Nelly Bassily | February 2, 2009
It’s Tuesday, the day of the livestock market in Ryarubondo, southern Rwanda. By midday, the noise has reached its peak. Cows moo and merchants shout to negotiate prices. Damien Kaneza has brought a cow to market. It’s a lean cow with prominent bones. Mr. Kaneza hopes to sell it for 170,000 Rwandan francs (about 300 American dollars or 230 Euros), to pay his son’s secondary school tuition. He says as long as he has two indigenous cows, he will want for nothing.
In 2006, the Rwandan government started a “one cow per family” program to introduce imported cattle breeds. With the support of an NGO, 700 families in Nyamagabe District, southern Rwanda were given a cow. The first calf from each cow was given to another family.
But, in spite of the government’s encouragement of imported breeds, many farmers still prefer indigenous cows. J. B. Nyamwasa is a farmer in the Gisagara District of southern Rwanda. He explains that a farmer can buy three indigenous cows for the cost of one imported breed. He would rather have three local cows – that way, if he needs to sell one to pay school fees, he will still have something left.
Imported Frisian cows produce more milk than local breeds – up to 30 litres a day. But they also cost more to keep. A Frisian cow eats 20 kilograms of rice, plus fodder, and a mix of sorghum, maize, bone, and blood each day. The daily menu adds up to 5,000 Rwandan francs (about 9 American dollars or 7 Euros). If a farmer cannot follow these feed guidelines, the cow will produce less milk.
John Népomscène says his family gets only four litres of milk per day from his two Frisian cows, as compared to the seven litres a day produced by local cows. The only benefit is extra manure, which he uses as fertilizer to grow more fodder.