Building capacity for better conservation and use of Africa’s animal genetic resources: Burkina Faso workshop

Jeremy Ouedraogo, Minister of Livestock and Fisheries, Burkina Faso

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Diana Brandes-van Dorresteijn

Jeremy Ouedraogo, Minister of Livestock and Fisheries in Burkina Faso, attended a Regional Capacity Development Workshop in Animal Genetic Resources in Sub-Saharan Africa, held in the capital of Ouagadougou, 4 to 6 November, 2013.

Sub-Saharan Africa has only a handful of qualified livestock breeders and geneticists. Regional collaboration among scientists and institutions in this area provides rare opportunities to exchange information, pull together resources, network with other professionals, and partner strategic organizations.

Addressing more than 75 representatives from 22 sub-Saharan countries before meeting with the UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon on 6 November, Minister Ouedraogo highlighted the need for regional cooperation among individuals and institutions given the region’s scarcity of qualified livestock breeders. He pointed out the urgent need for more appropriate breeding strategies and schemes that will ease access by poor farmers herding livestock in harsh environments to superior livestock germplasm. He thanked ILRI and its partners for supporting Africa’s Global Action Plan on Animal Genetic Resources, which was endorsed by African governments in 2007.

The minister referred to collaboration between ILRI and partners that has effectively built investments, programs and capacity in this area. Best practices must be captured for replication and scaling up, he said. While research should benefit local communities, he said, the scale of the impacts of research depend largely on whether national policies, national budget allocations and national development plans reflect the importance of better use of native livestock resources and allocate funds for developing national capacity in this area.

The minister encouraged the workshop participants to engage actively with those developing a second State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources report, due to be published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2014.

APM 2013: How can we unlock the genetic potentials of local livestock breeds?

The workshop was organized by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). In partnership with FAO, the African Union–Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) and the Tertiary Education for Agriculture Mechanism for Africa (TEAM-Africa), ILRI and SLU are holding regional back-to-back workshops this November in Burkina Faso, Rwanda and Botswana. The purpose is to strengthen regional platforms boosting knowledge exchange, collaboration and capacity in improved conservation and use of Africa’s animal genetic resources.

CGIAR and ILRI have worked together with SLU for a decade to develop capacity in animal genetic resources work. Groups of selected ‘champions’ of this work have been given training in their home institutions by the ILRI/SLU project to advance animal genetic resources teaching in higher education and research work within and outside the university.

Abdou Fall

Abdou Fall, ILRI representative for Burkina Faso and West Africa (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan)

In an opening address to the workshop, Abdou Fall, ILRI’s country and West Africa’s regional representative, commended the strong representation from 22 countries in the region: from Senegal to Congo and from Benin to Ivory Coast, Guinea Bissau and Niger.

This geographic breadth’, Fall said, ‘should help provoke dynamic discussions on better and more sustainable use of Africa’s livestock breeds and genes and the capacity development programs that underpin this.

Training has long been a central element in the capacity development approaches ILRI and SLU have taken to strengthen Africa’s use of animal genetic resources; indeed, for many partners and donor organizations, Fall said, this training has been a hallmark of the project’s achievements over the past decade. But Fall highlighted that capacity development work in CGIAR/ILRI goes beyond training and transferring knowledge and skills to individuals, and now embraces work effecting change in organizations, institutions, cultures and sectors.

Fall said capacity development activities can serve sustainable use and appropriate management of the continent’s diminishing livestock genetic resources only if they are embedded within broader policies, strategies and frameworks. ILRI takes a systems approach to capacity development, he said, which addresses up front institutional and organizational shortcomings and regulatory and cultural barriers to sustainable development.

Progress in this kind of capacity development work is measured at the following three levels:
Environment: The policies, rules, legislation, regulations, power relations and social norms that help bring about an enabling or disabling environment for sustainable development;
Organization: The internal policies, arrangements, procedures and frameworks that enable or disable an organization to deliver on its mandate and individuals to work together to achieve common goals
Individual: The skills, experience, knowledge and motivation of people.

Taking such a systems perspective, Fall explained, requires finding the right balance between, on the one hand, responding to expressed demand for agricultural research-based knowledge and interventions, and, on the other, jumping on emerging opportunities and innovations with potential for accelerating agricultural development.

This workshop should help AU-IBAR increase its animal genetics work through a 5-year project funded by the European Union and through strengthened collaboration with FAO in this area. Outcomes of the 4-day Burkina Faso workshop — including lessons learned from the past, a prioritized list of new topics/problems for new MSc and PhD students to take on, a list of key messages, and action plans for animal genetic resources work in Western Africa — will help lay the foundations of the West African Platform on Animal Genetic Resources.

More information on ILRI’s contribution to capacity development for animal genetic resource work can be found here: http://mahider.ilri.org/handle/10568/16393 and here http://agtr.ilri.cgiar.org

About ILRI
ILRI is one of 15 CGIAR research centres and 16 multi-centre research programs located around the world and dedicated to reducing poverty and improving food security, health and nutrition, and natural resource management. Like other CGIAR centres, ILRI leads, co-leads or supports cutting-edge research on sustainable agriculture and designs, conducts and monitors in-country research-for-development programs and projects with the aim of producing international public goods at scales that make significant difference in the lives of the world’s poorest populations. ILRI does this work in collaboration with many public and private partners, which combine upstream ‘solution-driven’ research with downstream adaptive science, often in high-potential livestock value chains engaging small- and medium-sized agri-businesses and suppliers. In this work, ILRI and its partners are explicitly supporting work to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals and their successor (now being formulated), the Sustainable Development Goals.

ILRI envisions a world where all people have access to enough food and livelihood options to fulfill their potential. ILRI’s mission is to improve food and nutritional security and to reduce poverty in developing countries through research for efficient, safe and sustainable use of livestock, ‘ensuring better lives through livestock’.

Diana Brandes-van Dorresteijn is a staff member in ILRI’s Capacity Development Unit.

 

Updated and extended Animal Genetics Training Resource online this week

The Animal Genetics Training Resource (AGTR) is a unique, ‘one stop’, user-friendly, interactive, multimedia resource, targeted at researchers and scientists teaching and carrying out research in animal biodiversity and genetics.

