The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is looking to tap into the export earning potential of the local cattle industry, specifically its genetic material.
This is in response to demand for genetic stock from Jamaica's four indigenous cattle breeds – the Red and Black Polls, Brahman, and Hope – by several countries, seeking to enhance the quality of their stocks.
The Jamaica Red and Black Poll, and Brahman are reared for beef production, and the Hope, for dairy outputs.
The Ministry’s Chief Technical Director, Dr. Marc Panton, tells JIS News that "expressions of interest" in the local breeds have been received from a number of countries, which have climatic conditions similar to Jamaica. These, he informs, include Australia and New Zealand, while pointing to the possibility of other potential markets in African and Middle Eastern countries.
Their interest in Jamaica’s cattle breeds, he says, is based on the animals’ adaptability to and tolerability of the tropical climate.
"The cattle (that) we have here are specifically bred to tolerate high heat and still produce at very competitive levels. Therefore, it has advantages to any country that (experiences) those (climatic conditions)," he informs.
Dr. Panton says based on the demand, there is scope for the creation of an overseas market for genetic material, which could generate significant foreign exchange earnings for Jamaica, while adding that this is “a direction in which we are pushing”.
Several cattle stakeholders concur that Jamaica could earn significantly, from this area of the industry.
"We have the capabilities at (the Ministry of Agriculture’s research station) at Bodles (St. Catherine where) we have an artificial insemination centre. We have the ability, therefore, to supply the world,” he assures.
The Chief Technical Director notes that the Ministry has long been involved in extensive research aimed at developing, enhancing and improving the genetics of the local cattle stock. He explains that the main priority has been to develop cattle that are more adaptive to the hot tropical climate, and more disease resistant, while enhancing output, whether for beef or dairy.
He acknowledges the pioneering work of scientists such as late geneticist,
Dr. Thomas P. Lecky, whose research contributed to the development of Jamaica’s four indigenous breeds. He, however, cites the need for continuous and ongoing research to further enhance the genetic properties of the animals, against the background of the demands.
“Research never ends, and it’s something that we have to continue. The Jamaica Hope is a fantastic animal but it can be improved (through research and development)…it’s something that we have to keep doing,” the Chief Technical Director underscores.
Dr. Panton notes that significant work has gone into advancing development of other livestock, such as poultry, pigs, and small ruminants like sheep and goats. In terms of outputs, he points out that the pig sub-sector has been a “big success”, while adding that “we have done very well in poultry”. He, however, concedes that more work is needed for larger livestock, primarily cattle.
He says, efforts to this end have been and are being facilitated through the Ministry’s collaboration with the island’s four cattle breeders’ societies to, among other things, expand the registry of the animals, in order to keep track of their lineage, through cattle appraisal exercises, and other activities.
Cattle appraisals, Dr. Panton explains, entails perusal of the physique of cattle that are progenies from a specific line and judging their form, including legs, shoulders, and ranking them accordingly. This exercise, he informs, is conducted at least once per year by each breeders’ society.
"When there is that level of record, you are able to, over time, pick the best traits from each line, and be able to further develop the breed," he explains.
Dr. Panton says that as part of efforts to further advance the local livestock sector, particularly cattle, portfolio Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke, has been meeting with the various stakeholders.
He informs that, already, he has met with pig, sheep, goat and cattle stakeholders in a bid to determine “how we can put in place the necessary systems, mechanisms and policies to drive the (livestock) sector forward”.
"We (want to ensure) that, in promoting these animals, (we are) promoting high quality genetics internationally,” Dr. Panton underscores.
In his address at the 59th annual general meeting of the Jamaica Red Poll Cattle Breeders’ Society, held recently at West Indies Alumina Company’s (WINDALCO) farm in Grove Place, Manchester, Minister Clarke committed to working with stakeholders to advance the sub-sector.
"I want us to meet and I want us to put the strategies in place, because…I believe we have the expertise to move this industry forward,” he stated.