10 April 2011

Uganda: One Man's Boer Goat Dream

In Kabukye village, Kamuli district in eastern Uganda, Dr Gideon Nadiope 42, is pioneering a groundbreaking technology that has the potential to transform goat production in sub-Saharan Africa. After many years of experimenting, the vet has perfected Artificial Insemination (AI) in goats, a technology that until now was thought to be only applicable to the breeding of cattle.

Today, for just Shs 3000 ($1.2) small holder farmers in Kamuli can get access to improved goat breeds through Artificial Insemination. That compares with the $150 it would typically cost to buy an in-kid Boer imported from South Africa.

Nadiope's work is so significant to animal production that it is one of the technologies that have been adopted for dissemination by the Community Animal Health Network (CAHNET), a regional forum that brings together organisations and individuals with an interest in community animal health initiatives in Eastern Africa.

The beginning

The journey to AI in goats dates back to the late1990s soon after Nadiope had graduated as a Veterinary Assistant. He and a couple of friends looked at ways of putting their skills to productive use and decided on offering Artificial Insemination for cattle to farmers in Busoga.

"We looked for areas that were lacking service and identified AI in cattle as one such area," he recalls. The business worked on the simple principle that helping the farmers get better quality animals that would earn them higher incomes would make them willing to come back and pay for the service. That way, the AI centres would also build a relationship with the farmers.

In the space of just three years, Nadiope's centres had reached 15,000 farmers. His team of twelve was on average carrying out 44 inseminations per month. In due course, it emerged that many more farmers would be interested in AI but they were constrained by lack of sufficient supply of liquid nitrogen.

However, a number of farmers did not have sufficient land to raise cattle but had interest in improving their goats. "Many farmers asked if we could apply AI in goats but at the time, the technology did not exist, so we looked at bucks/male goats," Nadiope explains.

Through Busoga Diocese with the help and support of the retired Bishop Cyprian Bamwoze, four bucks were secured from Kenya. The stock of four was dispersed in Busota, Budondo, Iganga CMS and Buyuge, locations separated by more than 60 kilometres to act as breeding stock.

The bucks were dispersed across a wide area at first because he wanted to see how they performed under different conditions. That reduced chances of in-breeding. Farmers were trained in general handling and management of the improved goats with an emphasis on benefits such as increased meat production, higher growth rate of the crossbred and increased milk yields as well as the application of droppings as manure to improve crop production.

Afterwards, when farmers brought goats over for cross-breeding, they saw better goats that grew faster, setting the stage for acceptance of AI. The bucks were rotated to avoid in-breeding but this proved to be a limiting factor since they could not be rotated more than three times.

The break for Nadiope came much later in 2005 when Dr Lorna Brown, an animal breeder in the UK who was already applying AI to sheep, wrote enquiring about possible collaboration. Nadiope saw an opportunity to transfer her expertise in sheep to goats, so he arranged for her to come over to Kabukye.

He bought 40 indigenous goats and imported 300 doses of goat semen from South Africa. Though the success rate from the subsequent insemination was low, Nadiope had learnt his lessons. Goats are more sensitive to stress and it is essential to calm them down before embarking on the exercise.

He also realised that he needed more knowledge and he had taken on too much at the first attempt. During that pioneer attempt, Nadiope carried out Cervical AI, Laparoscopic AI and Embryo transfer all in one day.

For all the trouble, only one goat out of the 21 that were inseminated conceived. The single case of success came from the group of goats that had been subjected to Laparoscopic AI while the Cervical AI and embryo transfer groups yielded nothing.

"A common mistake people make in goat AI is to follow the regime of cattle, yet the two do not work the same way," he observes. In this case, AI started 36 hours after the heat-inducing hormones were withdrawn and the goats were transported immediately after the exercise, subjecting them to high levels of stress.

After that, Nadiope spent two months with a South African goat breeder where he learnt so much about goat breeding. On return to Uganda, he invited farmers to bring goats that were on heat on which he performed Cervical AI, achieving a 42% conception rate. Although this was lower than the average 54-85% success rate, it proved that AI in goats was possible in Uganda.

Later, he came into contact with Dr Pradip Ghalsasi, an Indian breeder who had been practicing AI in goats with much success in India. It was from Pradip that he learnt that stress was a major inhibitor to successful AI in goats and that checking the mucus membrane of goats prior to AI allowed one to gauge the chances of success. On his third attempt, Nadiope inseminated 67 indigenous breed goats, achieving a 78% conception rate on farm.

Further, for his Master of Science in Livestock Development, Planning and Management degree thesis in which he investigated the conception rates of estrus-synchronised indigenous Ugandan goats by cervical artificial insemination, he inseminated 149 community goats, of which 61.7% conceived.

Farmers are excited about cross-bred goats because the offspring grow faster. Often in just five months, the kid is bigger than the indigenous mother and the farmers have either been swapping a given number for cows or selling them at prices as high as $50 for a kid.

Nadiope has decided to scale up breeding of dairy goats because a major challenge he discovered early on was that Boers are heavy feeders, yet the indigenous goats produce very small amounts of milk. If nutrition is good, a goat can drop as many as three kids. This would be a challenge to farmers who would need to buy milk to supplement the mother supply. Having dairy cross- bred goats as mother stock would therefore lead to improved survival rates for the kids, he says.

Goats are an important source of income and animal protein for many poor communities in Africa but their production has been constrained by the absence of improved breeds and lack of adequate animal husbandry by farmers. Compared to local breeds, improved goats are ready for the market in just five months, meaning farmers have an opportunity to earn more from goat rearing.

Different people ranging from farmers seeking AI services to students and peers from institutions of higher learning, visit his farm in Kabukye to learn from him. Nadiope says his technology has the potential to improve the quality of goat herds in Uganda faster and at lower cost. While the government has for years tried to improve goat breeds in Uganda through importation of Boer goats, the supply of Boer males has not adequately reached the poor communities to enable them to improve the quality of their herds.

Besides a less-than-adequate frequency of imports, the limited stocks of male goats and the movement of these stocks or their offspring may lead to adverse effects of inbreeding. On the other hand, using imported bucks is not a sustainable solution as importation of live goats is expensive; some of them die off before they are effectively used leaving farmers without quality bucks to breed with. When semen is collected from the bucks, it can be kept and used for AI long after the death of the buck.

Comparatively, Nadiope charges farmers just Shs3000($1.2) to inseminate a local goat under natural heat and Shs10,000 ($4.1) when heat is induced using hormones. Nadiope has now learnt to harvest and extend semen locally. Resources allowing, he plans to begin freezing semen, which would expand his capacity to offer AI services.

He believes CAHNET is a useful platform for sharing knowledge and succeeding together. "They link you vet-to-vet and vet-to-farmer so it is a great platform for knowledge sharing," he says.

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