CIALCA study reveals how cavies provide a livelihood opportunity in eastern DR Congo

New research by scientists from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Wageningen University, reveals that cavies are important for meat consumption, especially for children, and offer opportunity to generate petty cash and manure for crop production in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo).

Entitled “Micro-livestock in smallholder farming systems: the role, challenges and opportunities for cavies in South Kivu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo”, the research was carried out under the framework of the Consortium for Improving Agricultural Livelihoods in Central Africa (CIALCA) and published in October 2019 in the Tropical Animal Health and Production journal.

Photo 1: Cavies or Guinea Pigs constitute a livelihood opportunity in eastern DR Congo 

New research by scientists from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Wageningen University, reveals that cavies are important for meat consumption, especially for children, and offer opportunity to generate petty cash and manure for crop production in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo).

Entitled “Micro-livestock in smallholder farming systems: the role, challenges and opportunities for cavies in South Kivu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo”, the research was carried out under the framework of the Consortium for Improving Agricultural Livelihoods in Central Africa (CIALCA) and published in October 2019 in the Tropical Animal Health and Production journal.

In the past, many people in DR Congo considered cavies (also known as “guinea pigs”) as a sort of rats, not welcome inside the house. It is in the 1980s, when widespread famine and malnutrition caused by successive conflicts, resulted in non-governmental development organisations recommended a mix of tomato concentrate, cola and cavy blood as medicine to address anemia in children, which enhanced the acceptance of cavies as micro livestock for household farmers.

“Over half of the population in eastern DR Congo keep cavies, a type of micro-livestock fitting the circumstances of small households and a valuable asset especially for the poorest households”, concluded the research team composed of Charlotte J. Klapwijk, Marc Schut, Piet J. A. van Asten, Bernard Vanlauwe, Ken E. Giller, and Katrien Descheemaeker.

To characterize cavy husbandry practices, detailed monthly on-farm data on cavy numbers, weights, herd dynamics and feeding practices were collected over 15 months from households in two contrasting sites of South Kivu namely Kabamba and Lurhala. Cavy herds contained an average 10 animals and strongly varied in size overtime and between households.

The study was carried out with 27 households per site, to describe general farm characteristics, family composition and household food consumption, as well as livestock keeping. In each site, a local facilitator assisted with the categorization of households into a context-specific typology of ‘poor’, ‘medium’ and ‘better-off’ based on physical resources such as land, livestock ownership and housing quality and provided a list of around 20 households per type.

Results demonstrate that farmers in South Kivu generally own small livestock herds that mainly consist of small and micro-livestock and few cattle. In these small herds, cavies are important especially for the poorest households. “Health benefits related to livestock ownership are easier realized through micro-livestock compared to large livestock, because small animals with rapid growth and reproduction rates make an easy and continuous harvest possible,” Charlotte J. Klapwijk, research team member noted.

Photo 2: Cavies are important for meat consumption, especially for children  

The research also reiterates that in South Kivu, nearly all children and about two thirds of women and men consume cavies, thus improving their diet quality. Cavies are generally kept in the house or kitchen and feed on crop residues, kitchen waste and collected fodders. Fodder is usually collected along cropping fields, roads and offered on the ground without a feeder. All participating households collect manure of cavies, and composted it before applying it to homestead gardens or fields.

Although the importance of cavies within the smallholder farming systems of South Kivu is evident, current cavy husbandry practices, such as feeding, have not been described and production has not been quantified. Farmers face several constraints to cavy production, including substantial declines in cavy herd size due to predation or theft and a lack of knowledge regarding breeding and feeding.

Opportunities to increase cavy production can most likely be realized through the introduction of cages, in order to limit mortality, and by the cultivation of improved fodders. Micro-livestock like cavies are a good entry-point for development initiatives, because of their potential to decrease poverty and increase health through improved nutrition. 

The full paper can be accessed here https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11250-019-02112-9

 

 

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