of Dakar where one of the project’s partners, professor Ayao Missohou, teaches.
Business women in the making
It is obvious that improving the productivity of dairy farmers will enhance food security in Senegal, but the project also had other ambitions.
“We wanted to improve the position of women in the Senegalese society”, Mila Sell explains.
A large part of farmers in Africa are women. According to Sell, women usually farm for the needs of their families whereas men farm products for sale. If the productivity of cattle increases, women are much more likely to become entrepreneurs.
“The next step is to get the attention of local politicians and policymakers. That way, education on better and more effective farming methods can also be spread to farmers who were not involved in our project.”
Text: Silja Annila