It’s not bull: How a better breed of cattle can help dairy farmers in Haiti

Man with bull 2014-10-14_Haiti_0249.jpg
Farmer Auguste Joseph shows off his new bull. Shiloh Strong/Oxfam America

When it comes to managing cattle—especially young and potentially skittish bulls—Haitian farmer Auguste Joseph has the magic touch. It’s gentleness.

“I’ve been nice and affectionate and caress him,” said Joseph, leading the beast in question, a Brown Swiss bull imported from the Dominican Republic, toward a small group of admirers. The bull glanced at the visitors briefly and went back to his more important task: grazing through the stubble of a recently harvested rice field.

Here in the Artibonite valley, where most of Haiti’s rice is grown, it can be hard for farmers to make a living because of competition from cheap imported rice. So Oxfam, together with local partners, is working with farmers on a strategy to improve their food security and increase their household incomes with the help of livestock. Across eight communes in the Artibonite department, the multi-year initiative will indirectly benefit 63,000 families who depend on locally produced food.

Carried out with the help of local groups PRODEVA and RACPABA, the project will provide support for poultry production along with the breeding, rearing, and long-term care of goats and cattle.

In Verrettes, the project is distributing 100 cows and 26 pure-bred bulls to boost the production of milk—a good source of nutrition for a family and a marketable commodity.  Joseph, who has spent his life working with cattle and has five cows, has big hopes for his new bull. The Brown Swiss breed is known for being low-maintenance and high milk-producing—averaging a little more than five gallons a day. Joseph expects that the offspring sired by his new bull could produce up to three gallons a day, substantially more than his current cows are capable of.

And that milk will translate directly into benefits for his family. Joseph says he’ll plan to sell between five and six gallons a day, while keeping some for his family to use. At 75 gourdes per gallon—or about $1.60—that’s potential income of $9.60 a day and vital to helping him make ends meet.

“That’s how I pay (for) school for the kids,” said Joseph, the father of three daughters. The income also helps him cover medical expenses for his family.

Dairying, he said, is more profitable than trying to tease crops from small parcels of land, and the income flow is much steadier. In addition, if he were ever to sell any of his small herd, a cow could fetch about $213, and a bull, if any were to be born, could bring in more than seven times that amount.

For the owners of bulls there’s another source of income, too: siring fees. Joseph charges about $5.30 each time his new bull mates with another farmer’s cow. For members of his farming association—KOPAV, the group through which he acquired the bull—Joseph charges a siring fee of just $3.20.

“Everybody’s happy,” says Carline Deronzil, a technician for the project who works with one of Oxfam’s partners. “The people who are members (of KOPAV) and non-members because they know the bulls will (help) produce quality cows and that equals a lot of milk.”

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