Rwanda has started a pilot project to use drones to deliver swine semen to veterinarians for use in artificial insemination to facilitate farmers’ access to improved breeds and boost the pig industry. Fabrice Ndayisenga, Head of Animal Resource Research and Technology Transfer Department at Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) told The New Times recently that that the initiative started last week on Tuesday, January 25 through a partnership with Zipline Rwanda, a medical products delivery company. Under the Rwanda Livestock Master Plan launched in December 2017 and spanning five years, the pig industry is expected to be a major contributor to Rwanda’s meat production. Ndayisenga said that the challenge in artificial insemination in pigs was to transport semen from the processing centres to the stockbreeders who need them, an issue that the new move is expected to solve. He added that swine semen requires rapid delivery, immediately after collection for it to be safe and effective. This, he explained, is different from the cattle semen which can be stored in liquid nitrogen and can be frozen and kept for years. Based on the records available so far, it takes some 45 minutes for a drone to deliver pig semen from Muhanga District to Nyamasheke District – this is a distance of about 180 km, which would normally be covered in over three hours by a car moving at 60 km an hour. Thanks to the new development, Ndayisenga said, a pig farmer can order for the semen, and a veterinarian comes to inseminate their pig, instead of incurring the cost of keeping the boar, which is expensive and can cause a risk for the farmer as it might catch a disease [and spread it as it mates many sows]. “And, these are improved semen from pure pig breeds we imported from Europe,” he said, indicating that they want many farmers to get them for genetic improvement of their animals. He observed that the good quality pig breeds imported from Europe, available at Muhanga centre for artificial insemination in pigs, are pure breed namely Large White, Landrace, Pietrain and Duroc. Access to insemination service Jean Claude Shirimpumu, chairperson for the Rwanda Pig Farmers’ Association told The New Times that there are five centres for pig semen collection and artificial insemination, indicating that farmers who are in distant places from those centres had difficulties accessing the needed semen. Currently, he said, one-dose semen to inseminate a pig costs Rwf6,500 from collection centres, adding that the cost incurred by a farmer goes higher when transport fee is factored in. “This initiative will save the cost for the farmer because raising a boar is expensive as feeding it is costly while they only need it for mating purposes when the sow is on heat,” he said. During this pilot phase, Ndayisenga said farmers will not pay for semen transport cost. Meanwhile, he said that once the pilot phase proves successful, RAB will sign an MoU with Zipline which will include that cost. According to the Rwanda Livestock Master Plan, the overall target is to raise pig meat production from 19,945 tonnes in 2016/17 to 67,076 tonnes by 2021/22, an increase of 239 percent. The Agricultural Household Survey of 2020 put the pig population in the country at 1.2 million.