Got Milk? Dairy found essential to prehistoric development in Africa–new research

This month’s publication of a scientific article on new evidence of livestock herding in prehistoric Africa is stirring interest. ScienceDaily, for example, reports the following: Chemical analysis of pottery reveals first dairying in Saharan Africa nearly 7,000 years ago, 20 Jun 2012.

‘The first unequivocal evidence that humans in prehistoric Saharan Africa used cattle for their milk nearly 7,000 years ago is described in research by an international team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol, UK, published June 20 in Nature.

‘By analysing fatty acids extracted from unglazed pottery excavated from an archaeological site in Libya, the researchers showed that dairy fats were processed in the vessels. This first identification of dairying practices in the African continent, by prehistoric Saharan herders, can be reliably dated to the fifth millennium BC.

‘Around 10,000 years ago the Sahara Desert was a wetter, greener place; early hunter-gatherer people in the area lived a semi-sedentary life, utilising pottery, hunting wild game and collecting wild cereals. Then, around 7,000–5,000 years ago as the region became more arid, the people adopted a more nomadic, pastoral way of life, as the presence of cattle bones in cave deposits and river camps suggests.

‘Domesticated animals were clearly significant to these people: the engraved and painted rock art found widely across the region includes many vivid representations of animals, particularly cattle. However, no direct proof that these cattle were milked existed—until now. . . .

This confirms for the first time the early presence of domesticated cattle in the region and the importance of milk to its prehistoric pastoral people.

‘Julie Dunne, a PhD student in Bristol’s School of Chemistry and one of the authors of the paper said: “We already know how important dairy products such as milk, cheese, yoghurt and butter, which can be repeatedly extracted from an animal throughout its lifetime, were to the people of Neolithic Europe, so it’s exciting to find proof that they were also significant in the lives of the prehistoric people of Africa.

‘”As well as identifying the early adoption of dairying practices in Saharan Africa, these results also provide a background for our understanding of the evolution of the lactase persistence gene which seems to have arisen once prehistoric people started consuming milk products. . . .”‘

That dairying has a prehistoric tradition in Africa will come as no surprise to Olivier Hanotte and his colleagues working at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) (Hanotte is now at the University of Nottingham), who in 2002 published a paper providing evidence of the domestication of cattle in Africa: African pastoralism: Genetic imprints of origins and migrations, Science: 12 April 2002, Vol 296. Hanotte and his colleagues say that their evidence indicates that ‘the earliest cattle originated within the African continent’:

Cattle pastoralism is widespread in Africa today and still forms the basis of life for millions across the continent. Two hypotheses for the origins of African domesticated cattle are currently debated. The North African subspecies of wild cattle or aurochs Bos primigenius . . . may have undergone an indigenous African domestication around 10,000 years ago, possibly in the northeast of the continent . . . . However, the archaeological evidence is disputed and the molecular data are not conclusive . . . . Alternatively, domesticated cattle could have been introduced into Africa from the Near East where cattle domestication is known to have occurred . . . . Domesticated within the continent but genetically influenced by the centers of cattle domestication in the Near East and the Indus Valley, the modern African cattle breeds represent a unique genetic resource at a juncture when there is an urgent need to improve livestock productivity for the benefit of the present and future human generations.’

Andrew Oh-Willeke, an attorney in Denver, Colorado, who blogs at Dispatches from Turtle Island, further comments on the recent prehistoric dairy paper as follows.

‘New research confirms an emerging consensus about when and where herding domesticated animals began to replace hunting and gathering in Africa (an activity that included the use of pottery and the collection of wild grains), and expands our understanding of how that herding society worked.

‘It happened in North Africa (including many places that are now too arid for this activity) and the Nile Valley after similar developments in the Middle East, but at about the same time that herding emerges in Europe. It happened before the main African origin crops were domesticated, and not long after the domestication in Egypt of the donkey. It appears to have involved both dairying and the use of cattle for meat from the start, or from very close to the start of a herding mode of food production.’

Subscribers to Nature may read the paper discussed, First dairying in green Saharan Africa in the fifth millennium BC, by Julie Dunne, Richard P Evershed, Mélanie Salque, Lucy Cramp, Silvia Bruni, Kathleen Ryan, Stefano Biagetti and Savino di Lernia, in Nature, 2012; 486 (7403): 390 DOI: 10.1038/nature11186

The post on Dispatches from Turtle Island Blog goes on to say the following about this paper.

‘The abstract of the paper notes that: “In the prehistoric green Sahara of Holocene North Africa—in contrast to the Neolithic of Europe and Eurasia—a reliance on cattle, sheep and goats emerged as a stable and widespread way of life, long before the first evidence for domesticated plants or settled village farming communities.”

