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Meeting with an animal genetics specialist changed Pape Seck’s life. In 1997, he took up dairy breed selection in Senegal. Despite the difficulties he encountered, his small experimental farm is today home to a high-quality herd which continues to grow.

Pape Seck’s passion for dairy breeds came from his meeting with Professor Pape Alassane Diop, a specialist in animal genetics and a pioneer in artificial insemination (AI) in Senegal. The professor found his calling in Touba, Mbella, Mbellakadiao and Kaolack, in the heart of the groundnut basin where his first tests took place.

Seck mainly owes his becoming a farmer to his father, who was passionate about agriculture and animal farming. When he was very young, living in Sine-Saloum (in the groundnut basin) where his father managed a trading house, he was introduced to small-scale agriculture. Seck worked at an office that specialised in accounting, but never forget his desire to be a farmer. He retired to Bargny, 30 km south of Dakar, to land he had inherited from his parents. There, he began to raise sheep and then started to raise cattle. He began with Maure zebu. However, due to lack of experience and training, his first attempts were not successful. But Seck was not discouraged. Over the years, with plenty of advice from farming services and from Professor Diop, he learned and soon saw results.

Today Seck is in his element, proud of his herd comprising Holstein mixes, a beautiful Brown Swiss and her many offspring, as well as recently arrived Ndama bulls. “We have a mix of breeds as the government chooses the ones that seem the best adapted to the climate in Senegal,” he explains. AI products, imported by the government, have become more accessible since President Abdoulaye Wade launched the ‘Great Agricultural Offensive for Food and Abundance’ (GOANA - Grande offensive agricole pour la nourriture et l’abondance) in 2008. AI products are sold by the private sector for 50,000 CFA francs (€76) with a guarantee to repeat the insemination if it is unsuccessful.

Although he prefers the Holstein breed, Seck has a herd of around 40 heads of cattle of various breeds. Crossbreeding the local species, the Gobra zebu, with the Brown Swiss or Holstein works well. These mixed-breed cows produce, under optimal conditions, on average 12 litres of milk per day, whereas a local breed would produce a maximum of 5 litres, or more commonly only 1-3 litres.

In the herd, a brown calf with a small hump stands out. This one is the product of a Gujarat zebu. “I introduced this breed for the quality of its meat and its ability to grow faster than the others,” says Seck, who wants to diversify his income. Today, Holstein or Gujarat mixed-breed bulls or cows sell for over 800,000 CFA francs (€1,220) at the Dakar livestock market, while a local breed will barely manage 250,000 CFA francs (€382).

A half-breed Holstein © M A Konte

Ticks, dermatitis, fevers...

Success does not mean that Seck does not encounter any difficulties. One problem is the lower semen quality following the entry of new arrivals in the market, alongside the State, “When I started, the two Holstein-Gobra mixed-breed cows, obtained by crossbreeding, each produced over 14 litres of milk per day. Today, this ‘Holstein’, which is only a 25% mix, produces over 10 litres per day,” says Seck.

Another problem is vulnerability to diseases. “This morning, my main Brown Swiss bull is in a bad way, with the beginnings of foot-and-mouth disease. For the herd to produce more calves, other than via artificial insemination, it needs this sire,” says the concerned farmer. Moreover, his small, six-month-old calf has contracted lumpy-skin disease. It should recover if treated with antibiotics; however this is relatively expensive, estimated to cost around 19,000 CFA francs (€29) for treatment.

That said, along with the better known and better-equipped farms in the Niayes region of north-west Senegal, in the area around Wayembam and Niakoul Rab, Seck says he is happy to be one of those which can adapt. This new system of animal farming allows him, under optimal conditions, to produce over 40 litres of milk per day with only three or four lactating cows. This would be impossible with local breeds.

Via Giri Kumar