Domestic cavies (or guinea pigs) provide a high-quality meat source with high levels of protein in similar quantity as chicken meat. Here, Brigitte Maass explains how an innovation platform linking cavy producers and other organizations is helping to bridge molecular science with livestock production.
An Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ACBF) project (led by the BecA-ILRI Hub, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, the University of Dschang, and the Université Evangélique en Afrique) is looking at ways to improve alternative and rapid access to food and income in Cameroon and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) by improving cavy production.
In a recent meeting of the Regional Cavy Innovation Platform in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Bertin Bisimwa, a former BecA-ILRI Hub ABCF fellow, explained to farmers and other participants the consequences his molecular studies of cavies in the province should have for their keeping of this small animal.
Farmers were concerned about him taking blood samples; they wondered what would happen to their animals. Bertin told them that he thoroughly studied the blood – and the DNA – in the laboratory in Nairobi to assess the degree of inbreeding and the general genetic diversity found in the their cavy populations. He brought two important messages: inbreeding is high and has serious negative consequences such as decreased litter sizes, less litter frequency, kids with inferior birth weights, increased disease susceptibility, and death of animals at younger ages.
He also found two genetically quite different groups of cavies from North of the provincial capital town of Bukavu (Kalehe and Kabare territoires) or South of it (Walungu territoire). This was good news as it suggests some ways to deal with inbreeding – through the innovation platform, people from these different areas could exchange guinea pigs to increase genetic diversity.
The regional Cavy Innovation Platform in Sud-Kivu was established in October 2012. It comprises various stakeholders along the cavy value chain, including producer representatives from four different villages, where the project has research sites, traders, NGOs, a micro-credit organization and a radio station. The Platform functions by bringing together all kinds of actors along a value chain to identify challenges and knowledge gaps and help link cavy keepers to markets. Innovation Platforms are driven by the stakeholders who collectively engage in development challenges and research needed. They identify possible solutions and opportunities for improvement and sustainability.
Bertin reflected on his conversations in the platform: “the meeting of the Innovation Platform in Kalehe was a new experience for me – as a researcher doing cutting edge science in the laboratory – I had to face farmers’ pre-occupations and challenges and explain my research in a language they could understand. Nevertheless, I returned happy from that day in the field because I could really understand that my laboratory study can make a difference to the lives of the cavy farmers.”
The work took place within the project ‘Harnessing husbandry of domestic cavy for alternative and rapid access to food and income in Cameroon and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo’ supported by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) under the Africa Food Security Initiative and through the partnership between Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).