‘Notably, the find comes from the central Saharan highlands, not the Mediterranean coast or what is currently the African Sahel. The find comes not from the “wet Sahara” period itself, but from the period when the Sahara was becoming increasingly arid. There is an implication on the narrative from the press release journalism at ScienceDaily quoted above, that pastoralism may have not had much of an advantage over hunting and gathering until an increasingly arid climate in the Sahara tipped the scales in favor of pastoralism. . . .

‘This date is older by more than a thousand years than the oldest reliably dated Central Saharan find of cattle bones. . . .’

The same blog comments elsewhere on the domestication of cattle as well as the domestication and cultivation of sorghum, enset and pearl millet in Africa.

Indigenous Livestock Bio-Cultural Biodiversity of Balochistan province of Pakistan

Balochistan is the largest province of the country by area and majority of its populace live in the rural and remote areas. The major source of income among the rural and remote dwellers is livestock rearing. About 90% of the provincial land is comprised of rangeland. These rangelands provide feed and shelter to wide diversified livestock breeds of the province. These rangelands are owned by communities of tribal people, and the only use is livestock production. The precious livestock breeds are well adapted to the diversified ecological zones of the province. The livestock breeds are multipurpose and fulfil a wide range of needs of the livestock keepers. On the basis of livestock production systems, penology, topography and climate the province can be divided into six ecological zones, stated as coastal, deserted rangelands, highlands of the north of the province, Suleiman mountainous region, central Brahvi highlands and the hot region of Kachhi basin. The are 6 camel breed, 7 sheep breeds, 1 cattle breed, 4 goat breed and two donkey breed in the province. These breeds not only provide the source of livelihood but also play a role as companions. Livestock breeds are evolved with the precious indigenous knowledge, therefore a threat to the breeds is a threat to the indigenous knowledge. The local animal genetic resources are the part of the socio-cultural life of the keepers. Many traditions and customary laws articulate around the livestock breeds. Though appearently there is no threat to the animal genetic resources of the province, moreover some camel breeds, i.e. Kharani, Raigi and to some extent Lassi are under threat. Brahvi camel of central highlands of the province is almost loss and very rare herds can be found. Still, there are major problems and issues, which can be a threat to such precious animal genetic resource in the long run of the time period. The major issue is the deforestation and removal of the vegetation cover. The second most important issue is the social changes in the life of the livestock keepers due to interventions in their production systems and around them, i.e. expanding but nonsustainable agriculture. Epidemics diseases also causing a great threat to the livestock breeds of the region and in the recent years PPR and abortion caused havoc losses. The province is the crossroad of the Afghan nomads who cross the province two times in a year and introduce many epidemic diseases in the region. They brought some diseases from the livestock of the central Asia, like PPR and  Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever (CCHF). The Government support and interest is very rare for the livestock keepers. The livestock keepers as in the other parts of the world are neglected and there is no share of livestock keepers in the research and development policies of the province.

It is the time to study the production potential of the indigenous livestock breeds keeping in mind all the drivers of its production system. Also, it is necessary to study their social systems and work out the changes and the factors responsible for these changes. Pakistan is the signaturee of many important international conventions and treaties, i.e. MDGs, CBD, UNCCD, Right of Indigenous people, Climat Change and Global plan of action on animal genetic resources for food and agriculture, hence it is necessary to respect these conventions and abide by the rights of livestock keepers. The NGOs sector can help in the mobilization of the livestock keepers for breeds associations, demonstration plots of reforestation of local varieties of vegetation, training for animal health and care, documenting of the indigenous knowledge and liaising for their rights.

Morak Goat Breed of the Chaghai Kharan Desert

Habitat: Chaghai Kharan desert especially Raskoh mountains of the region is the home track of the breed. The breed is very close to its wild ancestors. There are many tribes, rearing this breed of goat, which are Badeni, Muhammad Hasani, Maingul, Jamaldini, Sasoli, Sanjrai, Nothezi, Nausherwani, Malangzai, Siafad, Faqirzai, Hajizai,.

Phenotypic characteristics: The goat has medium size with black body coat, very rare specimen with white color is also found. The long curled horns, especially in the male with beard are the salient feature of the breed. The goat also produces reasonable amount of milk.

