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Benin Introduces Artificial Insemination in Cattle, Improving Animal Breeding and Nutrition

Benin is among a growing number of developing countries making use of various nuclear and isotopic technologies to support genetic selection procedures and improve the gene pool of its livestock. (Photo: M. Shamsuddin/IAEA)

For the first time, the government of Benin is introducing artificial insemination in cattle. At its new bull station and semen laboratory inaugurated in August this year in Parakou, a region in central Benin with the largest livestock population, scientists have so far produced more than 2000 doses of frozen semen and carried out more than 200 artificial inseminations.

Benin is among a growing number of developing countries making use of various nuclear and isotopic technologies to support genetic selection procedures and improve the gene pool of its livestock. The IAEA, in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has supported Benin’s efforts through expertise, training and equipment.

Benin’s economy relies heavily on agriculture, which provides substantial rural employment and income arising primarily from subsistence farming. After cotton, mixed crop or livestock is the major agricultural activity, the livestock subsector representing nearly 13% of GDP.

The country's indigenous cattle are naturally small and milk production is often just enough to feed a calf. Historically, cattle production was aimed at meat production, but with economic growth and a rising population the demand for milk has increased, driving the government to prioritise milk production.

In 2014, the country’s Milk and Meat Sectors Support Project, or PAFILAV, imported 200 pregnant Girolando heifers to its national herd. Girolando is a dairy cattle breed created in Brazil by crossing Gyr cattle, which is resistant to hot temperatures and tropical diseases, with Holstein cattle. To satisfy demand from farmers who also wanted better cattle, the PAFILAV imported 1000 doses of semen from four dairy breeds: Girolando, Gyr, Montbéliarde and Tarentaise.

A second semen laboratory is now being developed at the University of Abomey-Calavi (UAC) to provide liquid semen. This will not only strengthen education on animal reproduction at the university but will also help serving farmers in neighbouring villages by providing them with a breeding service.

Preventing losses from drought and increasing farmer income

Farmers in Benin are constantly challenged with limited feed resources during the dry season, which is between November and March. Animals lose body weight, and meat and milk production is reduced. As a result, farmers loose income.

Cattle with improved genetics can inherently produce more meat and milk than local breeds — but also requires better feed to meet its genetic potential. To address this issue, the UAC analysed locally-available feed resources, including various crop residues, and came up with feeds that result in higher livestock productivity and increased incomes to the farmers.

The new feeding system was introduced on several sheep farms in the Bembèrekè district of northern Benin. It incorporates crop residues like groundnut haulms. This has not only prevented the loss of body weight among the sheep but resulted in an average gain of 0.6 kg. In contrast, sheep on conventional feed lost up to 1.6 kg during a 28-day dry-season trial period. And rather than losing the usual USD 2.6 to USD 5.2 per sheep during these 28 days, farmer incomes actually increased by USD 2 per sheep.

After this success, the UAC team believed they could do even better. In a field trial in Glazoué in central Benin they fed sheep on multi-nutrients blocks (MNB) with local crop residue nutrients. During a 3.5 month trial, these MNB-fed sheep gained 71 g a day, compared to the control group that gained only 20 g a day. The MNB-fed sheep increased their weight by an average of 4.9 kg. In contrast, control sheep only gained 1.4 kg. Again this was translated into additional farmer incomes of USD 12.3 per sheep.

The UAC also developed a concentrates mix based on its own laboratory analysis data and compared it with a concentrates mix commercially available on the market. In sheep-feeding trials, the UAC-developed concentrates mix resulted in an average daily body weight gain of 77 g, against the 67 g of the commercial mix.

The UAC team has demonstrated similar benefits with calves and lactating cows on their institutional farms, and are now planning similar pilot trials on private farms, expecting to demonstrate also here substantial economic benefits to farmers.

The animal nutrition laboratory at the UAC has also benefited from its partnership with the IAEA and FAO, especially through the receipt of equipment, including a near-infrared spectroscopy system for advanced animal feed analysis with the highest level of precision, as well as training and expert advice, which enabled the UAC to introduce its first Master of Science (MSc) course on ‘Feed Resources and Animal Nutrition’ in the 2017/18 academic year, with both local students and students from neighbouring countries enrolling.

The IAEA also funded a lecturer to reinforce the MSc course and contribute to the development of course modules. The animal nutrition laboratory has now received additional funding from Benin’s government to develop a national feed resources database that is expected to further increase the productivity of livestock and the income of farmers — the backbone of Benin’s economy.

The UAC and the PAFILAV are now working hand-in-hand to further strengthen their capacities in local feed resources and feed optimization coupled with improved artificial insemination services to sustainably enhance livestock productivity in Benin.

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