It is a dynamic training resource designed to help inform the design and implementation of breeding programmes and provide information that will empower countries and institutions to undertake their own research. It covers established and rapidly developing areas, such as genetic based technologies and their application in livestock breeding programmes.

Core modules in the AGTR are:

  1. Global perspectives on animal genetic resources for sustainable agriculture and food production;
  2. Improving our knowledge of tropical indigenous animal genetic resources;
  3. Sustainable breeding programmes for tropical farming systems;
  4. Quantitative methods to improve the understanding and use of animal genetic resources; and
  5. Teaching methods and science communication.

The modules are supported by over 40 case studies that summarize real-life experiences and capture indigenous knowledge and lessons learnt from developing countries. The case studies also illustrate principles and methodologies commonly applied in animal genetics, from real-life situations and they highlight knowledge gaps appropriate for post-graduate theses or further research.

A linked breed information tool incorporates all the breeds highlighted in the modules/case studies. Practical examples, exercises, compendia, a library with full-text articles, and links to relevant web resources are included. It also has links to many other information sources on and related to AnGR, including the Domestic Animal Genetic Resources Information System (DAGRIS: http://dagris.ilri.cgiar.org) and the Domestic Animal Diversity Information System (DAD–IS: http://dad.fao.org). A high quality and accuracy of the contents of the AGTR is assured through an external review process by subject matter specialists.

View the Resource online at http://agtr.ilri.cgiar.org

AGTR is a joint product of ILRI and SLU – the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (www.slu.se)

The first version of AGTR was released as a CD in October 2003. It included the first versions of the five training modules, case studies and breed information focused on livestock breeds mainly in Africa and to a small extent in Asia. It also included a few exercises, two video clips and a library of 50 documents.

The second version, released in 2006, was more expansive and comprehensive than Version 1. It was made available both as a CD and on the Web, and included additional information for Asia as well as for Africa.
Version 3 is online in November 2011 on a fully web-enabled platform, which allows for direct online revisions and content comments by authors. CD versions of the same will be prepared in 2012. Significant changes have been made to the content of the Modules. All of the case studies were externally reviewed and subsequently revised, and new case studies have been added. Software manuals for word processing and presentation have been updated, and an example of using the statistical software ‘R’ (freely available) has been added. The greatly enhanced multimedia section now includes links to film and clips by ILRI, as well as pictures of numerous livestock breeds.

Livestock under threat: Managing the future of native West African ruminant livestock

There is more livestock diversity in Africa than on any other continent. Some indigenous breeds of cattle, goats and sheep are disease resistant, and others can withstand feed and water shortages. But most are less productive than some imported breeds and so do not meet farmers’ needs.

Millions of poor livestock keepers are importing animals, or cross-breeding their local animals with imported breeds to get more productive livestock. But imported breeds need expensive care because they are much less hardy, and animal deaths are increasing. There is a danger that many of Africa’s indigenous livestock breeds will disappear, just as climate changes and population growth are making their hardy traits increasingly important for food security across the region.

This film tells the story of an unusual research and development project working to increase understanding of a disease-resistant cattle breed of West Africa along with what is needed to improve the marketing and processing of their products. This information will then be combined with better feeding and breeding schemes, farmer training and policy changes to make indigenous animals more profitable for poor farmers, so that the important genetic traits of these native breeds are not lost forever.

Watch a new 15-minute film produced by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI): Livestock under threat: Managing the future of native West African ruminant livestock, 29 Jun 2011.

‘Unlocking the value of the cow’: New project to identify the best breeds for East Africa’s small-scale dairy producers

woman and cows

A small-scale dairy farmer with her cows in Uganda. A new three-year project will identify and make available appropriate dairy cows for smallholders in East Africa to help them increase their milk yields (photo credit: EADD).

A new project identifying appropriate dairy breeds for small-scale farmers in East Africa, and making these breeds more available in the region, was launched in February 2011 at the Nairobi campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). The Dairy Genetics East Africa project—a partnership between ILRI; the University of New England, in Australia; and PICOTEAM, a consultancy group facilitating change processes—will help smallholders obtain the most appropriate cows for their farms so as to increase their milk yields and improve their livelihoods.

Speaking to dairy stakeholders from Kenya, including officials from Kenya’s Ministry of Livestock Development, the East Africa Dairy Development (EADD) project and other dairy industry development partners, at the launch on 9 February 2011, Okeyo Mwai, a researcher and the project’s coordinator at ILRI, explained that even though smallholder dairying is booming in parts of East Africa, such as in Kenya’s central region and the north and southern Rift Valley areas, where farmers have adopted improved animal breeds and intensified milk production, many more smallholders lack research-based knowledge about which dairy breeds are best suited for their farms and production systems and information about where to obtain them. According to Mwai, ‘Kenya’s dairy sector currently does not have a clear “breeding strategy.”’ That means that many poor smallholders are unable to take advantage of breeds that best suit their situations.

In the absence of appropriate breeding strategies and the ready supply of appropriate replacement stock, farmers face an unpredictable, unreliable and often costly replacement processes. Many are forced to replace their animals from their existing animals or from their neighbours. Others go to large-scale commercial farms and end up ‘upgrading’ to the main commercial dairy breeds even where these don’t suit their farms.

This project will determine the breed composition of cows currently kept in the project areas, the breeds smallholders prefer and the reasons for their preferences, and which breeds perform best under specific conditions. ‘This information will help us assess the relative fit of the various breeds to different production systems,’ says Ed Rege, a team leader at PICO. ‘We’ll then develop partnerships and business models with the private sector to breed, multiply and continuously supply the best-performing dairy breeds to farmers at affordable prices.’

The project will be implemented in five sites in western Kenya and three sites in Uganda. The first phase of the project will start with gathering information to assess the relative performance of breeds in the sites, setting up partnerships with other stakeholders in dairy development in the region and developing business models that will be carried out the later (phase 2 and 3) stages of the project.

