Cattle farmers’ perceptions on threats from other cattle breeds
In this study, the results confirm the statements of Dehoux and Hounsou-Ve (1993) who already indicated that nearly 65% of cattle farmers in northeastern Benin introduced Zebu breeders into their herds. In addition, other authors (Alkoiret et al. 2009) spoke of the phenomenon of “zebunization” within farms to allude to the phenomenon of cross-breeding observed in cattle herds. This could be explained by the fact that these breeds are all Zebu and farmers prefer to use them for the improvement of conformation and growth performance of Borgou cattle. The high levels of influence of these Zebu breeds on the Borgou breed testify to the gradual replacement of the Borgou breed by cross-breeds within the cattle farms in the study area.
In this study, the highest frequencies for scores 1 and 2 are obtained for Somba, Ndama and exotic breeds (Gir or Girolando), and within each type of farmers, the scores recorded are all lower than the score 3 (median: 2). These results reveal that these breeds have very little influence on the Borgou breed and show that these breeds are very little exploited in cross-breeding with Borgou cattle on in situ farms. The farmers expressed that Somba and Ndama breeds are taurine breeds like the Borgou and even less productive. As a result, farmers find less interest in the use of these breeds for cross-breeding purposes given their low potential to improve the productivity of the Borgou breed. Comparative studies (Alkoiret et al. 2010) showed that abortion rates, perinatal mortality rates and overall pre-weaning mortality rates were higher in the Ndama breed compared to those in the Borgou breed. Other authors (Gbangboché and Alkoiret 2011; Alkoiret et al. 2016) also show that the Borgou breed has better milk and weight yields compared to Ndama. On the other hand, the reason is very different for the exotic breeds (Gir or Girolando). Farmers explained that exotic breeds had great potential to improve dairy and meat yields in Borgou cattle but are not viable in the natural environment of the Borgou breed. Such observations were made by Doko et al. (2010) who highlight the failure of the imported breeds to adapt to the environmental conditions of the Borgou breed. The Mbororo breed rather presents a moderate influence (higher frequency for score 3 and secondarily for score 4). This could mean that the influence of the Mbororo breed is less than that of Yakana, Goudali or Azawak breeds.
In this study, the medians obtained to compare the perceptions of farmers according to the types of farmers did not vary statistically for Goudali, Mbororo, Somba and Yakana breeds. In contrast, perceptions on threat levels were significantly different for Azawak, Ndama and exotic breeds depending on the type of farmers. The influence of the Azawak breed was much more marked among LargeZB farmers, less remarkable among SIntPur herders and intermediate in SedPur and SmallZB farmers. This could be linked to herd structures. A recent study on the four types studied (Worogo et al. 2019) showed that LargeZB farmers own the Azawak breed in their herds, unlike the other farmers. These farmers are thus likely to better perceive the influence of the Azawak breed in cross-breeding with the Borgou breed. As for the Ndama breed, although the scores were low (medians: 1 to 2), its threats were less perceived by SIntPur farmers. This could be explained by the fact that these farmers (belonging to the Okpara Breeding Farm) experienced the introduction of the Ndama breed (Youssao et al. 2000; Gbangboché and Alkoiret 2011) and that this breed is no longer present on that farm during the study period. The levels of threat from exotic breeds varied with the type of farmer. SedPur farmers perceive the influence of exotic breeds on the Borgou more weakly compared to the other types of farmers. This could be explained by the production goals. In fact, SedPur farmers use the Borgou breed for draught purposes (Worogo et al. 2019) and this breed seems better suited for this type of production than imported breeds which are much more specialized for meat and milk productions.
