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Productive Cattle Breeds Thrive in Senegal’s Niayes Region as a Result of Tsetse Suppression

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In Senegal, as in many other parts of West Africa, African animal trypanosomosis (AAT), a deadly disease carried by the tsetse fly, has long been a major obstacle to the development of more efficient and sustainable livestock production systems. For more than 50 years, the Government of Senegal invested in importing more productive improved breeds from Europe and elsewhere, but many did not survive because they had no natural tolerance to AAT. Now, thanks to a long-term government-executed tsetse eradication programme in the 1 000 km2 Niayes region of Senegal, tsetse flies have been eliminated in all but one hotspot area, AAT is no longer an issue and imported herds are thriving.

The frequency of the deadly African animal trypanosomosis disease transmitted by the tsetse has dropped dramatically in Senegal’s Niayes region since the pest population was suppressed by a long-term government-executed tsetse eradication campaign that involved the release of sterile tsetse flies. Before the eradication project’s success, most farmers reared only local cattle breeds, 80–90 000 heads of which live in the area. These cattle had low milk and meat production and low reproductive rates but the farmers kept them because they were also naturally tolerant to trypanosomosis, which meant they could survive there. Today, the suppression of the tsetse population is allowing farmers to replace the low producing local cattle with more productive exotic breeds.

With tsetse under control, the government is now working closely with the farmers, giving money to a newly formed farmers’ association so that farmers can buy the exotic animals themselves. The results have been so positive, the farmers are adding their own money to what the government provides and are now buying and importing ten times more cattle than before. And, because they are purchasing more and transporting them by boat instead of air, the cost has dropped to half or a third of what they were paying before. Working together, farmers in the region are progressively replacing their indigenous cattle that produce only 1–2 litres of milk a day with exotic cattle that produce between 20 and 40 litres a day and, hence, substantially increasing both productivity and income.

Ecological islands provide opportunity for tsetse eradication

The Niayes region is actually an ecological island with a coastal micro-climate that is well suited for highproducing exotic cattle breeds – and it has now also proven a unique area for this type of pest eradication
project. A feasibility study for the tsetse eradication campaign, supported by the Joint FAO/IAEA Division in 2006-2010, found that the tsetse habitat in the area was extremely fragmented. Flies were present in small pockets, though often at high density and, most importantly, the study confirmed that the tsetse populations in Niayes were isolated from the main tsetse belt in the southern part of Senegal by dry areas where the fly could not survive. This meant that, once eliminated, the risk was low that the area would subsequently be re-infested with flies from other parts of Senegal.

Much credit for the success is given to the adaptive management approach of the project, which called for monthly project coordination meetings with the many different stakeholders, for transparency at all levels and for decision-making by consensus, with decisions for moving the project ahead based on scientific principles.

The eradication programme followed the area-wide integrated pest management approach that used insecticide-impregnated traps, pour-on insecticides and nets for the initial suppression of the tsetse population, before applying the sterile insect technique (SIT) as the final component. This technique involves the release of mass-reared, sterilized male flies into the area to mate with wild females that therefore produce no offspring. At the time of reporting, the incidence of the disease is close to zero and flies have been eliminated in all but one hotspot area. Nevertheless, the release of sterile tsetse flies will continue for several months in order to tackle any potential residual fly pockets and ensure that absolutely no wild flies remain.

A cost-benefit analysis of the tsetse eradication programme in the Niayes found that the costs of the tsetse eradication programme, estimated at €6 400 per km2, was substantially outweighed by the annual additional income to farmers, who replaced their local breeds with exotic ones, of €2 800 per km2, because they would save the cost of treating animals and have more profit from selling milk and meat. The eradication project would therefore pay for itself in less than 2½ years. Furthermore, the improved milk and meat production of the exotic breeds will enable farmers to increase their income also with smaller herds, which in turn will reduce the grazing pressure on this already fragile ecosystem.

Looking to the future, several countries are considering plans to set up similar programmes in other areas. A genetic study, covering all of West Africa, has identified ten tsetse-infested potential ecological islands, which will be able to take advantage of what was learned and accomplished in Niayes.

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