The Artificial Insemination Centre in Cameroon

The production of high quality livestock and livestock products depends largely on the type of animals, management practices and environment. The North West region of Cameroon is located at 1300 to 2500 m above sea level and is suitable for cattle farming as the climatic conditions are fair, the annual rainfall of 2000 mm is regular and the region is not tsetse fly infested. Farmers were interested in producing milk and dairy products and therefore Heifer International initiated a project in the 1970s to increase milk production in the area. During the start-up phase of the project, Holstein and Jersey bulls were used for mating with the local breeds and farmers agreed to return the first-born calves to Heifer International for further distribution to other farmers. Unfortunately, the advent of brucellosis coupled with poor reproductive performance constrained the natural mating approach used by the farmers and the programme required more effectively targeted inputs, resulting in the involvement in the project of the Bambui Cattle Centre, one of several government owned breeding stations.

The Artificial Insemination Centre in Cameroon – A success story The Bambui Cattle Centre was historically equipped with a disease diagnosis laboratory, a natural breeding/mating system, housing for livestock and rotational grazing paddocks. The IAEA through a TC Project expanded the capacity of the Centre to strengthen its capability for semen processing, artificial insemination (AI), and reproductive disease diagnostics. A radioimmunoassay laboratory was established for the determination of various reproductive hormones – a test for the early detection of non-pregnancy and a diagnostic test for Brucellosis. Dr. Henri Bayemi and his team successfully collected and processed semen from local bulls and trained technicians on heat detection, oestrus synchronization and on the AI technique. At this stage, the first inseminations were only carried out at the Bambui cattle farm. Later on, two Friesian bulls were donated by Heifer International and the team was able to initiate an AI field service in the vicinity of Bamenda, the hometown of the AI Centre.

The Artificial Insemination Centre in Cameroon – A success story In 2007, following the approval of IAEA TCP CMR/5/015, the project team had already managed to support 200 farms on aspects related to cattle management, feeding, preventive health care, and AI services. Subsequently, the Bambui cattle centre has performed more than 500 inseminations with nearly a 70% conception rate using oestrous synchronization. Furthermore, in the last 4 years, the prevalence of Brucellosis has been reduced drastically as a result of the establishment of a control programme, use of AI and culling of infected animals.

One of the main constraints for AI in some African countries such as Cameroon is the availability and cost of liquid nitrogen for transporting semen, especially in rural areas, a key element to preserve semen for prolonged periods. The Bambui team overcame this by developing a chilled semen processing methodology using egg-yolk and coconut water in which sperm can survive for up to seven days. The initial average motility is around 75% but decreases to 60% but is still sufficient for insemination purposes. What is crucial is to keep the semen ampoules in boxes with ice once the semen is transported from the AI centre! Certainly, the sooner the cow is inseminated the better but this methodology opens great opportunities to inseminate cows in rural areas without requiring the use expensive and sometimes scarce liquid nitrogen.

The Artificial Insemination Centre in Cameroon – A success story Currently, AI is being conducted when farmers report cows in heat, but in the initial phase of the project, most cows were inseminated after oestrus synchronization using Prostaglandin F2a whilst more recently the Ovsynch protocol in anoestrous cows has been followed where, cows receive two injections of Gonadotrophin Releasing Hormone (GnRH) on days 0 and 9 and one injection of Prostaglandin F2a on day 7 and the insemination is done on day 9. Pregnancy in cattle is now routinely and regularly monitored using a human progesterone enzyme immunoassay kit, which was validated for cattle (Bayemi et al., 2007, Trop Anim Hlth Prod 39; 335-338).

In addition to the AI service farmers also receive technical advice on improved feeds and feeding and instruction on processing milk to produce yoghurt and ambient temperature- matured cheese as well as better access to veterinary services i.e. an integrated and sound technical package for improving livestock productivity and farmer livelihoods. Farmers are gradually accepting the proposed technology, especially AI using heat synchronization, and in consequence, the expenses/income ratio is increasing favourably.

Field days have been organized for technology transfer and to promote AI, non-pregnancy diagnosis through the analysis of progesterone in blood samples and disease diagnosis using nuclear and nuclear-related techniques, such as radioimmunoassay and ELISA. The increased capacity and technology and expertise acquired by the Centre has enabled staff to train foreign veterinarians and AI technicians from Botswana, Burkina Faso, Madagascar, and Central African Republic and also to conduct technical consultancies in neighbouring countries.

Recently, the AI Centre has obtained a mobile ultrasound diagnostic device to facilitate pregnancy diagnosis and detection of reproductive disorders affecting the functionality of the ovaries. The laboratory has also been renovated by the Government and modern equipment installed to ensure semen quality, especially in terms of transmissible diseases. The project team is now preparing to enlarge the AI coverage by including other areas in the region as well as other regions of the country. Support to the farming community will be further enhanced as, in parallel, the laboratory will also expand its disease diagnostic services to include other livestock diseases as well as carrying out milk testing and quality control.

This successful project exemplifies the efforts of the IAEA in assisting member states to improve livestock productivity and food security and reduce poverty.