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Empowering Rural Women in Sri Lanka's Dairy Industry

15 October 2021
In Sri Lanka, women play a critical role in driving rural communities' economic development and ensuring food security. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Sri Lanka is largely self-sufficient in animal products except in dairy, where national consumption has steadily grown since the 1970s, outpacing supply. Boosting dairy production in the country will help empower women in rural areas and improve the country’s self-reliance.
Text: O. Yusuf/IAEA 
Photos: S. Anuraj/University of PeradeniyaIn collaboration with the IAEA through its <a href="https://www.iaea.org/services/technical-cooperation-programme">technical cooperation programme</a>, the Sri Lankan government and local universities are looking to strengthen the dairy industry through assisted reproductive technologies, such as embryo transfer and artificial insemination of dairy cows.Despite the increasing demand for milk, the informal workers who sustain the industry — often rural women — have not seen a corresponding growth in their income. They struggle to find high-quality productive female calves for farming, like this one pictured, received free-of-charge under the IAEA-assisted programme at a calf distribution ceremony.To help bolster milk production, while simultaneously creating new opportunities for dairy farmers, the IAEA launched a project to help produce genetically superior female calves, and to donate them to Sri Lankan women dairy farmers.With support from the IAEA and FAO, and the Sri Lanka livestock ministry, scientists at the University of Peradeniya learned how to leverage biotechnology and nuclear techniques to produce, preserve and transfer cattle embryos into surrogate mothers.Using semen from genetically superior bulls — evaluated for their qualities using nuclear-derived genomic tools — the surrogate mothers are artificially inseminated and closely monitored throughout their pregnancy. This photo shows embryos kept in holding at room temperature before being frozen. Here, a veterinarian is preparing an embryo donor cow prior to embryo collection. The embryo donor is given an epidural injection before the embryo flushing is carried out.  Read more about the <a href="https://www.iaea.org/topics/reproduction-and-breeding">science</a>.By organizing training and procuring vital equipment, the IAEA supported local scientists to produce hundreds of cattle embryos and to appropriately store them, using liquid nitrogen. Here, a Sri Lankan expert examines collected embryos for their quality. After grading the quality of the embryos they are stored in liquid nitrogen at -196°C for future transplantations in surrogate cows.Over 100 rural women farmers in the North Central Province, as well as their families, will benefit from the project. It is expected that the higher quality cows will lead to a 150 per cent increase in the women’s annual income."Empowering women farmers is crucial as they are primary caretakers of dairy cattle on small-scale farms,” said Mykola Kurylchyk, IAEA Programme Management Officer. “They provide a significant contribution to dairy production and generally to the agricultural development and national economy."The project aims to produce 500 high-quality calves for small holder women farmers in Sri Lankan villages, using embryo transfer and artificial insemination. In addition, researchers in Sri Lanka are exploring assisted reproduction of buffalo calves, with IAEA support.

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