In Rwanda, a small country in the middle of Africa, the island of Jersey is held in the highest esteem. This is because, for a decade the Royal Jersey Agricultural & Horticultural Society and the Jersey cow have been quietly building industries and changing lives.
The story began in 2004 when a delegation from the Government of Rwanda visited Jersey. They came to investigate the possibility of a collaborative venture to train Rwandans in Artificial Insemination (AI) and supply frozen semen from Jersey bulls to cross breed to the predominant breed of cow in the country, the Ankole.
The rationale was to improve productivity as the pure Ankole produces an average of daily milk yield of 1 to 2 litres. Trials undertaken in Rwanda established that by cross breeding the Ankole to the Jersey, milk yields could be substantially increased whilst maintaining an animal that was suited to the environmental conditions in the country. The first cross animal (i.e. 50% Jersey and 50% Ankole) was able to produce an average of 12 litres of milk per day. The second cross (75% Jersey and 25% Ankole) produced an average of 16 litres of milk per day.
To achieve maximum effect, a rapid cross breeding programme would be required. To do that, it would be necessary to train sufficient technicians to cover the country and supply enough semen to start the programme of cross breeding up to 1 million head of Ankole cattle.
In 2005 the RJA&HS CEO, James Godfrey, and a Senior AI Technician from Jersey, Andre Militis, visited Rwanda to set up a project with the Rwandan government, whereby Andre would visit Rwanda to undertake training and the RJA&HS would supply frozen semen from Jersey bulls. By 2008, Andre had trained over 370 technicians and 162,000 units of semen had been supplied. Prior to the programme there were only 19 qualified technicians in the country.
What has been the result of all this?
Milk production in the country has grown from 130 m litres in 2006 to 472 m litres in 2012 and is estimated to reach 730 m litres in 2017. The Jersey breed is being developed, particularly in the “Girinka” project where poor families are given an animal, together with the basic facilities and advice to look after it. They in turn pass on the first born female calf to the next family. By 2014 some 184,000 families had established their small herds and this is forecast to reach 350,000 families by 2017.
The “Girinka” project is a real ‘win, win, win’ situation. Families are able to produce sufficient food from their cow and vegetable garden (manured by the cow) to feed the family. They also have surplus produce for sale and thus a dairy industry develops, bringing employment and now export opportunities too.
The RJA&HS President, Steve Le Feuvre, visited the country in 2013 and was astonished at the success achieved and the commitment of the Rwandan government to ensure its further development. In 2014, the RJA&HS entered into a partnership with the UK based charity Send-a-Cow, to continue this extraordinary success both in Rwanda and now in Kenya.
Speaking with people in Rwanda it is clear how they value the partnership with Jersey and our small island has earned a big reputation.