Monday, February 19, 2018

A Trinidad and Tobago unexploited 'invention'

John Spence logo3

Donstan Bonn

In my last three articles I discussed the presentations of the ministers of Finance and Food Production on agriculture in the budget debate. In the main their presentations were concerned with addressing the food import bill. Indeed the ministry that deals with agriculture is now named "Food Production". Since food production is a sub-set of agriculture I am unable to understand the rationale for the new nomenclature which seems to exclude or at least downplay other aspects of agriculture. It is my view that importance should be given to all aspects of agriculture. Thus the ornamental horticulture industry is an important part of the economy of places such as Thailand and Hawaii and could be here also. The same trend is taking place at the University of the West Indies where the department that deals with agriculture is named Food Production and the new faculty is named "Food and Agriculture" (at least agriculture gets mention here!).

There are two products which should be considered in the development of the agricultural sector and these are cocoa and the buffalypso. Cocoa is of importance for export and the buffalypso for both export and contribution to local food supply. In this article I shall discuss the buffalypso. I first wrote on development of the buffalypso some ten years ago (article in the Express-July 31st, 2002 entitled: Another Trinidad and Tobago unexploited "invention"). I shall use material in that article to again call attention to the importance of the buffalypso.

The development of a superior herd of water buffalo named the buffalypso is due to the dedication and hard work of the late Dr Steve Bennett (a Trinidadian). River type water buffalo of Indian origin were introduced into Trinidad in 1903 for the sugar estates for use as work animals, for transport and ploughing as cattle were not hardy enough.

They thrive well in this climate and can subsist on low quality fibrous feeds and rough pasturage. Their large feet allow them to work in wet conditions and they are less likely to get foot rot than cattle. According to Dr Bennett traits of five Indian types were recognisable in Trinidad, namely the nili, jaffarabadi, surti, bhadawari and in 1948 six murrah bulls were imported. From selections of these five types the buffalypso was created as a distinct type—a Trinidad "invention". Of particular importance is the fact that the selection in Trinidad placed an emphasis on the buffalypso as an animal for meat production as well as for milk.

The parent types are in general milk producers, but the buffalypso now has the conformation of a meat producer. It has less fat in the meat than the beef from North American types of cattle traditionally used in Trinidad and Tobago. In a health conscious world this is good news since with less fat the risk of heart problems is lessened. In the United States of America, and other countries, buffalo meat is a premium meat and is often more expensive than beef since it is higher in protein, minerals and vitamins.

In 1965 there was the first export of live buffalypso to Columbia followed by shipments to Venezuela, the animals being transported by air cargo; there have been export to some nineteen countries, including Cuba, Costa Rica and the United States of America. Since this country is relatively free of Buffalo diseases (particularly foot and mouth disease) an important export trade could be developed in live animals, frozen semen or embryos. Some years ago I attended a lecture in Jamaica given by a scientist from Florida who raised water buffalo and whose advice to his Jamaican audience was to get as many buffalypso from Trinidad as possible and start an industry there! The hide can be processed to make a distinctive leather and may be thick enough to be "split" to produce two types of leather, one from the inner side and the other from the outer side. The milk can make a speciality cheese (mozzarella) of which there is an under-supply in the world market. With appropriate handling from infancy milking is not a problem. The milk contains twice as much butterfat as cow's milk.

Rather than exploit this valuable asset, we have allowed the numbers to decrease and some herds no longer exist. The importation of cattle from North America has resulted in the introduction into the buffalypso of a new disease, Brucellosis, creating a new problem. So to move this industry forward the herds have to be cleaned up of this disease. Major effort will be needed to restore this valuable asset to its former importance and to increase size of the herds and render them disease-free. This is essential if we are to develop major industries based on the buffalypso.

It was with great excitement that I read in a recent newspaper article entitled: "From leatherbacks to Italian cheese- Grande Riviere" by Kimberly Castillo (Express October 18) that an entrepreneur in this country, Piero Guerrini, had started to make mozzarella cheese and yoghurt from local buffalypso milk. Guerrini, who manages a hotel in Grande Riviere, has brought expertise and equipment from Italy and already has orders in this country and from neighbouring islands. Here is the start of an activity that could grow into a major industry. But, like our cocoa, we must first increase production of the raw material; that is we have to restore and expand our buffalypso herds. We can thus provide an important source of meat of good quality; produce leather; use the milk for high priced products of cheese and yoghurt for local consumption and export and semen and embryos for export.

Our congratulations must go to Piero Guerrini for his entrepreneurship in showing the way for developing these new products for this country and also to the late Steve Bennett for creating the buffalypso that can provide the raw material for the various products that can come from that animal.

—John Spence is professor emeritus, UWI. He also served as an independent