In the first phase, project staff will collect information on about 3000 cows based on two monthly farm visits made over a period of 18 months. Field agents will compile information on the performance of the cows vis-vis farm-level inputs for a cost-benefit analysis of the different breeds. The agents will also collect information on farmer-perceived risks associated with different breeds, on means of livelihoods of the farmers, on any gender-specific preferences for certain breeds, and on farmer use of the various breeding services available and their costs.

The breed compositions will be obtained using advanced genotyping technology, which will be led by John Gibson, the project’s principal investigator, who is based at Australia’s University of New England. This information will be combined with cow and household data to identify the most appropriate breeds for various dairy production systems and household circumstances.

‘This project will harness the diverse expertise of the key partners, and combine the latest technologies with tried and tested methods of engaging with the community, to answer critical questions much more rapidly and accurately than has been possible in the past,’ said Gibson, who formerly worked at ILRI as a livestock geneticist.

Participants in the meeting expressed their support for the project, noting its focus on cattle genetic improvement—an area that has received inadequate research attention in the region. Alex Kirui, country director of the non-governmental organization Heifer International, said the project’s focus on ‘giving farmers the right breed for given circumstances’ is an essential requirement if the dairy industry is to be competitive enough to meet the high and increasing regional demand for fresh milk and other dairy products. Moses Nyabila, regional director for the East Africa Dairy Development Project, said the project would ‘unlock the value of the cow, which is a key asset for smallholder farmers.’

Results from the project’s first phase will guide future dairy pilot studies in East Africa and will inform a comparative study of the South Asian dairy industry.

The project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It started in September 2010 and is scheduled to end early in 2013.

For more information visit: http://www.ilri.org/node/598

View presentations from the meeting

Helping African herders cope with climate change

The worm-resistant red Maasai sheep of East Africa

Research groups at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) are helping Maasai livestock herders in East African to retain their native 'hairless' (non-wool producing) red Maasai sheep, which are genetically resistant to infections with gastro-intestinal worms (photo credit: ILRI). 

Half of the world's livestock herders live with their animals on the vast rangelands of Africa, which comprise half of Africa's surface. Herders have always adapted to variable weather, but over the next 50 years, pastoralist areas will face more and more changes.

What’s the future for Africa’s 50 million livestock herders who live on lands too marginal for cropping as our climate changes, becomes less predictable, heats up? How can scientific research help remote pastoral communities? 

Among the poorest of the world’s poor, herders supply milk and meat not only for themselves but for large numbers of other poor people. Although their animals produce few of the greenhouse gasses harming the earth, these people will be among those most hurt by the climate changes we expect. 

Population growth and land degradation are already causing problems over much of the continent’s traditional rangelands. Many herders, having lost all their animals to droughts, are facing the end of their way of life. 

Research-based approaches for adapting to climate change, however, offer options that can help herding communities sustain at least some aspects of their pastoral livelihoods.

These options include:

  • using satellite imagery to provide the first-ever drought insurance for pastoral herders in Africa's remote regions
  • cross-breeding an indigenous disease-resistant sheep breed kept by Maasai communities with higher-producing exotic sheep to get the benefits of both
  • helping communities shift from keeping grazers, such as cattle and sheep, to browsers, such as camels and goats
  • supporting pastoralists to take advantage of local opportunities, such as shifting from herding ruminant animals to raising fish in ponds.  

The experiences in this film, alongside other initiatives will be presented by Mario Herrero, a scientist with ILRI, at the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico from 29 November to 10 December 2010, to show how ILRI is applying research to help livestock-based communities cope with the effects of climate change.

Watch this new 10-minute ILRI film, Heat, Rain and Livestock: Impacts of Climate Change on Africa's Livestock Herders, to find out more.

See more of ILRI's films.

Find out more about the 2010 United Nations Climate Change conference.

See related article: New partnership launched to keep climate change from crippling food production in Africa and Asia, 19 November 2010.

New project to help Vietnamese and other farmers conserve their native livestock breeds

Hmong girl hold native black chicken of Viet Nam A native black pig of Viet Nam

Left: A Hmong girl, 13-year-old Hi Hoa Sinh, holds a native black chicken in the village of Lung Pu, northern Viet Nam; Right: One of Viet Nam’s native black pigs on the farm of Ma Thi Puong, near the northern town of Meo Vac (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

A project funded by the Global Environment Facility has selected Vietnam, a country with a wealth of livestock diversity, as one of four countries in which to implement a project to conserve livestock genotypes.

The diversity is deteriorating due to the popularization of new breeds together with the commercialization of livestock production. To preserve indigenous livestock breeds, the Global Environment Facility and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) have selected 4 countries—Vietnam, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka—to implement the project ‘Developing and applying supporting tools on the conservation and sustainable utilization of the genetic diversity of livestock and their wild relatives.’

Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has made the National Institute of Animal Husbandry as the Vietnamese partner in the project.

The project aims to enhance livestock keepers’ awareness of the importance of the genetic conservation of indigenous livestock while helping them to raise their incomes through adoption of indigenous livestock breeds. The project is being implemented over 4 years (2010–2012) in Vietnam’s Son La and Bac Ninh provinces, with a focus on indigenous chicken and pig breeds. The project will train farmers on survey methods and data collection; on ways to maintain their use of indigenous animals; on livestock management; and on business skills in such areas as as tourism with traditional cuisine and cultural activities.

Basic information about valuable indigenous breeds and representative animals is needed, as is the capacity to prioritize, monitor and manage them at both scientific and farm operational levels. Stakeholder groups need to be empowered with knowledge and conducive operational environments in which they can make decisions that work best for them.

Agriculture in the partner countries in this project contributes 20 to 26% of gross domestic product, of which livestock contributes approximately 15 to 20% in terms of income, insurance, food (meat, milk, eggs), hides/skin, traction and manure. It is mostly smallholder farmers who are dependent on indigenous breeds. These animals have evolved in diverse tropical environments and possess valuable traits such as disease resistance, adaptation to harsh environments, including heat tolerance and ability to utilize poor quality feeds, attributes essential for achieving sustainable agriculture in low-input production systems. However, it is still largely unknown which breeds hold significant genetic diversity or specific genes that should be targeted for conservation and/or incorporation into breeding programs. In the meantime, crossbreeding with exotic breeds is increasing and indigenous breeds are being lost.

