Lana Pyburn has fielded many requests for help finding interesting items over the years. As Winrock International’s senior director of procurement, she leads a team that keeps an organization working in more than 40 countries spread across all four hemispheres supplied with the materials they need to get the job done.
And then there was the email from a Winrock project in Nepal, asking for help finding a specific kind of goat semen ─ needed by farmers to improve the genetic pool of goats raised for meat.
“They had already researched online and knew the breed they wanted: Boer goats. They found a company called SMART Reproduction online and asked for our help getting quotes,” Pyburn says.
After conducting due diligence and obtaining comparisons, Pyburn learned that Jonesboro, Arkansas-based SMART Repro was a cutting-edge, woman-owned animal sciences enterprise, and that it was the first and only U.S.-based business certified and licensed for multi-country export of goat and sheep semen and embryos. At the time, though, Pyburn didn’t know the company had a prior connection to Winrock through Innovate Arkansas, an enterprise incubator project that helps scale promising high-tech businesses in the state. In October 2022, the company won an Arkansas Governor’s Award for Excellence in Global Trade in the Woman-Owned Exporter category.
In Nepal, where Winrock implements the Feed the Future KISAN II project, goats are very important to both food security and livelihoods, but some indigenous breeds are susceptible to disease and other issues that have gradually weakened the pool of available genetic goat stock. The problem has food security implications in Nepal, where nearly half of all households rear goats, a low-cost, high-utility livestock investment. In addition to meat, the rugged ruminants are valued for everything from milk to fiber, manure and brush control.
As the staff of Kathmandu-based KISAN II – short for Knowledge-based Integrated Sustainable Agriculture in Nepal II – examined how to help Nepali goat farmers improve the genetic pool of local breeds of meat goats, they zeroed in on the Boer breed, a hardy, muscular variety originally bred in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa.
Prized for their size, meat quality, high fertility rates and adaptability, Boer goat semen, collected from brawny bucks, pre-screened for diseases and cryogenically preserved in straws for ease of delivery, is among SMART Repro’s product lines. At the moment, the company is the only U.S. Department of Agriculture and European Union-approved sheep and goat semen and embryo producer in the U.S. capable of collecting, freezing, exporting and importing to international markets.
That made SMART Repro the logical choice for sourcing the unusual material needed by the project in Nepal. With an assist from Winrock procurement, the company provided 250 straws of genetic material in vacuum-sealed, cooled containers “from Jonesboro all the way to Kathmandu,” says Pyburn.
The breed improvement initiative is already having an impact.
“Goat breeding services using the improved goat breed, Boer, are gaining popularity in Nepal, and it’s advancing economic gain,” says KISAN II Chief of Party Praveen Baidya. “Nepali farmers rearing Boer goats are expected to increase their sales by 170%.” So far, Nepali breeders have conducted 315 successful artificial insemination procedures across 15 districts in Nepal.
The KISAN II activity, part of the U.S. government’s global Feed the Future initiative, engages Nepal’s private sector to improve on-farm production and facilitate market development. The goal is to help subsistence farmers transition to commercial production and earn more income, with emphasis on rice, maize, vegetables, lentils and goats.
KISAN II’s work in the goat sector includes breed development, trade and marketing, husbandry and policy. The government of Nepal’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, with support from the National Agriculture Research Center and the National Livestock Breeding Offices played an integral role in facilitating imports of semen and training on semen extraction, processing and storage to expand artificial insemination services. The project has trained 31 Nepali technicians on artificial insemination to improve genetic diversification and is helping connect goat farmers directly to traders at goat collection centers – all work that directly supports Nepal’s Agriculture Development Strategy.
Genetic material shipped from Arkansas-raised Boers will result in higher-quality goat production, enabling Nepali goat farmers to draw better prices while improving the genetic pool. Female Boers, called nannies or does, typically reproduce twice over three years, often producing two to three kids at a time.
Improving breeds, however, requires improving feed practices. To help farmers sustain healthier herds, KISAN II cost-shares farmers’ acquisition of nutritious fodder seed and forage saplings, supporting producers as they learn which foods are best, and helping them to establish their own feed supplies. So far, KISAN II has conducted 42 trainings reaching nearly 7,600 goat farmers ─ most of whom are women ─ on topics including access to finance, loan assistance, marketing and health management practices, and proper feeding techniques.
Eight thousand miles away from Nepal, small business owners in Arkansas are also tapping services and support offered by Winrock to explore new approaches and expand.
SMART Repro owner Brittany Scott first approached Innovate Arkansas in 2020 for advice on growing capital and developing business strategy. She connected with IA Director David Sanders and her firm became one of IA’s more than 600 Arkansas-based science-and-technology enterprise clients. Since its inception, IA has helped companies add more than 820 jobs while raising $364.5 million in investments and generating $389.4 million in revenue.
“I don’t come from a business background, so to get advice and mentorship from someone who understands our niche and to receive input on how we can grow is very powerful,” Scott says.
SMART Repro’s success is drawing attention. In October, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson presented Scott with the Woman-Owned Exporter Award, part of the annually bestowed Arkansas Governor’s Awards for Excellence in Global Trade. In addition to Nepal, SMART Repro has exported to the Philippines, the Caribbean, and will soon ship to the Netherlands and Brazil. “Agriculture as a whole is primarily a male-dominated industry,” Scott said at the recent award ceremony in Little Rock. “Winning this award as a woman-owned small business is very important to us, as our company employs a majority of females. We are also empowering women on an international scale to be able to provide for themselves and produce an income for their families.”