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4 July 2013

Reporting from SLU Global Food Security Symposium: Livestock Production for Food Security

Animal production represents more than a half of global agricultural output. Livestock products are generally more costly than arable crops and their consumption is still low in low-income countries. However, FAO reports an increasing trend over time associated with the emergence of the middle classes.

Being an important source of protein, livestock plays a crucial role in terms of food nutritious value. If managed with care, grazing management and pasture rotation has proved to have positive effects on land. Moreover, livestock brings regular income to smallholder farmers and can reduce demand for foreign food imports. Hence, sustainable animal production can facilitate establishment of food security and poverty alleviation.

Swedish University of Agricultural Science (SLU) under the Swedish Government Initiative has put substantial effort into research on animal production for food security in Africa. Currently, the main attention is devoted to enhancement of livestock production in East-Africa. The initiative resulted in several studies that were presented at The SLU Global Food Security Research Symposium in June 2013.

Link between productivity and fertility

Arid and semi-arid grasslands of south western Uganda are highly dependent on agro-pastoral productive systems. In order to increase milk production the local cattle breed Ankole was crossed with exotic breed Holstein-Freisian. The joint project between SLU and Makerere University investigated Dairy Cattle Performance in Agro-Pastoral Production Systems of Uganda. The results of the study showed interesting correlations between dairy cattle performance and seasonal weather variations. The main insight of the study is that calving in early rainy season is more favorable. Observations showed that calves born in early rainy season grow better and loose less weight during dry season.

Dairy cow fertility is crucial for milk production. The birth of calve is necessary for initiation of milk production and ideally should be repeated yearly. Thus, enhanced performance of dairy based economy is highly dependent on good pregnancy rate and careful mate or insemination planning. The study on Reproductive Health Management in Dairy Cows in Uganda states that there is a potential for higher lifetime production and profitability of dairy sector if cyclic cows are identified and mated at the proper point of time. The study identifies need for better education of farmers, including cultural sensitization to artificial insemination (AI). Authorized and registered AI technicians with consistent qualifications are suggested. Identification and promotion of breeds with higher adaptability is also desirable for improvement of dairy cow management productivity.  

Addressing the issue of animal diseases  

Another presented study was conducted in cooperation with International Livestock Research Institue (ILRI) and Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research on the topic: Animal Genetic Resources for Improved Productivity under Harsh Environmental Conditions. It consisted of two case studies. The first one was addressing the issue of sleeping sickness (Trypanosomosis) which is one of the most severe animal diseases in the tropics. A breed with better tolerance to the disease has been identified (Sheko) and strategies has been developed for dissemination of tryponatolerant genes into the affected livestock. The second case examined advantages of breed crossing between Red Massai and Dorper sheep breeds for better milk and meat production under severe droughts.

The last study in the animal production session presented at the Symposium was devoted to development of swine farming in Africa and is called Metagenomic Studies on Virus Dynamics at the Livestock/Wildlife Interface: with Special Reference to African Swine Fever. Swine farming is considered very important for poor population, but risk of African swine fever spread can hamper positive developments. The virus lives in wild reservoirs, but has devastating outcomes to domestic animals in case of transmission. The study intends to introduce “metagenomics” (the study of metagenomes, genetic material recovered directly from environmental samples) for better understanding of virus traces.


Overall, the presented research projects showed scientifically based, but simple strategies for increased output of animal production under harsh weather conditions. Studies also demonstrated importance of addressing non-technical solutions such as, for instance, cultural sensitization. Rise of awareness about certain diseases and prevention methods also play significant role for development of livestock production in Africa.

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