The development objectives of this project are to help conserve the indigenous livestock of the partner countries for future generations and to help increase the contribution these native breeds make to the livelihoods of poor people. The first goal of the project is to develop and to make available effective tools to support decision making for the conservation and sustainable use of indigenous farm animals and their wild relatives in developing countries.

For more information, see the project’s description on ILRI’s Biotechnology Theme webpage.

Les experts avertissent que la disparition rapide du bétail indigène de l’Afrique menace l’approvisionnement alimentaire du continent

N'DamaHerd_WestAfrica

D’ « anciennes » espèces bovines d’Afrique de l’Ouest, résistantes aux maladies, figurent parmi les races qui risquent de disparaître parce que le bétail importé est en train de supplanter un précieux cheptel indigène.

Une action urgente est indispensable pour arrêter la perte rapide et alarmante de la diversité génétique du bétail africain qui apporte nourriture et revenus à 70 % des Africains ruraux et constitue un véritable trésor d’animaux résistants à la sécheresse et aux maladies. C’est ce que dit une analyse présentée aujourd’hui à une importante réunion de scientifiques africains et d’experts du développement.

Les experts de l’Institut international de recherche sur l’élevage (ILRI) ont expliqué aux chercheurs réunis pour la cinquième Semaine africaine des sciences agricoles (www.faraweek.org), accueillie par le Forum pour la recherche agricole en Afrique (FARA), que des investissements sont indispensables aujourd’hui même pour intensifier, en particulier en Afrique de l’Ouest, les efforts d’identification et de préservation des caractères uniques de la riche variété de bétail bovin, ovin, caprin, et porcin, qui s’est développée au long de plusieurs millénaires sur le continent et qui est aujourd’hui menacée. Ces experts expliquent que la perte de la diversité du bétail en Afrique fait partie de « l’effondrement » mondiale du cheptel. Selon l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour l’alimentation et l’agriculture, près de 20 % des 7 616 races de bétail existant dans le monde sont aujourd’hui considérées comme à risque.

« L’élevage africain est un des plus robustes au monde, et pourtant nous assistons aujourd’hui à une dilution, si pas une perte totale, de la diversité génétique de nombreuses races, » dit Abdou Fall, chef du projet diversité animale de l’ILRI pour l’Afrique de l’Ouest. « Mais aujourd’hui, nous avons les outils nécessaires pour identifier les caractéres de grande valeur du bétail africain indigène, une information qui peut être cruciale pour maintenir, voire augmenter la productivité de l’exploitation agricole africaine. »

M. Fall décrit les différentes menaces qui pèsent sur la viabilité à long terme de la production de bétail en Afrique. Ces menaces comprennent une dégradation du paysage et le croissement avec des races « exotiques » importées d’Europe, d’Asie et d’Amérique.

Par exemple, on assiste à un croisement sur une très large échelle de races des zones sahéliennes d’Afrique de l’Ouest et susceptibles aux maladies avec des races adaptées aux régions subhumides, comme le sud du Mali, et qui ont une résistance naturelle à la trypanosomiase.

La trypanosomiase tue entre trois et sept millions de tètes de bétail chaque année et son coût pour les exploitants agricoles se chiffre en milliards de dollars, lorsqu’on prend en compte, par exemple, les pertes de production de lait et de viande, et les coûts de médicaments et prophylactiques nécessaires au traitement ou à la prévention des maladies. Bien que le croisement puisse offrir des avantages à court terme, comme une amélioration de la production de viande et de lait ou une plus grande puissance de trait, il peut également faire disparaître des caractères très précieux qui sont le résultat de milliers d’années de sélection naturelle.

Les experts de l’ILRI déploient à l’heure actuelle des efforts importants en faveur d’une campagne visant à maîtriser le développement d’une résistance aux médicaments chez les parasites qui provoquent la trypanosomiase. Mais ils reconnaissent aussi que des races dotées d’une résistance naturelle à cette maladie offre une meilleure solution à long terme.

Ces races comprennent les bovins sans bosse et à courtes cornes de l’Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre, qui ont vécu dans cette région avec ces parasites pendant des millions d’années et ont ainsi acquis une résistance naturelle à de nombreuses maladies, y compris la trypanosomiase, propagée par la mouche tsétsé, et les maladies transmises par les tiques. De plus, ces animaux robustes sont capables de résister à des climats rudes. Mais les races à courtes cornes et à longues cornes ont un désavantage : elles ne sont pas aussi productives que les races européennes. Malgré ce désavantage, la disparition de ces races aurait des conséquences graves pour la productivité future du bétail africain.

« Nous avons observé que les races indigènes sans bosse et à courtes cornes d’Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre font l’objet d’un abatage aveugle et d’un manque d’attention aux bonne pratique d’élevage, et risquent ainsi de disparaître,» explique Fall. « Il faut qu’au minimum nous préservions ces races soit dans le contexte de l’exploitation, soit dans des banques de gènes : leurs caractéristiques génétiques pourraient en effet s’avérer décisives dans la lutte contre le trypanosomiase, et leur robustesse pourrait être un atout essentiel pour des exploitants agricoles qui auront à s’adapter au changement climatique. »

Le Kuri aux grandes cornes bulbeuses du Sud Tchad et du Nord-est du Nigéria fait partie des bovins africains à risques. Non seulement il ne se laisse pas déranger par les piqûres d’insecte mais il est également un excellent nageur, vu qu’il s’est développé dans la région du lac Tchad, et est idéalement adapté aux conditions humides dans des climats très chauds.

Les actions de l’ILRI en faveur de la préservation du bétail africain indigène s’inscrivent dans un effort plus large visant à améliorer la productivité de l’exploitation agricole africaine au travers de ce qu’on appelle la « génomique du paysage ». Cette dernière implique entre autre chose, le séquençage des génomes de différentes variétés de bétail provenant de plusieurs régions, et la recherche des signatures génétiques associées à leur adaptation à un environnement particulier.

