Building a sustainable livestock genetics improvement system for a food-secure Ethiopia

The African Dairy Genetics Gains (ADGG) project, which is led by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and implemented by multiple partners in Ethiopia and Tanzania, is addressing livestock productivity challenges to improve dairy production in the two countries.

To celebrate key achievements of its work in Ethiopia, where the project started in 2016, ADGG, the Ethiopian government and Ethiopia’s National Animal Genetic Improvement Institute (NAGII) organized a first-ever virtual dairy animal parade on 30 March 2021.

The event , which was hosted at ILRI and NAGII,

  • exhibited top ranked bulls and cows from the first-round genomic evaluation,
  • linked top ranked animals to potential buyers to use for breeding purposes, and awarded dairy farmers who bred the top ranked animals,
  • showcased the achievements of ADGG to dairy stakeholders to raise interest and support from participating farmers and government, and attract public private partnerships for project sustainability and scaling up, and
  • launched the first Ethiopia’s dairy animal catalogue in the forms of a booklet and mobile application.

Ethiopia has huge potential for catalysing dairy development but growth is hampered by low productivity and commercialization of its large livestock population. Also, the country’s dairy sector lacks robust pedigree and performance recording systems for unique animal and herd identification and registration, and routine collection and analyses of phenotypic and genomic data. These are essential components of a sustainable genetic improvement program. The data so collected and analyzed would be used by smallholder farmers to make informed herd management decisions, leading to improved productivity and profitability of their dairy animals and enterprises, respectively.

Since 2016, in support of the Ethiopian government and smallholder dairy farmers, ADGG has strengthened a national database, animal breed identification and registration system and started digital performance data recording in 65 districts across five regions in the country. Performance recording agents have been identifying and registering dairy herds and animals and capturing events such as milking, calving, artificial insemination etc. monthly using the customized ADGG Open Data Kit offline data capturing tool. This data is stored in the national dairy cattle database, which although has been initiated earlier, was not equipped to operate and deliver at scale.   

By supporting Ethiopia’s national dairy recording centre to operate a digital data capture platform, ADGG has enabled the registration and recording of pedigree and performance data for more than 70,000 dairy herds and 110,000 animals. In addition, over the past four years, close to 9 million extension information messages have been directly sent to the registered smallholder farmers, via mobile phones, which has supported more than 26,000 farmers to improve their herd husbandry and management, resulting in more than 30% improvement in daily milk yield per cow. Now that the top breeding bulls have been identified, if such bulls are widely used, then an expected additional 2% annual improvement in milk yields is expected.

Speaking at the virtual dairy animal parade Jimmy Smith, ILRI director general, said, ‘ILRI is contributing towards a food-secure world through livestock, and adopting technologies to select the best breeds that exists locally is a milestone for Ethiopia.’

Ethiopia’s State Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fikru Regassa, emphasized the importance of genetic improvement to increase the production and productivity of dairy animals to meet demand for milk and milk products in the country. He said the government is committed to scaling up the national dairy animal identification and registration record that has been piloted by ADDG and other partners.

During the virtual parade, 23 superior cows and bulls were presented from 11 districts. Detailed information on these elite animals was also presented and is available in an e-book and application known as Dairy Animal Catalogue, which potential buyers can use to decide on and select the best bulls and breeds. Three of the bulls that were showcased at the parade were promoted to the NAGII artificial insemination centre in Addis Ababa.

The virtual event also included a panel discussion on how to sustain and scale up the identification and registration of animals, and collection and analysis of phenotypic and genomic data under the program. Representatives from the government, ADDG, the private sector and partners participated in the panel, which came up with the following recommendations.

  • Expand the national herd registration by institutionalizing existing activities such as performance recording into the regular activities of district and regional agriculture offices.
  • Raise awareness on the importance of performance recording to fellow smallholder farmers by working with model farmers whose animals were selected and shown at the event.
  • Train more artificial insemination technicians and performance recording agents by leveraging the partnership between ADGG, NAGII and regional agriculture offices and the Land O’ Lakes-led Public-Private-Partnership for Artificial Insemination Delivery (PAID) program. This will address the high demand for AI technicians in districts and regions by using existing resources and processes.
  • Given the fragmented nature of smallholder systems in Ethiopia, the design and deployment of a digital platform that can be used to educate Ethiopian dairy farmers and give them access breeds that best fit their local production systems is not currently feasible.

This event brought together senior government officials, leading private sector companies, smallholder dairy farmers, researchers and scientists.

The ADGG project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


For more information on African Dairy Genetics Gains visit this page:

Ministry of Agriculture eyes to triple dairy production in Ethiopia

Read about a similar exhibition in Tanzania:

Better breeds for more milk: African  dairy genetic gains bulls and cow exhibition in Tanzania 2019