The Livestock and Fish program team recently held an exchange with Nicaragua’s Ministry of Agriculture to discuss the country’s situation regarding livestock genetics and traceability efforts, and to identify points of collaboration through the ‘Better Breeds project’. The Better Breeds project, which began this September, aims to improve livestock traceability, intensify productivity, and increase farmers’ income through the improvement of livestock genetics.
The Ministry has two livestock traceability programs currently in place. Their main system records the number of animals in the country, including information such as breed, age, sex, and location. Their pedigree registration system, on the other hand, records phenotypic descriptions and pedigree information of pure-bred animals only. Main breeds include Angus, Brahman, Brown Swiss, Holstein, Jersey, and Simmental.
According to their 2011 census, there are currently 136,000 livestock farms in Nicaragua, 40,000 of which are registered with the Ministry. Farmer participation in traceability efforts is voluntary. The program also monitors the movement of animals, and uses ear tags to keep track of the country’s livestock herd, which is currently at 700,000 animals. With 37 official national technicians and 280 private technicians providing extension services and registering farmers for the traceability system, the Ministry alone lacks the resources to carry out registration and traceability throughout the country.
Better breeds to tackle limitations
Collaboration between Livestock and Fish, the Ministry, and the National Agricultural University (UNA) is key to the successful implementation of the Better Breeds project, which includes creating links between livestock traceability and performance databases, capacity-building at farm and institutional levels, and incorporating cross-breeding strategies for improved production into the traceability systems.
The project sites selected are strong in milk production but still present much room for improvement. Farmers report current production levels at a low 5-6 liters per cow per day, compared to the target production for dual-purpose cattle of 8-12 liters per cow per day. Animal feeding also needs to be improved, as current systems are entirely pasture-based with no concentrates used.
Although farmers are usually eager to adopt technologies within the project’s lifespan, they often return to the “old ways” once the project ends. The project therefore incorporates the critical aspect of understanding community dynamics and creating communication channels to provide feedback between farmers and researchers. The project looks to motivate farmers to increase adoption by facilitating access to better markets.