Les experts de l’ILRI considèrent la génomique du paysage comme étant particulièrement importante vu l’accélération du changement climatique qui impose à l’éleveur de répondre toujours plus rapidement et avec l’expertise voulue à l’évolution des conditions de terrain. Mais ils soulignent qu’en Afrique en particulier, la capacité des éleveurs à s’adapter aux nouveaux climats va dépendre directement de la richesse du continent en termes de diversité de son cheptel indigène.

« Nous assistons trop souvent à des efforts qui visent à améliorer la productivité du bétail dans la ferme africaine en supplantant le cheptel indigène par des animaux importés qui à long terme s’avéreront mal adaptés aux conditions locales et vont demander un niveau d’attention simplement trop onéreux pour la plus part des petits exploitants agricoles, » dit Carlos Seré, Directeur général de l’ILRI. « Les communautés d’éleveurs marginalisées ont avant tout besoin d’investissement en génétique et en génomique qui leur permettront d’accroitre la productivité de leur cheptel africain, car ce dernier reste le mieux adapté à leurs environnements. »

M. Seré souligne la nécessité de nouvelles politiques qui encouragent les éleveurs et les petits exploitants agricoles africains à conserver les races locales plutôt que de les remplacer des animaux importés. Ces politiques, dit-il, devraient comprendre des programmes d’élevage centrés sur la l’amélioration de la productivité du cheptel indigène comme alternative à l’importation d’animaux.

Steve Kemp, qui dirige l’équipe de génétique et de génomique de l’ILRI, ajoute que les mesures de conservation en exploitation doivent également s’accompagner d’investissements en faveur de la préservation de la diversité qui permettront de geler le sperme et les embryons. On ne peut en effet exiger du seul exploitant agricole qu’il renonce à une augmentation de la productivité au nom de la conservation de la diversité.

« Nous ne pouvons pas attendre de l’exploitant qu’il sacrifie son revenu avec pour seul objectif de préserver le potentiel de diversité, » explique M. Kemp. « Nous savons que la diversité est essentielle pour relever les défis auxquels l’exploitant africain est confronté, mais les caractéres de grande valeur qui seront importants pour l’avenir ne sont pas toujours évidents dans l’immédiat. »

M. Kemp recommande une nouvelle approche pour mesurer les ressources génétiques du cheptel. Aujourd’hui, dit-il, l’estimation de ces caractéristiques porte essentiellement sur des éléments tels que la valeur de la viande, du lait, des œufs et de la laine, mais elle ne prend pas en compte d’autres attributs qui pourraient avoir une importance égale, voire supérieure, pour l’éleveur, qu’il soit en Afrique ou dans une autre région en développement. Ces attributs comprennent la capacité d’un animal à tirer la charrue, à fournir de l’engrais, à faire office de banque ou compte d’épargne ambulant, et d’être une forme efficace d’assurance contre les pertes de récolte.

Mais l’association de ces multiples attributs avec l’ADN d’un animal exige de nouveaux moyens pour rechercher et comprendre les caractéristiques du cheptel dans une région caractérisée par une grande diversité et une grande variété d’environnements.

« On dispose aujourd’hui des outils nécessaires, mais nous avons besoin de la volonté, de l’imagination et des ressources avant qu’il ne soit trop tard, » indique M. Kemp.
 

Experts warn rapid losses of Africa’s native livestock threaten continent’s food supply

N'DamaHerd_WestAfrica

Resilient disease-resistant, 'ancient' West African cattle, such as these humpless longhorn N'Dama cattle, are among breeds at risk of extinction in Africa as imported animals supplant valuable native livestock

Urgent action is needed to stop the rapid and alarming loss of genetic diversity of African livestock that provide food and income to 70 percent of rural Africans and include a treasure-trove of drought- and disease-resistant animals, according to a new analysis presented today at a major gathering of African scientists and development experts.

Experts from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) told researchers at the 5th African Agriculture Science Week (www.faraweek.org), hosted by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), that investments are needed now to expand efforts to identify and preserve the unique traits, particularly in West Africa, of the continent's rich array of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs developed over several millennia but now under siege. They said the loss of livestock diversity in Africa is part of a global 'livestock meltdown'. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, some 20 percent of the world's 7616 livestock breeds are now viewed as at risk.

'Africa's livestock are among the most resilient in the world yet we are seeing the genetic diversity of many breeds being either diluted or lost entirely', said Abdou Fall, leader of ILRI's livestock diversity project for West Africa. 'But today we have the tools available to identify valuable traits in indigenous African livestock, information that can be crucial to maintaining and increasing productivity on African farms.'

Fall described a variety of pressures threatening the long-term viability of livestock production in Africa. These forces include landscape degradation and cross-breeding with 'exotic' breeds imported from Europe, Asia and the America.

For example, disease-susceptible breeds from West Africa's Sahel zone are being cross-bred in large scale with breeds adapted to sub-humid regions, like southern Mali, that have a natural resistance to trypanosomosis.

Trypanosomosis kills an estimated three to seven million cattle each year and costs farmers billions of dollars each year in, for example, lost milk and meat production and the costs of medicines and prophylactics needed to treat or prevent the disease. While cross-breeding may offer short-term benefits, such as improved meat and milk production and greater draft power, it could also cause the disappearance of valuable traits developed over thousands of years of natural selection.

ILRI specialists are in the midst of a major campaign to control development of drug resistance in the parasites that cause this disease but also have recognized that breeds endowed with a natural ability to survive the illness could offer a better long-term solution.

The breeds include humpless shorthorn and longhorn cattle of West and Central Africa that have evolved in this region along with its parasites for thousands of years and therefore have evolved ways to survive many diseases, including trypanosomosis, which is spread by tsetse flies, and also tick-borne diseases. Moreover, these hardy animals have the ability to withstand harsh climates. Despite their drawbacks—the shorthorn and longhorn breeds are not as productive as their European counterparts—their loss would be a major blow to the future of African livestock productivity.

'We have seen in the short-horn humpless breeds native to West and Central African indiscriminate slaughter and an inattention to careful breeding that has put them on a path to extinction', Fall said . 'We must at the very least preserve these breeds either on the farm or in livestock genebanks because their genetic traits could be decisive in the fight against trypanosomosis, while their hardiness could be enormously valuable to farmers trying to adapt to climate change.'

