A $1.3 MILLION grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the University of New England will be used to fund international development projects in Kenya.
The grant will extend a current project, which also funded by the foundation, to explore successful breeding strategies for dairy cattle in Kenya and Uganda.
The new project will expand the dairy program to farmers in Ethiopia and Tanzania.
University of New England researchers in the School of Environmental and Rural Science, headed by Professor John Gibson, will work with teams led by Dr Okeyo Mwai at the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dr Ed Rege at PICO-Eastern Africa, also based in Nairobi.
Small-scale farmers in East Africa must contend with highly variable and unforgiving environmental conditions, plus devastating livestock diseases that are rarely, if ever, seen in Australia.
Despite these challenges, the addition of one or two milking cows can increase farm profitability and help alleviate poverty.
“Dairy cows can provide farmers with a stable, relatively resilient income, supplementing small crops and other income sources,” Professor Gibson said.
“Because the conditions in East Africa can be so harsh, the traditional dairy breeds we know in Australia, such as the holstein, are crossed with local cattle resilient to local conditions.
“Getting the right genetic mix between local and exotic stock can mean the difference between a successful farm and a family thrown into poverty.”
Professor Gibson said the five-to-10-year project would develop a system which would enable farmers to access the right genetic material.
“Creating a breeding program which potentially leverages artificial insemination becomes more than a scientific challenge – it’s an economic, social and political challenge,” he said.