I loved reading this article from Alasdair Crosby in one of his edition of the Rural Jersey magazine, so I thought I would share it with you. #TheBQBGuestBlog
The genetics from Jersey cows are playing a considerable part in transforming the lives of poor subsistence farmers in Rwanda
RWANDA – a small dot in the middle of the African continent, a country just a little larger than Wales. It’s name, unfortunately, is best known to us in the First World as a result of the genocide that took place 20 years ago, in which it is estimated that 1.2 million peopled died with countless more fleeing into neighbouring countries.
But that terrible time has long gone. In the words of the former president of the Royal Jersey Agricultural and Horticultural Society, Stephen Le Feuvre: ‘The countryside is beautiful and lush. The people are hard-working and the country’s infrastructure is the most developed in Africa. The roads are superb – no potholes – and everything is neat, tidy and clean.
‘Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, has outlawed corruption –and although one cannot say that it does not exist, any public official found with his hands in the till loses his job immediately and need not expect to be given another job. Tribalism is also forbidden, as is any discrimination for or against the two castes, Hutu and Tutsi.
‘Then Rwanda was on its knees; now it is one of the most modern and forward-looking nations in Africa.’
But that, unfortunately, is not the whole story. The nation’s population may have doubled since 1994, but life expectancy remains 59 (it is 81 in Jersey). The national domestic product is now £4.8bn, but annual gross income per person is only £450. Ninety per cent of the population make what living they can from agriculture, but it is undeveloped and creates far less wealth than other, smaller sectors of the economy.
Of course, it has had a long way to climb since the dark days of 20 years ago, when agriculture almost ceased and people had to eat their livestock in order to survive. But things have changed and are continuing to change – and Jersey is playing an important part in that change.
In 2004, President Kagame visited Jersey at the invitation of Jersey resident John Dick, whose telecommunications company has played its own part in the modernisation of Rwanda. The president comes from a cattle owning family and visited the Winter Show of the Royal Jersey Agricultural and Horticultural Society. He also had talks with the society about the need to improve the country’s cattle herd and its milk production. The society had surplus straws of semen stored and wished to put these to beneficial use.
The following year, the society’s chief executive, James Godfrey, visited Rwanda with André Militis, who had worked for many years as a technician and trainer in artificial insemination (AI). André conducted the first AI training seminar for Rwandans in November 2005; it was to be the first of six, during which he trained a total of 350 Rwandans as AI technicians.
The first consignment of Jersey breed genetics left Jersey in 2007: 97,000 straws of semen; a further 90,000 straws were sent there in 2010. The semen has been used originally on the native African Ankole breed – cattle with enormous horns but very low milk production. When used again on each subsequent generation of cattle, the offspring look increasingly more ‘Jersey’ than Ankole, and the milk production figures rise accordingly.
At the time of the genocide in 1994, a volume of 10 million litres of milk were being produced in the whole of Rwanda, all of it produced in the context of local subsistence farming; by comparison, Jersey Island currently produces 12 million litres of milk a year. Things started to improve after 1994 and by the time of President Kagame’s visit to Jersey, production had risen to 60 million litres a year. After the export of Jersey genetics to Rwanda, that figure shot up to 130 million litres a year. The target for 2017 is 270 million litres a year and 1,200 million litres by 2021.
This has great economic significance, not only for the owners of cattle whose income increases in proportion to the rise in milk production, but also for the Rwandan national economy, as milk is now exported from there to the neighbouring countries of Burundi, DR Congo and Uganda.
There are now 99 AI centres in Rwanda as well as a Bull Semen Station with three Jersey bulls (from South Africa) and five Holstein bulls – but of course it the Jersey breed that, because of its adaptability , has proven to be the most popular choice for Rwandan farmers.
At present, it has been estimated that 58 per cent of Rwandan cows are inseminated with Jersey bull semen from the Island of Jersey or from the Jersey bulls in Rwanda.
Steve said: ‘This increased milk production combats malnutrition, provides the poorer families with a surplus for sale, allows employment, provides manure for improved crop production, enhances soil quality and prevents erosion. This is a “win, win, win” situation that has created a sustainable industry in which the Jersey cow is a central part. I am immensely proud that the RJA&HS and the Island of Jersey has played such an important role in this success story.‘