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Penn Vet Students Develop Goat Dairy in the Gambia

By: John Donges Published: Mar 10, 2017

Penn Vet students spent ten weeks in The Gambia, West Africa, conducting research to determine the feasibility and sustainability of developing a goat dairy.V’18, and Corey Spies, V’19, spent ten weeks in The Gambia, West Africa, conducting research to determine the feasibility and sustainability of developing a goat dairy. The project has the potential to expand both nutrition and healthcare in an impoverished area.

The students worked in collaboration with Dr. David Galligan, V’81, Professor of Animal Health Economics at Penn Vet; Dr. Carla Chieffo, V’86; and Lynn McConville, Director of Power Up Gambia, a West Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization that provides renewable energy solutions to healthcare facilities in The Gambia. Funding came from Rotary grants (Paoli-Malvern-Berwyn Rotary Club, Gundaker Foundation and International District 7450), a Penn Abroad Global Grant, and two Food Animal Fellowships from Penn Vet.

Kebba Badgie, CEO of Sulayman Junkung General Hospital (SJGH), initially spoke with McConville about creating a goat dairy at the hospital in rural Gambia.

Power Up Gambia was founded by Dr. Kathryn Hall, a former Penn medical student, who volunteered at SJGH and realized the need for electricity. Badgie mentioned to McConville that a small herd of goats living on the hospital property provided meat for staff and patients; there was, however, no formal herd health or animal husbandry program to efficiently raise and grow the herd. SJGH is located in western Gambia, where wasting and stunting due to undernutrition is a major public health concern. Given that low protein consumption is a determinant of undernourishment, many Gambian organizations have emphasized the need for accessible, high-quality protein.

By what can only be described as a fortunate coincidence, McConville attended a Paoli-Malvern-Berwyn Rotary Club meeting, where she introduced Badgie’s idea to Chieffo—who, in turn, enlisted the help of Galligan to co-mentor the project. Together, they selected Parsons and Spies from a pool of student candidates, due to their unique backgrounds in international work, research, and experience in goat rearing and animal husbandry.

Parsons and Spies presented their preliminary project proposal during a seminar held for over 20 key Gambian stakeholdersOver the summer, Parsons and Spies researched how to establish the infrastructure, advisory connections, regulatory clearances, and supply chains necessary for the Gambia Goat Dairy (GGD). They met with government veterinary agencies and agricultural research organizations to determine the best rearing and weaning practices for goat kids in The Gambia. They consulted with feed manufacturers, growers, and sellers to determine the price and logistical necessities of feeding the herd. And they discussed the project with Gambian government ministers and other officials, seeking assistance and clearance to move forward.

After weeks of rigorous research, Parsons and Spies compiled their findings into a preliminary project proposal and conducted a seminar for over 20 key Gambian stakeholders—including government officials from the Gambian Department of Livestock and the International Trypanotolerance Centre. Their presentation detailed the specifics of the dairy, including infrastructure, husbandry, nutrition, veterinary care, revenue generation, comprehensive budgets, operation sustainability, and future directions. The gathering allowed for an unprecedented level of discourse, constructive criticism, and exchange of ideas.

Parsons and Spies used the feedback to refine their proposal and budget for the project. The group is applying for further grants and funding to return to The Gambia to implement those plans. Rotary International has already committed money for 2017, and the students will also be applying for Penn Vet’s Student Inspiration Award.

“Our work to date underscores the feasibility, sustainability, and profitability of the operation. With support from funding organizations, start-up costs can be secured and social impact can quickly be realized,” said Spies.

Parsons and Spies pose with key Gambian stakeholders