BY RUTH ABRAHAM | SHABAIT
As part of its efforts to modernize agriculture, the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) has introduced a new technique of fertilization of dairy cattle, Artificial Insemination, mainly aimed at maximizing the production of milk.
Artificial Insemination was first launched by ancient Arabs in the 13th century. Then, in 1899, a Russian agronomist, Evanov, conducted successful such insemination activities on birds, horses, sheep, and dairy cattle. In 1931, Russia produced about 20,000 artificially inseminated animals.
In Eritrea, modern insemination procedure was introduced during the Italian colonization in 1939. But it was limited to a few farmers in specific areas which mainly served the colonial interests. Though the procedure is applicable to many animals, we will now focus on dairy cattle because the maximization of milk production is given great importance.
Although there are many factors that determine the yield of milk, the species of cattle is one of the most decisive factors. That is why bull semen is extracted from selected species of bull and artificially inseminated into dairy cattle.
Though artificial insemination program was introduced in Eritrea during the Italian colonization, Mr. Kahsay Negash, Chief of the Dairy Development Unit of the MoA, said that the Eritrean Government has been preparing the necessary equipment ever since independence. After all the preparation was set in 2015, the service was initiated and provided by the MoA.
Prior to the official launch of the service, the MoA imported 2,000 doses of high-quality bull semen from Ireland and trained 17 technicians to reactivate the Artificial Insemination service in the country. That same year, once the program was piloted at the National Agricultural Research Institute in Debarwa, Southern region, and such service began to be given in the Central region.
For the proper preservation of the imported bulls’ semen, the MoA has equipped the dairy development Unit with modern machinery that assists in producing liquid Nitrogen. According to Mr. Yonas Haile, an expert in the field of Artificial Insemination, when the semen is distributed to the desired areas, it is delivered with a sufficient amount of liquid Nitrogen. Due to its extremely low temperature, that is -196 degrees celsius, the liquid Nitrogen is used to preserve many other laboratory materials as well as the selected bull semen.
The absorption rate was slow but satisfactory. Until 2019, a total of 1,980 dairy cows were artificially inseminated with the range varying from 1,265 in the Maekel region, 475 in Anseba, and 240 in southern regions.
It is an ongoing process and the MoA is striving to further expand the program and raise awareness of farmers. Based on some preliminary assessment conducted in Maekel region, the average milk production on the first lactating Artificial Insemination heifers during the first four months of lactation is 22 liters per cow per day.
Naturally, the project has encountered several challenges that were also included in the MoA’s assessment. To begin with, the provision of this service is expensive to farmers when a cow repeats. In addition, the awareness and understanding of the farmers are at its very initial level, which is why farmers are still relying on natural mating with all of its drawbacks.
If adopted and applied properly, the scientific insemination procedure has many advantages in comparison to natural mating. With Artificial Insemination there is no possibility of disease transmission or harm to owners and the dairy cattle by aggressive bulls, the best kinds of bulls’ semen can be extracted and kept for decades and the management cost of bulls is not incurred.
As one of the farmers who have adopted the system, Mr. Michael Mesfin, said, “We adopted the Artificial Insemination in 2017, and, so far, we have had good results. Personally, I now have 19 heifers and six calves. Clearly, we are satisfied with the benefits and safety of insemination activities.”
In spite of the challenges they are facing, the Dairy Development Unit of the MoA is still working to promote the process and upgrade the awareness of farmers and the capacity of the technicians with recent procedures. So far, farmers are responding positively to the new way of insemination.
Moreover, according to the MoA, the immediate future plans will focus on strengthening the National and Regional Artificial Insemination centers and expanding the services to Gash Barka and Northern Red Sea regions.
Furthermore, a continuous series of assessments and case studies will be carried out in the Anseba and Debub regions of the country to get a better knowledge of the conception rate and productivity of the heifers to better manage the milk yield and survival rate of the calves born through the procedure.
Mr. Kahsay recommends that the farmers that have not yet adopted this convenient and modern system of insemination join the program and maximize their milk yields and preserve the health of their dairy cattle.
The MoA has taken charge to introduce farmers and herders to better ways of carrying out their jobs. By linking the traditional ways of agriculture to modern technology, the MoA has been making efforts to create ways toward the mechanization of agriculture by equipping farmers with better agricultural techniques and materials.