Desert animal farming, the new frontier

Ahmed Maged
4 Min Read

CAIRO: Desert animal farming is contributing considerably to the local production of animals, said an agricultural specialist.

Abdel Hamid Azamel, head of the Desert Poultry and Animal Farming department at the Desert Research Center in Cairo, said that new farming policies aimed at selection rather than breeding foreign species or mixing local with non-local breeds.

This, he added, proved to be the ideal technique for improving animal production in the desert.

Following decades of experimentation and research that coincided with developments in local desert environments, desert animal production has grown significantly.

“People tend to forget that the desert is the base, said Azamel. “Since time immemorial people in the region have been depending on sheep and camels, basically desert animals, for their supplies of meat and milk.

He explained that traditional animal farming in rural areas was a last resort.

Azamel says that when experts first experimented with ways of increasing the production of desert animals, one of the techniques they used was to import European species and raise them in isolation from local breeds. Another technique involved mixing local with foreign species.

“Regrettably both techniques had their shortcomings. They didn’t prove effective in increasing animal wealth, he said. “Then the idea of selection came about. Farmers chose the ablest animals in terms of size and growth rate and mated them to breed better species.

The success of this strategy convinced experts that desert species should remain in their original environment.

Azamel’s informed guess, considering the absence of statistics, is that desert animal farming now makes up 25 percent of the national wealth.

But not all experiments have been fruitful.

Azamel refers to experiments involving the Danish marino sheep which failed because the animals could not adapt to the desert environment. The amount and quality of the fodder and water was different and so was the climate.

“This led to animals falling sick or dying of disease.

When the marino was bred with local animals, productivity improved but still the new species did not have was not able to resist diseases.

Mixing breeds in general, Azamel explains, even between desert and rural breeds within Egypt, has its flaws which begin to show in the long term. Meat productivity would increase, for example, but the quality of the wool would not be suitable for neither the carpet nor garment industries.

Some farmers are now raising European species in acclimatized enclosures with the same fodder and healthcare, but the cost is too high to maintain the same production levels.

The construction boom in the desert, says Azamel, was the reason behind the development of desert animal farming.

“When the north-west coast, considered the wettest and densest in terms of natural green fodder, was overcome by housing projects, the shepherds had to move south to areas with a dearth of greenery.

Other reclaimed desert areas in Nubaria (near Alexandria), new permanent pastures have been cultivated, creating semi-intensive surroundings for desert animals compared to the occasional greens that dot Sinai and other areas south of the North Coast.

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