Although livestock play a central role in rural development in West Africa, traditional livestock systems are in general characterized by high mortality rates, low reproductive rates and low offtake rates. Furthermore, the presence of trypanosome-infected tsetse flies in the subhumid and humid areas seriously holds back the potential for livestock production. The region’s endemic ruminant livestock, however, are highly adapted to the local environmental conditions and are able to survive and remain productive in tsetse-infested areas with minimal inputs where other breeds succumb to disease and other hardships. The conservation and improvement of these native African breeds have potential to greatly improve the livelihoods of West Africa’s livestock keepers.
A project named ‘Sustainable Management of Globally Significant Endemic Ruminant Livestock in West Africa’ (or ‘PROGEBE‘, an acronym of the French version of the project title) aims to develop models for community-based conservation and management of critical habitats for three endemic ruminant livestock breeds—N’Dama cattle, Djallonké sheep and West Africa Dwarf goats—and to develop strategies for preserving their unique genetic traits/habitats.
Two research reports authored by Karen Marshall, Maria Ejlertsen and Jane Poole describe the results of a 12-month retrospective survey for estimating livestock demographic parameters of endemic ruminant livestock kept by smallholders in selected sites in Guinea and Mali. The demographic parameters estimated included natural rates, such as parturition, abortion and mortality rates (prolificacy and mortality rates), as well as management rates, such as offtake and intake rates.
One of the reports — Sustainable management of globally significant endemic ruminant livestock in West Africa: Estimate of livestock demographic parameters in Guinea — was released by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in January 2013. The other report — Sustainable management of globally significant endemic ruminant livestock in West Africa: Estimates of livestock demographic parameters in Mali — was released in December 2012.
The following are among the key recommendations given by these research reports.
- Interventions to lower natural mortality rates should be prioritized and achieved mainly by changes in management practices in the short- to medium-terms to, for example, better control disease and improve feed. In the longer term (20–50 years) it may be possible to reduce mortality by genetically improving disease resistance of the animals through breeding programs.
- Interventions to improve other demographic parameters could as well be worth prioritizing, namely, age at first parturition, parturition interval, prolificacy rates and abortion rates. Again, this should be achieved mainly through changes in management practices in the short-term, such as improved feeding, and longer term genetic improvement.
- Build capacity to improve awareness of traditional and alternate management and breeding practices and the effects these have on livestock production and productivity.
- Conduct a modelling study using the demographic parameters estimated here, combined with other data from household surveys, livestock census and literature to determine the expected impact of potential PROGEBE interventions (such as improved health care, feeding and/or animal genetic improvement) on livestock production over different time horizons.
The findings of these surveys indicate that N’Dama cattle, Djallonké sheep and West Africa dwarf goats are the prominent breeds in PROGEBE’s Guinea and Mali project areas and suggest that some level of controlled breeding is being applied in most herds/flocks, primarily through sire selection (although these may or may not be implemented with a specific breeding objective in mind). The results indicate considerable scope for improvement of demographic parameters through improved herd/flock husbandry management in the short term, and improved breeding strategies in the long term.