Vegetation: Vegetation of the area liked by the goat is comprising of Ghaz (Tamarix Articula), shrub as Taghaz (Haloxylon Amodendron), bushes like Hashwarg (Rhozya Stricta), Pog (Calegnum Polygonaides) Cotor (Stockcia Brohinca), Lara (Salsola Kali), Kandar (Alhogi Camelarum), Barshonk, Karwankush, Narronk (Salsola Arbuscula), Tusso (Gaillaina Aucheri) and grasses like Mughair (Atriplex Dimprphostegium), Kash (Sacchorum Siliare), Righith (Suoeda Monica) Shanaluk (Allium Rubellum). etc.The Ice Cream Species of Plants for the Camel and Goat. Part 1Part 2. Ice Cream Species of Plants for the Camel and Goat

Population: Population of the breed is almost 0.5 million. The population trend is increasing. Morak breed is one of the badly affected goat breeds in the province by the previous drought (1998-2003), as the drought was very severe in this ecological zone.Effects of Drought on Livestock Sector in Balochistan Province of Pakistan

Special Traits:

  • Close to its wild ancestors
  • It is very accessible to inaccessible areas for grazing, i.e. the peaks of the mountains
  • The animal is very alert and fast running, hence can’t be eaten by pest and predators. More close to wild ancestors
  • High milk production in harsh environment of the region in a very low input system of the ordinary grazing

Option Hopes: Close relation to its wild ancestors.

Morak goat of Kharan Washuk region

Economic importance: The most important breed for livelihood earning of the pastoral livestock keepers of the region. It provide milk in the harsh environment when the sheep milk yield ceased. It also provides cash by selling it, when the livestock keepers need cash money. The animal may attain good weight and attract good prices because of its more meat and height.

Kohi-Suleimani Goat Breed

Habitat: Musakhail, and other mountainous area of Suleiman mountains region. There are many tribes, rearing this breed of goat. The tribes are Bugti, Marri, Syed, Kethran, Hasni, Kakar, Mandokhail, Pani, Buzdar, Qaisrani, and other Pashtoon and Baloch tribes.

Phenotypic characteristics: The goat has large size with black or white head, red neck and red head is also preferred. The animal may attain good weight and attract good prices because of its meat and height.

Vegetation: Vegetation of the area like by the goat is Acacia modesta, Caragana ambigua, Bararr, Gurgulla, Sarwane, Showan, Ghalmi, Lani, Jand, Zizyphus, Halooxylon grifithi, Halloxlon recurvum etc.

Population: Population of the breed is almost 1.5 million. The breed is also found in the tribal territory of Punjab province, reared by Baloch tribes. The population trend is increasing.

Traits special:

  • The goat of this breed is highly resistant to drought
  • It is very accessible to inaccessible areas for grazing
  • The animal is very alert and fast running, hence can’t be eaten by pest and predators. More close to wild ancestors
  • High milk production than local sheep and provide milk in summer for family needs

Option Hopes: Kohe-Suleimani goat is more effective tool against drought because it reaches to difficult area for grazing.

Economic importance: The animal may attain good weight and attract good prices because of its more meat and height. The male kids are mainly raised for market sale. The breed has very high economic returns by selling male animals at the age of 2year, mainly slaughter at EidulAdha occasion. The female produce reasonable amount of milk and use by the pastoral community locally and extra milk is converted in ghee.

Berberi Goat Breed

Habitat: Kachhi basin is the home tract of the breed. The area has very high ambient temperature which may reach up to 52 °C.  The tribes of the region, in the north there are Pani and Kakar Pashtoon tribes and in the south is Rind, Lehri, Somro, Bugti, Mari, Khoso, Jamali, Jatoi and Resai.

Phenotypic characteristics: The goat is smaller in size with multi coat colors. The breed is multicolored, i.e. white with black patches, white, red, yellow and others, but the preferred color is white, because of the resistance to high temperature. The goat has high prolificacy rate and produce reasonable amount of milk to feed her offspring.

Vegetation: Vegetation of the area like by the goat is Acacia, Dalbergia, Zizyphis, Presepis Juliflora, Panicum antidetals, Halexylon spp and Alhagae camalorum.

Population: Population of the breed is almost 0.8 million. The breed is also found in the in the adjoining areas of Sindh province, reared by Baloch tribes. The population trend is increasing.

Traits special:

v  The goat of this breed is highly resistant to high temperature

v  High prolificacy rate and good mothering ability

v  The animal is very alert and fast running like a deer, hence can’t be preyed by pest and predators. More close to wild ancestors

v  One of the fast growing goats in the province

Option Hopes: Tolerance to high ambient temperature.

Economic importance: Because of the fast growing ability and high prolificacy, the breed can be use for mutton production in the hostile climatic conditions of the region. The male bucks of age more than one year already gained very high prices in the major livestock market of Sindh province especially, at the occasion of Eid Aladha. The beauty of this breed, looking like a deer also attract consumer at the occasion of Eid Aldha.