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TP Lecky Memorial Lecture
published: Friday | November 21, 2003


Hugh Martin

THE JAMAICAN Society for Agricultural Sciences (JSAS) in collaboration with the T. P. Lecky Memorial Trust on October 28, 2003 staged the T. P. Lecky Memorial Lecture at the Courtleigh Hotel in Kingston.

This was the 4th in the series since it began in 1995, one year after the great scientist's death and was delivered by Mrs. Jasmin Holness, Principal Director, Livestock Research in the Ministry of Agriculture. Mrs. Holness, herself an animal geneticist, has the distinction of having worked closely with Dr. Lecky at the Bodles Research Station in the 1980s when he returned as a consultant after many years in private practice.

The lecture series was conceived to honour the outstanding animal breeder and father of the four Jamaican breeds of cattle as well as to promote a better understanding and awareness of the need for technological advances through indigenous research. It was also hoped that it would provide a challenge to future generations of agricultural scientists.

To my mind, the lecture last month succeeded in achieving all of those worthy objectives. In the audience were some of the practising scientists in various agricultural disciplines as well as several students from the College of Agriculture Science and Education (CASE) coming all the way from Port Antonio.

WELL PREPARED AND DELIVERED

The topic, appropriately chosen for the occasion, "Approaches, Challenges and Opportunities - Cattle and Genetics: The Jamaican Experience" was well prepared and lovingly delivered.

The problem was, that there was just too few of the persons who could benefit most in attendance. Conspicuous in their absence were those involved in policy-making.

Which is such a pity because if they are not convinced of the need for on-going research we will never again manage to equal the achievements of the Hon. T. P. Lecky OM, gained under difficult but considerably more enlightened conditions.

What Mrs. Holness' historical tracing of the beginnings of our cattle breeds revealed was the indisputable need for Governments' leadership and unrelenting support of the research and development programmes.

While Dr. Lecky is credited with the development of the Jamaica Hope dairy breed as well as the Jamaica Red Poll, the Jamaica Brahman and the Jamaica Black, work began on developing a native breed as far back as 1910 when he was only six years old.

HEAT-TOLERANT ANIMAL

Mr. H. H. Cousins, Director of Agriculture in the then Colonial Government, was responsible for initiating the effort by establishing a dairy herd at the Hope farm and introducing new breeds for crossbreeding to develop a more heat-tolerant animal.

Interestingly, he simultaneously established the Farm School to assist the effort. When Dr. Lecky joined the staff of the Hope Farm shortly after graduation from the school in 1925 he was immediately smitten with the cattle-breeding bug and Cousins encouraged him.

THE NEW BREED

Soon Cousins handed all the work over to him and by the early 1930s he was well on his way to the new breed. But animal breeding, like plant breeding, is a slow, tedious process requiring patience, dedication and very importantly, financing.

With the departure of Cousins, the bureaucracy lost interest in the work and Lecky, having improved his skills with a degree in animal Husbandry from a Canadian university, found himself without a job.

The work at the Hope farm was put on hold for several years but by the early 40s he was re-employed at Hope and the final drive was made in the development of the four breeds.

Dr. Lecky in his autobiography Cattle And I tells of the difficulties put in his way by some bureaucrats and lauded the assistance provided by the enlightened farmers of the day.

This points strongly to the need for Government's commitment to research and development for without it very little can be achieved in that area. But it is equally true that the private sector has a role to play by helping to fund some of the work and to participate in the testing and development processes.

As it turned out the Jamaican cattle farmers are in fact credited with the development of the Jamaica Black beef breed with Dr. Lecky only providing scientific guidance.

The sad development now however is that, although acknowledged as a very fine beef breed, it is fast becoming extinct. This is largely the consequence of changing eating habits influenced by the questionable campaign against red meat. The dairy industry has suffered too but not so much from the healthy lifestyle fad as from the dumping of cheap imported milk solids.

FROZEN SEMEN

While all this is going on it is interesting to note the recent visit by livestock interests from Australia and New Zealand, major livestock producers, seeking to purchase frozen semen of our cattle.

It would be a very sad day indeed if the largest Jamaica Hope herds were to be found in Australia while the breed is struggling to survive in the country of origin. It has happened before with our pineapple.

We better be careful it doesn't happen with our livestock. In which case we could forget about a T.P. Lecky Memorial lecture series and Mrs. Holness' excellent presentation would have been all in vain.

Hugh Martin is a communication specialist and farm- broadcaster. E-mail: humar@cwjamaica.com

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