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Local farm sets up lab to offer cheaper and better embryo

By Silah Koskei | January 4th 2016
A rear view of Indicus laboratory that has the capacity to produce over 20,000 embryos annually with a projected success rate of 45 per cent. [PHOTO: SILAH KOSKEI/STANDARD]

The search for improved breeds that offer optimum milk quantities by farmers in East Africa could soon be over after a local organisation launched the first cow Invitro Fertilisation (IVF) Embryo Transfer (ET).

Indicus East Africa has set up the first IVF laboratory at Makongi farm in Uasin Gishu County. IVF is a new technology which uses genetics to improve cattle breeds. Indicus East Africa Managing Director Tim Chesire says the firm entered into a partnership with Invitro Brasil, one of the largest embryo companies in the world, to set up the first laboratory to offer farmers cheaper breeding options.

"The lab is a transformation that most farmers in the region have been yearning for. It has the capacity to produce more than 20,000 embryos annually with a projected success rate of 45 per cent," says Mr Chesire.

With this new technology, he says, farmers will get quality heifers and embryos at reasonable prices.

The IVF process entails the removal of female eggs (oocytes) from a cow and transferring to a laboratory where it is fertilised with semen imported from Europe (Scandinavian countries or France) before it is placed into an incubator.

"The oocytes are extracted from the animal through the use of an improvised plastic tube and stored in a cool box before it is transferred to the lab," says Chesire. "In the incubator, our vets will control the temperatures as they wait for the cells to split, an indication that fertilisation has taken root. After seven days, the embryo is then placed unto a surrogate."

Ruth Kogos, an embryologist at the laboratory, said the process of improving breeds through IVF locally will cut costs for farmers who have been importing pedigree animals from South Africa.

"Before we remove the oocytes from the cow, our team has to conduct an extensive research and protocol on the animal to ascertain the vaccination record and its reproductive status to ensure the final breed is of good quality," she said.

Kogos explained that the transfer process has the capability of determining the ideal sex for the unborn calf, an advantage IVF has over Artificial Insemination (AI). Through the use of ultra sound, the farmer will know the sex of the calf 80 days after the oocytes have been transfered.

Chesire says Borana cows are ideal as surrogates because of their capacity to easily calf. "The good thing about IVF is that the surrogate does not transfer its genes to the unborn because they are just used to carry the foetus," he explained.

The director said dairy breeds developed through IVF can produce more than 40 litres of milk daily.

"For the entire process, we only charge Sh50,000. Importing pedigree animals from South Africa costs Sh250,000," he said.

Farmers in the region have welcomed the initiative, saying it will help them improve on their breeds. Stephen Sorobit, a farmer from Cheptiret, asked the Uasin Gishu County Government to support the initiative by subsidising the costs of the process for interested farmers.

"We have suffered for long. This is an opportunity for us to improve our dairy breeds so we can reap more from farming," he said.

Sorobit challenged the Agriculture ministry to rationalise milk prices in the market so that farmers can benefit from their sweat.

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