Other African cattle breeds at risk include the Kuri cattle of southern Chad and northeastern Nigeria. The large bulbous-horned Kuri, in addition to being unfazed by insect bites, are excellent swimmers, having evolved in the Lake Chad region, and are ideally suited to wet conditions in very hot climates.

ILRI's push to preserve Africa's indigenous livestock is part of a broader effort to improve productivity on African farms through what is known as 'landscape genomics'. Landscape genomics involves, among other things, sequencing the genomes of different livestock varieties from many regions and looking for the genetic signatures associated with their suitability to a particular environment.

ILRI experts see landscape genomics as particularly important as climate change accelerates, requiring animal breeders to respond every more quickly and expertly to shifting conditions on the ground. But they caution that in Africa in particular the ability of farmers and herders to adapt to new climates depends directly on the continent's wealth of native livestock diversity.

'What we see too often is an effort to improve livestock productivity on African farms by supplanting indigenous breeds with imported animals that over the long-term will prove a poor match for local conditions and require a level of attention that is simply too costly for most smallholder farmers', said Carlos Seré, ILRI's Director General. 'What marginalized livestock-keeping communities need are investments in genetics and genomics that allow them to boost productivity with their African animals, which are best suited to their environments.'

Seré said new polices also are needed that encourage African pastoralist herders and smallholder farmers to continue maintaining their local breeds rather than abandoning them for imported animals. Such policies, he said, should include breeding programs that focus on improving the productivity of indigenous livestock as an alternative to importing animals.

Steve Kemp, who heads ILRI's genetics and genomics team, added that in addition to conservation on the farm, there must also be investments in preserving diversity by freezing sperm and embryos because farmers cannot be asked to forgo productivity increases solely in the name of diversity conservation.

'We cannot expect farmers to sacrifice their income just to preserve the future potential of diversity', Kemp said. 'We know that diversity is critical to dealing with the challenges that confront African farmers, but the valuable traits that may be important in the future are not always immediately obvious.'

Kemp called for a new approach to measuring the characteristics of livestock genetic resources. Today, he said, these estimates focus mainly on such things as the value of meat, milk, eggs and wool and do not include qualities that can be of equal or even greater importance to livestock keepers in Africa and other developing regions. These attributes include the ability of an animal to pull a plough, provide fertilizer, serve as a walking bank or savings account, and act as an effective form of insurance against crop loss.

But associating this wider array of attributes with an animal's DNA requires new ways of exploring and understanding livestock characteristics in a region where there is so much diversity in so many different environments.

'The tools are available to do this now, but we need the will, the imagination and the resources before it is too late', Kemp said.

New project to reduce chicken disease in Ethiopia

Chicken on LUO RU BIN's farm

A new study of genetic resistance to disease in Ethiopia’s indigenous chicken breeds is scheduled to start later this year. In collaboration with the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research, the University of Liverpool, Roslin Institute, the Univerisity of Edinburgh and the University of Nottingham, researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) will seek to identify ‘the causes of infectious diseases that have a major impact on poultry production in Ethiopia.’

Scheduled to start in September 2010, the study will take place in the district of Jarso, in eastern Ethiopia, and in Horro, in the west of the country. The results of this research will be linked to an ongoing poultry breeding program to improve resistance to ‘priority infectious diseases’ and thereby enhance the productivity of the country’s poultry sector.

Poultry play important economic, nutritional and socio-cultural roles in the livelihoods of poor rural households in Ethiopia and many other developing countries, where birds are widely integrated into smallholder production systems and help households cope with hunger and poverty.

Buying and rearing poultry is often a first step out of poverty. Women tend to own and manage chickens, usually native chicken varieties, which provide them with their only independent source of cash income.

Although breeding programs for local chickens have shown that rapid improvement in productivity is possible, researchers have yet to identify and select the optimal breeds for improving, by, for example, providing resistance to common infectious diseases.

Tadelle Dessie, a team leader of ILRI’s biotechnology theme in Ethiopia, and one of the leaders of the chicken project, says ‘enhanced genetic resistance through selective breeding is still an under-exploited low-cost opportunity for disease control in low-input poultry production systems’. He says the study will investigate genetic variability in the resistance of local chicken ecotypes to major infectious diseases hurting village poultry production in Ethiopia. Results of the research will inform strategies for improving both disease resistance and productivity.

Indigenous chicken varieties are well adapted to local environments, but local birds tend to grow slowly and produce fewer and smaller eggs than commercial varieties. Infectious diseases, however, can wipe out flocks of exotic, higher-producing, poultry.

Knowledge from this study should enable Ethiopian policymakers and animal health professionals to design more precise disease-control plans. The study itself should help improve Ethiopia’s scientific capacity in this field by training local scientists and enhancing laboratory facilities for poultry testing.

Staff are now being recruited for the project, which will be launched in September.

Improving cattle genetics with in vitro embryo production technology

Livestock scientists from ILRI and the Clinical Studies Department of the University of Nairobi (UON) recently succeeded in breeding Kenya’s first test-tube calf using a technique called in vitro embryo production (IVEP). IVEP makes it possible to rapidly multiply and breed genetically superior cattle within a short generation interval.
Why is this important?
For several reasons. First, livestock is the fastest growing sub-sector in the world, as increasing trends of 114% in demand for meat and 133% for milk attest. To improve on food security, it is essential to double livestock production in the developing world by 2020. IVEP is clearly one of the most efficient ways to accomplish this.

Second, let’s consider the problem of environmental impact. Doubling livestock production through traditional breeding techniques increases pressure on natural resources—water, land and biodiversity. So the need for enhanced efficiency without degrading natural resources is urgent. Again, IVEP, which requires only laboratory equipment in the production process, comes to the rescue.

Third, there is the biodiversity issue. Matching genotypes to environment is crucial. Scientists need to take several factors into consideration—among them adaptation, tolerance for disease, tolerance for new environments and alignment to market development. Although plenty of genetic diversity exists, thus far we’ve done little with it. Once more, IVEP could be the answer.

