Nuclear-Derived Techniques Improve Cattle Productivity and Milk Quality in Cameroon

Crossbred cows in a dairy farm in Cameroon. (Photo: Mario García Podesta /IAEA)

Yaoundé, Cameroon – Increasing agricultural production and improving the quality of milk and meat are key to combatting poverty and increasing food security in Africa. Countries such as Cameroon are increasingly turning to innovative, nuclear and nuclear-derived techniques, to control and prevent diseases among livestock, and boost cattle and milk production.

“Nuclear techniques are important tools in practically all fields of animal science when the objective is to advance the productivity and health of economically vital domestic animals,” said Abel Wade, Head of Cameroon’s National Veterinary Laboratory (LANAVET). “Our country will face an unprecedented animal-product demand crisis if we don’t use all the available scientific tools to ensure good breeding and increase the healthy cow head count.” Cows are the main livestock in Cameroon: the country has 5.8 million cattle, compared with 4.6 million goat and 4 million sheep. Cattle are also regarded as a symbol of wealth.

The IAEA has assisted Cameroon through its technical cooperation programme to use nuclear and nuclear-derived procedures such as radioimmunoassay (RIA) and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), molecular diagnostics and genetic screening in reproduction and breeding, artificial insemination and disease control programmes for livestock since the early 1990s. Nuclear techniques for artificial insemination were introduced in Cameroon eight years ago. “If we don’t have healthy cows, we will not have good meat to eat or nutritious milk to drink,” said Wade. “Our farmers are dependent on livestock not only to feed their families, the village community but also our population.”

 

The proactive efforts by the Institute to successfully convince our farmers will assist in meeting the rising demand for meat and milk production
Victorine Nsongka, Head, Animal Production and Health Section, Institute of Agricultural Research for Development, Cameroon

Laboratory technician assessing data at the Institute of Agricultural Research for Development, Bambui, Cameroon

Focus on productivity

In collaboration with the IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), LAVANET and the country’s Institute of Agricultural Research for Development are engaged in training technicians on disease control and artificial insemination to improve cattle productivity and breeding management. Veterinarians, veterinary extension services and breeders in the region have access to tested bull semen and are receiving training in artificial insemination, breeding management and animal health control. “Artificial insemination allows scientists to improve the genetic make-up of the offspring, leading to up to five times more milk produced per cow,” said Mario García Podesta of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture.

The methodology assists technical staff in improving the reproductive management of cattle farms and in obtaining more calves, meat and milk than with traditional farm management. The application of progesterone RIA in artificial insemination helps identifying 20-40% more cows for breeding than conventional methods that involved watching behavioural signs. It can subsequently increase the conception rate by between 5% and 50%, depending on the effectiveness of the traditional method and management previously used, said García Podesta.

Improving livestock also involves tracking and preventing diseases. LANAVET is performing surveillance to detect infectious diseases in northern Cameroon, where the seasonal movement of people with their livestock between summer and winter pastures poses disease risks to livestock Wade explained. Some of the most serious disease risks to cattle, sheep, goat and pigs are foot-and-mouth disease, contagious bovine pleuro-pneumonia, brucellosis, tuberculosis, peste des petits ruminants and African swine fever, which can become endemic if not swiftly addressed. Mobile labs using isotopic, nuclear and nuclear-derived techniques help to identify these risks early and rapidly, which results in effective response, he highlighted.

Reaching out

To extend awareness of the benefits of artificial insemination among rural farmers, who depend on traditional methods of cattle rearing, the Institute’s regional centre in Bambui works with them directly in getting across the message and providing access to the tools required for artificial insemination. “It is our duty to meet the demands of the farmers, and make them aware of the advantages of this procedure in strengthening livestock,” said Victorine Nsongka, Head of the Animal Production and Health Section of the Institute of Agricultural Research for Development in Bambui. “The proactive efforts by the Institute to successfully convince our farmers will assist in meeting the rising demand for meat and milk production.”

A related project, currently in its preparatory phase, will lead to the artificial insemination of 70 000 cows over the next six years in northwestern Cameroon, Nsongka said. Sponsored by the Islamic Development Bank, this initiative will also use the IAEA-supported techniques and will lead to the development of an artificial insemination and reproduction network in the region, she added.

The application of nuclear techniques developed by the IAEA to monitor reproductive hormones, using nuclear and nuclear-derived  techniques such as RIA and ELISA, has resulted in a better understanding of the reproductive physiology of livestock species, in identifying and ameliorating limiting factors affecting reproductive efficiency.

Cameroon’s government is reaching out to extend support to breeding centres in Burkina-Faso, Benin, Central African Republic and Chad to increase the proportion of dairy animals through the use of semen from genetically superior animals through artificial insemination.