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Coconut water is a trendy alternative to sports drinks for many people, despite the lack of scientific evidence to prove it’s more hydrating than plain water. But now researchers in Uganda have discovered that coconut water is actually good for something other than human hydration — artificial insemination of pigs.
Uganda has the highest consumption of pork in East Africa, with each person eating about 7.5 pounds (3.4 kilograms) of meat annually, according to International Livestock Research Institute (opens in new tab). However, pig farming methods in many of Uganda’s remote villages make it challenging for farmers to produce enough pork to meet demand, according to SciDev.net (opens in new tab), an outlet devoted to scientific discovery in developing nations. In most villages, farmers keep one or two boars with dozens of females in the area, resulting in inbreeding. Pigs that are inbred produce lower quality meat that is very high in fat. The animals are also more susceptible to outbreaks of diseases such as African swine fever — a deadly viral disease that causes fever and internal bleeding in pigs — and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSv), a respiratory disease that causes reproductive failure in sows.
To solve these problems, the Ugandan government is investigating the possibility of introducing artificial insemination into pig farming – injecting sperm from high-quality boars into sows to make them pregnant without mating. However, transporting sperm from these boars to farms across the country before the sperm die is a challenge because the boars are uncommon and geographically isolated. Now researchers involved in a project (opens in new tab) funded by the Uganda Regional University Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) found that using coconut water to store sperm while they were being transported helped the sperm live 24 times longer than normal (their findings not yet published in a peer-reviewed study).
“Outside a boar’s body, sperm will live for about 4 hours, then start to die due to starvation and temperature changes, but when added to coconut water, they will live for up to 96 hours, allowing insemination at the right time,” he told SciDev. net project researcher Joab Malanda, a pig husbandry expert at Egerton University in Njoro, Kenya.
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Coconut water is a clear liquid found in coconuts (not to be confused with coconut water). coconut milk, which is a mixture of water and liquid from the white flesh that surrounds the water inside the fruit). It’s high in electrolytes like potassium, sodium and manganese, as well as antioxidants, and it’s low in sugar, which has led some people to use it as an alternative to sports drinks, according to Mayo Clinic (opens in new tab).
However, experts are not convinced that coconut water is a healthy alternative to sports drinks. “Some evidence suggests that coconut water is comparable to sports drinks,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “But it’s no more hydrating than plain water,” which is the “smart choice” for hydration.
However, scientists have found that the sodium and potassium in the water are also great for keeping pig sperm alive. As part of the project, which started in 2017 and involved more than 1,000 farmers, researchers found that coconut water improved the success rate of sperm transport and as a result showed that pig farming networks could use artificial insemination to increase productivity.
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But there is more work to do. Farmers must be trained by experts to use the sperm to inseminate pigs. Extracting coconut water for artificial insemination also requires farmers to use effective sterilization techniques, the researchers said. RUFORUM has already established the first pig farming association in Uganda to facilitate training for farmers.
The researchers hope that using coconut water can help other farmers in Africa artificially inseminate pigs and boost pork production. This can help combat food production challenges caused by overpopulation and climate changeaccording to SciDev.net.
“Artificial insemination can be adopted sustainably and scaled up everywhere else, especially among smallholder farmers,” lead researcher Eli Ndyomugyeni, a livestock management expert at Gulu University in Uganda, told SciDev.net. “This is mainly because coconuts are found in almost every part of the African continent.”
Originally published on Live Science.