Farmers’ perceptions on the level of threats from socio-environmental factors
The lack of good breeding bulls and uncontrolled cross-breeding practices with other breeds presented high percentages for scores 4 (strong), 5 (very strong) and 3 (medium) unlike the other socio-environmental factors. This shows that these two factors have a determining role in the in situ conservation of Borgou cattle. Studies (Dehoux and Hounsou-Ve 1993; Dehoux and Verhulst 1994; Alkoiret et al. 2009) have also specified that it is often Borgou males that are the most replaced by the Zebu males in the herds. Farmers prefer to introduce Zebu males into Borgou herds to improve production and prefer to keep Borgou females in order to take advantage of the Borgou breed’s good adaptation to environmental conditions, its better DisRes and its fertility. Thus, the practice of cross-breeding in Borgou herds is the consequence of the lack of good Borgou bulls among Borgou cattle populations. In this study, farmers perceive less the influence of factors such as LbShort, conflicts between crop farmers and cattle farmers, PMgm or even CC due to the higher frequencies for scores 1 (very low), 2 (low) and 3 (medium). The respondents mentioned that these factors are common to the farming of other cattle breeds sharing the same area with the Borgou breed and therefore less specifically linked to the Borgou breed. However, farmers asserted the need to take these factors into account in the in situ conservation processes of that breed. On the other hand, LVF and the RedPL seem to be more or less significant threats in the in situ conservation of Borgou cattle; scores 3, 4 and 5 are represented at approximately 60% for each of the two factors.
Threat levels did not show significant differences between types of farmers for factors such as LGBB, LVF, conflicts, UCB, LbShort, PMgm and RedPL. Only the scores obtained for CC showed significant differences between the types of herders. The medians were higher among LargeZB farmers and lower in SIntPur herders. This can be explained by the fact that LargeZB farmers are more inclined to adapt to CC due to their greater movements (longer distances and more frequent movements). This has become a recurring phenomenon since several authors (Ferner et al. 2018; Zampaligré and Fuchs 2019; Ouédraogo et al. 2021) mentioned that in several African countries, the fodder demand for cattle feeding is increasingly high and farmers are forced to practise more mobility to cope with the scarcity of fodder caused by climate change. As for SIntPur herders, they benefit more from the technical and financial support of State institutions and numerous studies aimed at describing or improving the zootechnical performances of the Borgou breed have been carried out in these herds (Youssao et al. 2000; Gbangboché and Alkoiret 2011; Worogo et al. 2018). In fact, through their works, we can notice that SIntPur farmers provide less effort to feed or care for their cattle compared to farmers of the other groups. This could therefore explain the fact that the influence of CC is less perceived by SIntPur farmers.
Functional characteristics of Borgou cattle within herding communities
In this study, ten functional characteristics of the Borgou breed were submitted to the cattle farmers for consideration. On these ten functional traits: draught ability, adaptability to environmental conditions, ValFR, manure production, fertility and DisRes each total between 65 and 95% of frequencies for the scores 4 (good) and 5 (very good). These high scores testify that these qualities are highly valued by farmers involved in Borgou cattle farming in its cradle. The other scores are hardly represented. However, MilkProd performance in Borgou cattle is not very appreciated by farmers. Indeed, scores 1 (very bad), 2 (bad) and 3 (acceptable) total nearly 75% of the percentages. Studies show that the milk production of Borgou females varies from 0.84 L (Dehoux and Hounsou-Ve 1993) to 2.4 ± 1.1 L per day (Sènou et al. 2008). These low productions could be one of the main reasons justifying the use of more productive breeds such as the Goudali breed, whose milk production is around 7 L according to Assani et al. (2015). As for the conformation of Borgou cattle, the perceptions of farmers seem to be divided between scores 3 (acceptable), 4 (good) and 5 (very good). In fact, the farmers surveyed expressed that the general conformation of the Borgou cattle does not present any major defects. In this study, statistical analyses showed significant differences only for scores related to the selling price and ValFR. The scores (selling price) were lower in LargeZB herders and higher in SedPur herders and those in semi-intensive systems. This could be explained by the fact that LargeZB farmers have heavier breeds (Zebu) in their herds and whose after-sale revenues are likely to be greater than those obtained from the sale of Borgou cattle. In addition, SedPur farmers mainly use the Borgou breed for animal traction (Worogo et al. 2019), and therefore, these farmers are likely to obtain animals that are well conformed and meet the specificities of animal traction when choosing animals. These animals can therefore be more prized and thus influence the perceptions of farmers using the Borgou breed for draught purposes. In SIntPur, the animals benefit from food supplements and more adequate care, which is rather an advantageous factor in obtaining heavier Borgou animals.