Fourth, IVEP has significant commercial potential because farmers can rent their best cows as donors and their lower-quality cows as surrogates.

Most importantly, we need to look closely at the constraints faced by small-scale livestock keepers.

  • Cattle genotypes and production environments, as often as not, do not match. Result:  low productivity.
  • Heifer replacement programs take a long time and are rarely done properly. Result: supply is low, prices are high.
  • Sex ratios are often disadvantageous. Result: too many males and high production costs.
  • The commercial relevance of many indigenous breeds is not optimised. Result: farmers incur unsupportable losses.
  • Programs for breed conservation and preservation are often improper. Result: some breeds are threatened by extinction and no gene pool for replacement exists.

IVEP does not—and should not—completely replace traditional reproductive technologies such as conventional embryo transfer (ET) and artificial insemination. Each of these techniques has its place, and each of them utilizes tissues, embryos and semen for improvement and reconstruction of cattle breeds. The difference is that while the traditional ET techniques involve more animals and are wholly done in the field, IVEP is undertaken in the lab and involves fewer surrogate animals in the field. IVEP eliminates the tedious steps of synchronizing donor cows.

Specifically, IVEP technology as a breeding tool has the distinct advantage of maximizing utilization of appropriate dam and sire genotypes by:

  • increasing efficiency of multiplication in breeding;
  • permitting  determination of sex of the offspring; and
  • permitting pre-testing of actual fertility status of the bull.

Thus, while natural mating or artificial insemination are necessarily slow and inefficient, producing only 10-15 offspring per life span of a cow …

…IVEP can produce up to 300 offspring per life span.

The SIFET Project: a successful IVEP program
The Sexed semen in-vitro fertilization and embryo transfer (SIFET) project was designed to exploit and promote the potential of applying IVEP reproductive technique to:

  • develop, multiply and disseminate female crossbreeds that appropriately match with production environment;
  • provide a system to preserve top bovine genotypes in cases of accidental culling in a recycle-like scheme (slaughterhouse collection); and
  • identify, multiply and conserve selected superior desirable breed traits.

The project involved collecting ovaries from slaughter houses or picking ovum from live cows. When the genetic material is brought to the lab, oocytes with high developmental competence are selected and morphological evaluation done. Once the ideal oocytes are identified, they are matured in vitro for 22-24 hours. The subsequent in vitro fertilization process is conducted for a period of 18-22 hours with a high sperm concentration. The fertilization itself requires removal of seminal plasma and extenders, separation of motile sperms from dead ones and induction of sperm capacitation. Once the embryos are formed, they are cultured in the lab for 7 days and then transferred to surrogates.

A conception rate of about 40% has been achieved, with calves born without abnormalities.

Conclusions

  1. IVEP technology is feasible in Kenya.
  2. Commercialization of the process should be facilitated as soon as supportive policies and proper legal/regulatory frameworks are in place

Challenges
Poor field heat detections leading to poor uterine synchrony and lower conceptions are concerns, as is the high genotype variability characteristic of animals brought to slaughterhouses.

Way forward and prospects
Looking ahead, the collaborating scientists anticipate bringing ovum pick-up (OPU) and cryopreservation into the picture as well as capacity building.

Clearly, such programs can help match breeds to appropriate production systems to ensure sound breeding programs. Where and when necessary, new breeds can be introduced within a relatively short period of time. Above all, embryos are far easier to transport across continents than live animals.

Through IVEP technology and well-planned crossbreeding programs such as SIFET that integrate the use of indigenous cows as donors and surrogates while using semen from appropriate (more productive and reasonably adapted) dairy breeds such as Jerseys, F1 heifers suited to the smallholder farmers’ conditions can be produced.

Niche markets for the technology and its F1 products should be further explored and exploited, notably with regard to the potential of forestalling the threat to key wildlife species.

Acknowledgements
Funding for the project was made available by Heifer Project International. UON provided the technical team and recipient animals. Administration and laboratory facilities were provided by ILRI. The cooperation of the abattoirs (the source of ovaries) and the animal owners are gratefully acknowledged. The capacity building program through a joint CNPq grant for the Embrapa-UON-ILRI partnership, as well as support from Dr Luiz Carmago and Dr Joao Viana of Embrapa, are highly appreciated.

The collaborating scientists are Mwai Okeyo, Henry Mutembei and Bridgit Syombua from ILRI; and  Erastus Mutiga, Victor Tsuma and Henry Mutembei from Clinical Studies, UON.

For more information, contact Dr Okeyo Mwai, Animal Geneticist/Breeder, Biotechnology Theme, ILRI, at o.mwai@cgiar.org.

The time is now: Safeguarding livestock diversity

ILRI’s Annual Report: ‘The Time is Now: Safeguarding livestock diversity’ has just been released. The report on 2006 work focuses on how research is helping to characterize, use and conserve the world’s rapidly diminishing livestock genetic diversity.

The mission of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is to help people in developing countries move out of poverty. The challenge is to do so while conserving the natural resources on which the poor directly depend. Among the natural resources important to the world’s poor are the ‘living assets’ people accumulate in the form of their farm animals.

ILRI works with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and many other partners to improve management of livestock genetic resources in developing countries. This year, FAO produced the world’s first inventory on animal genetic resources ‘The State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources’, highlighting that many breeds of livestock are at risk of extinction, with the loss of an average of one livestock breed every month. The FAO report estimates that 70% of the entire world’s remaining unique livestock breeds are found in developing countries.

ILRI’s Director General Carlos Seré says: ‘Although our information on the world’s remaining livestock genetic resources is imperfect, experts agree that we need to take action now rather than wait for substantially better information to become available.

‘The accelerating threats to livestock diversity in recent years demand that we act now before a substantial proportion of those resources are lost to us forever. The time is now’, says Seré.

At a recent keynote address, the UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Achim Steiner, echoed these concerns and highlighted the implications of loss of the world’s animal genetic diversity:

‘I, like so many others, was shocked to read of the decline of genetic diversity in livestock outlined by ILRI and FAO in September (2007) at the First International Technical Conference on Animal Genetic Resources.

