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R & D: Small Ruminant Project

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The Small Ruminant Research Project at ITC started in 1993 with funding obtained from the Belgian Government, BADC. Prior to that, some research on small ruminants had been carried out by scientists supported by the Belgian volunteer programme. Sheep and goats are very important livestock species, particularly for the poorer rural communities yet, in the mid 1970s it had been noted that livestock research in Africa had predominantly focussed on cattle and little was known about small ruminants. This was particularly the case for West African breeds, some of which were reputed to be trypanotolerant.

Project objectives

A major objective of the first phase of the Small Ruminant Project was therefore to characterise the trypanotolerant trait in Djallonké sheep and West African Dwarf goats in comparison to Sahelian (trypanosusceptible) breeds. In addition, the epidemiology of helminth infections and interactions of these parasitic infections with nutrition and reproductive success have been studied.

Much of that research work has now been completed and the project is now concentrating on transferring the knowledge obtained to farmers for improved productivity leading to higher household incomes.

Small Ruminants and The Environment

Small ruminants traditionally have received a bad press with regard to their effect on the environment. Some of this is justified, although they can also have a beneficial effect through their role in nutrient cycling and by facilitating the regeneration of some tree seeds that need to pass through the ruminant digestive tract before they will germinate. As can be seen from the satellite image, The Gambia is situated on the edge of the Sahelian zone, between the arid north and the sub-humid south, in an ecologically vulnerable zone. The increasing human population in West Africa (~4% per annum in The Gambia) and corresponding increase in livestock numbers has led to some land degradation in the semi-arid zones of Gambia and Senegal and in these areas it is necessary to take positive steps to reduce adverse environmental effects of livestock. Such steps are unlikely to be taken without the implementation of carefully developed support and development initiatives. The Small Ruminant Project is therefore giving much attention to the development of alternative sources of fodder and improved management of sheep and goats that will reduce wastage through abortion and peri-natal mortality.

Future work

Proposals for future work will continue transference of improved production methods and will also focus on improved natural resource management. Because of the link to adverse environmental effects and land degradation already mentioned ITC will continue to address this important issue and encourage a positive approach to small ruminant management. Future work will therefore continue to aim at providing alternative sources of fodder and protecting natural forests and grazing areas. Further exploitation of genetic resistance to diseases in indigenous breeds will also be pursued. The possibility of rearing F1 Saanen X WAD goats for improved milk production is being investigated within a zero-grazing, environmentally balanced production framework with the objective of raising household incomes of the rural poor and increasing consumption of milk and milk products.

The latter activity will especially benefit women, who commonly manage small ruminant flocks and children, who are the primary consumers of goat milk.


The project staff currently consists of the Project Manager, a specialist in vector-borne diseases, two veterinarians, an agronomist, a VSO socio-economist and 12 technicians, livestock assistants and herdsmen. The project maintains flocks of sheep and goats for experimental purposes at ITC headquarters in Kerr Serigne and at ITC Bansang. The project has so far led to two PhD degrees and five MSc's arising from research at ITC, and one further PhD is nearing completion.

For more information please contact Stephen Leak.