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Calls to salvage indigenous cattle breeds intensify

By People Reporter
Tuesday, October 1st, 2019
The boran cattle breed (zebu type) have a hump and a prominent loose or tight dewlap. Photo/PD/COURTESY

Mwangi Mumero 

In the scorched, dry plains of Marsabit, in Northern Kenya, a herd of improved boran grazes, munching away mouthfuls of the brownish pasture. 

Water is scare is this semi-arid region, but the hardy animals—grey to roan in colour—seem to have gained weight instead. The breed has sound legs with good walking ability to cover great distances in search of food and water.

Being a good grazer and browser allows the Boran to make use of all vegetation at its disposal. Its short shiny coat and its excellent heat tolerance allow it to outperform other breeds in hot and humid climates.

Over millennia, the semi-nomadic Borana people of Southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya have kept the boran, a docile breed well adapted to the hot and dry conditions of the African Savannah.

To maximise its potential, the European settlers and ranchers crossbred the original boran with exotic breeds.

Yet, this continued act of crossbreeding of African cattle is one of the chief culprits in the continued erosion of a vital genetic base, necessary for the elimination of diseases and use of poor pastures among other important attributes.

Scientists at International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Nairobi, warn that Africa will in future pay a huge price for allowing its vital farm animal’s genetic resources to be lost.  “Other than crossbreeding, which leads to the gradual loss of local genes, neglect of multi-purpose animals for single productivity traits such as milk, meat and eggs has contributed to this sorry state of affairs,” says ILRI. 

Although indigenous zebu cattle account for 90 per cent of cattle population in Africa, crossbreeding with taurine breeds constitutes a significant threat to the zebu genetic resource. 

The rate of erosion of the genetic base globally has been alarming. Out of over 7,600 breeds noted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, 190 have become extinct in the past 15 year and a further 1,500 are considered at risk, says FAO.