Flying bulls - Rwandan government purchases Irish pedigree bulls through Bóthar to boost their breeding programme
The government of a tiny African nation gripped by one of the world’s worst genocides almost a quarter of a century ago has enlisted the services of four Irish pedigree bulls to help break its rural poverty cycle.
The Irish dairy and beef herd in Rwanda, where up to 1million people were killed in a 90-day killing spree in 1994, is set to grow again after the country’s Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources engaged Irish aid agency Bóthar to source bulls for its breeding programme.
The two Holstein-Friesian and two Jersey bulls – named Connacht, Laighean, Mumha and Uladh after the four Irish provinces – have been sourced at Dovea Genetics in Tipperary, leaders in bovine artificial insemination and suppliers of dairy & beef semen.
They will be transported on Thursday all of 11,000km to Rwanda – a nation slightly larger than Munster but with a population of 12.2million people. The initiative is part of the Rwandan Government’s ‘One Cow Per Family’ programme aimed at reducing extreme rural poverty by providing families in rural areas with a cow.
The ‘GIRINKA’ programme, as it is known in Rwanda, has reduced rates of childhood malnutrition, increased employment and provides a stable income for the country’s poorest, many of whom live in desolate rural areas. To date, more than 300,000 families have benefited from it.
Bóthar has been bringing Irish dairy cows to Rwanda for 21 years and such has been the impact on families – the Irish dairy cow having six times the yield of the local cow – that the Rwandan Ministry approached the aid agency, which works mostly with genocide widows, with the unusual request.
Bóthar’s Chief Operating Officer, Niamh Mulqueen said they were delighted to respond.
“It was certainly a surprise call. We’ve been working in Rwanda for the past 21 years and have built up a fantastic relationship with the government but to get a call from the Rwandan government to say that they want us to buy Irish bulls for them was a new departure for sure. We were, however, delighted to help as the call in the first instance was a real validation of what we do out there.
“They looked to Bóthar for our help because we are the experts in the field out there and have been bringing top quality heifers there for years. We also send out artificial insemination straws to re-impregnate cows and we get those from Dovea. They are a key part of the Bóthar story so when we were approached by Rwandan government to source four bulls we knew Dovea was the place to go.”
Ger Ryan, General Manager of Dovea Genetics, said they were delighted to be part of the project.
We have a wonderful relationship with Bóthar going back over 26 years. We've been a supplier to Bóthar, which has developed breeding programmes and genetics in a lot of countries.
It's a tremendous endorsement of the work that Bóthar is doing and it is wonderful to see some of our top Jersey and Holstein Friesian bulls going abroad and hopefully making an impact like they have in Ireland. It will elevate the quality in Rwanda of the offspring, the daughters that those bulls will produce.
Speaking of the impact the bulls will make, Ms Mulqueen said:
Rwanda is a recovering country that had its absolute terrible hardships over the years but it is progressing enormously well. We have seen the impact that one cow per family has. It's changed their lives. We know it works.
Families go from the most abject poverty imaginable to being self-sufficient, able to feed and educate their children and provide them with safe, and proper facilitated housing. Over the years I would estimate we have provided thousands of Irish cows to Rwanda. And this has been largely due to the generosity of the Irish donor, be it through raising funds or Irish farmers donating their animals to us.