‘The increasing over-reliance on a handful of breeds such as Holstein-Friesian cows, White Leghorn chickens and fast-growing Large White pigs mirrors the trend in agricultural crops.

‘Mono-cultures, whether it be in agriculture or in the narrowing of human ingenuity and ideas, will not serve humanity well in a world of over six billion shortly moving to perhaps 10 billion.

‘(Mono-cultures) will not enhance stability and adaptation in a climatically challenged world’, concluded Steiner.

Download ILRI’s 2006 Annual Report: ‘The Time is Now: Safeguarding Livestock Diversity’: http://mahider.ilri.org/bitstream/10568/2479/1/AnnualRep2006_Safeguard.pdf

Related articles and resources on animal genetic resources

A ‘Livestock Meltdown’ Is Occurring As Hardy African, Asian, and Latin American Farm Animals Face Extinction: http://www.ilri.org/ilrinews/index.php/archives/550

FAQs about saving livestock genetic resources: http://www.ilri.org/ilrinews/index.php/archives/552

Films on animal genetic resources

• 3-minute film on conserving livestock for people

Livestock breeds that have helped people survive countless challenges throughout history are now dying out at an extraordinary rate. Globally, governments are discussing this problem, meanwhile this film sets out 4 approaches that can help now.

http://blip.tv/ilri/conserving-livestock-genetic-resources-for-people-summary-1369699

• 30-second film highlight on Sheko cattle

Sheko cattle come from Southern Ethiopia and there are only 2500 left in the world. They are adapted to withstand trypanosomosis, a disease that kills cattle and people.

http://blip.tv/ilri/three-endangered-african-livestock-breeds-1370212

• 30-second film highlight on Ankole cattle

Ankole cattle come from East Africa. These hardy, gentle, animals are threatened by expanding human populations and market demands. At current rates they will disappear in 50 years.

http://blip.tv/ilri/ankole-cattle-one-of-africa-s-disappearing-livestock-breeds-3982895

• 30-second film highlight on Red Maasai sheep

Red Maasai sheep come from East Africa and do not get sick when infected by intestinal worms. However, the numbers of pure Red Maasai sheep are declining.

http://blip.tv/ilri/three-endangered-african-livestock-breeds-1370212

The time is now

The world’s first Global Plan of Action for Animal Genetic Resources was agreed at a recent FAO conference in Switzerland from 3 to 7 September. While international negotiations continue, much can be done now, before it’s too late.
 

The First International Technical Conference on Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, held in Interlaken in September, was a week-long series of negotiations organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and hosted by the Government of Switzerland to consider the current state of the world’s animal genetic resources and to reach international agreement on the best ways forward to protect these resources for long-term use. The conference opened with the launch of the world’s first report on the status of farm animal genetic resources, The State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources. By the end of the conference, the world’s first Global Plan of Action for Animal Genetic Resources had been agreed by representatives from 109 countries. The global plan identifies four high-priority areas for animal genetic resources: characterization, inventory and monitoring of trends and risks, sustainable use and development, conservation and policies, institutions and capacity building.
Progress made at the Interlaken Conference includes:

  • Agreement on a global plan for identifying and conserving valuable livestock species
  • Agreement that livestock keepers rights are fundamental and need to be considered as part of an inclusive and equitable global plan
  • Agreement that incentives need to be provided to help the traditional custodians of indigenous animal genetic resources—usually small-scale livestock keepers—continue to keep their native breeds.

Overview of the Interlaken conference
On the first day of the conference, ILRI’s director general, Carlos Seré, presented a paper on ‘Dynamics of Livestock Production Systems, Drivers of Change and Prospects for Animal Genetic Resources’. He identified key drivers of change, how they were influencing current trends and future prospects, and their impacts on the management of animal genetic resources for food and agriculture.
Seré identified four drivers: economic development and globalization, changing market demands, environmental impacts and trends in science and technology. He described the trends in livestock production in industrial, crop-livestock and pastoral systems, emphasizing that while the trends are occurring in both developing and industrialized countries, the outcomes are different. In the developing world, some trends are reducing the ability of livestock keepers to improve their livelihoods, reduce their poverty and manage their natural resources. The industrial livestock production systems of developed countries have already greatly narrowed the livestock genepool, reducing our ability to deal with future uncertainties, such as climate change and zoonotic diseases.

Local breeds being crowded out
During the presentation, the ILRI director general cited replacement of indigenous tropical breeds with exotic animals as a key reason for the erosion of genetic diversity. Local breeds are estimated to be disappearing at the rate of one a month. This concern was echoed by the representative from the League for Pastoral Peoples and Endogenous Livestock Development. Ilse Köhler-Rollefson stated that policies relating to the introduction of exotic breeds and subsidies were helping large-scale production systems but hurting pastoralists.
Seré stressed that conserving our livestock genetic resources required appropriate institutional and policy frameworks and concerted international efforts. As these negotiations will take time, Seré proposed four complementary actions to improve the management of animal genetic resources and maintain our genetic options for the future. These are: provide incentives for in situ conservation of local breeds (‘keep it on the hoof’); facilitate movement of breeds within and between countries (‘move it or lose it’); match breeds to environments (‘livestock landscape genomics’); and establish genebanks (‘put some in the bank’).
These four strategies are practical steps that can help conserve indigenous tropical breeds. Seré cautioned that if actions are not taken now, it could be too late for some breeds that will soon be lost to the world forever.

Media help to raise awareness of ‘livestock meltdown’
There was extensive media coverage of the FAO Interlaken conference, with regional and international press and radio and local African TV all helping to raise awareness of the ‘livestock meltdown’ taking place.

Local livestock breeds at risk: Nature (3 September 2007) reported that indigenous animals are dying out as commercial breeds sweep the world.

‘Many of the world’s indigenous livestock breeds are in danger of dying out as commercial breeds take over, according to a worldwide inventory of animal diversity.
‘Their extinction would mean the loss of genetic resources that help animals overcome disease and drought, particularly in the developing world, say livestock experts.’

Read the full article at http://www.nature.com/news/2007/070903/full/070903-2.html (subscription required).