Andrew Rice visited Uganda last year to write an article on the extinction of the Ankole Cattle. I'd been waiting with baited breath for the article, and though I usually check the New York Times Magazine site every Sunday, this week it took me until Wednesday to get around to it. And his article, "A Dying Breed," awaited me.
Rice visits cattle farmers all over the country to find that the Ankole cattle, so distinct to Uganda, could be extinct within less than 50 years. They're being cross bread with an American cattle breed called the Holstein. While Holsteins produce much more milk than Ankole, they also require more care and feed and don't really have the genetic protections necessary to survive in Sub-Saharan Africa. But the cows are being cross-bred nonetheless.
According to industry figures, American companies exported 10 million “doses” of cattle semen in 2006.The result? Less genetic variation, fewer Ankole and a lot more milk. But, as Rice mentions, several Ugandan tribes are lactose intolerant. USAID is spending millions of dollars promoting milk, but problems remain.
The volume of milk produced in Uganda doubled between 1993 and 2003, but in the absence of a surge in demand or improved delivery systems, the product has literally flooded the market.Refrigeration and transportation are just two impediments to selling so much milk.
It doesn't seem that anyone ever asked if Uganda needs so much milk. And the trade-off for dairy is loss of genetic variation, before we even know what benefits might be hidden underneath those giant horns, as well as creating a national herd that is less-disease resistant and adoptive to the climate.
One big heat wave, it seems, could wipe out the nation's Holsteins. Given the recent spate of floods, no one should be counting on a stable environment. USAID and other organizations may think they're coming to Uganda's rescue with genetically superior cows, but will they be the knight in shinning armor once their cows have perished?