The Swedish funded “Harnessing genetic diversity for improved goat productivity” project is part of a program on livestock improvement through genetic diversity studies. The main goal of this project is to exploit existing genetic diversity in goats to improve goat productivity in Ethiopia and Cameroon.
Dr Tadelle Dessie, a scientist in animal genetics and breeding based at ILRI’s Addis Ababa campus, heads the Ethiopian component of BecA-ILRI Hub led project. In this interview, Dessie sheds light on the significance of the research activities being carried out in Ethiopia. (The interview was conducted by Tarni Cooper and Tim Hall.)
Q Why Ethiopia?
A Ethiopia has a population of nearly 24 million goats, seventy-five per cent of which are found in the arid or semiarid regions of the country. Ethiopia’s indigenous goats are very well adapted to the harsh environment, surviving and reproducing in an environment with a scarcity of feed and water, and without proper health care, housing or feeding. These animals support the livelihood of the poorest of the poor, in fact, it is commonly said in Ethiopia, “goats are the poor man’s cow”.
The large population and role of goats in supporting the livelihoods of poor people means that there is a critical need to improve productivity in order to sustainably provide income and food. This is the justification for this project.
Q What does the Ethiopian component entail?
A The project has five interlinked objectives: to define the breeding goals and selection objectives for various goat breeds and production systems in collaboration with the communities; to establish at least
one functional breeding programme per goat breed; to develop a methodological framework for the implementation of community based breeding programmes for smaller producers, including institutional arrangements; to assess the impact of the breeding programmes at an individual, flow, regional, and national level once they are established; and finally through a better understanding of the current challenges, to alleviate the constraints to market access experienced by goat keepers.
Q Where in Ethiopia is the project based?
A The activities in this project are being conducted in five sites – three in the northern regions of Amhara
and Tigray; one in central Ethiopia near Addis Ababa; and one in the southern Omo region near Kenya . There are large differences in goat production and farming systems between these regions, and three different goat breeds (two of the breeds are found in two sites each). Farming techniques range from keeping five goats to keeping 2000 goats. In some predominantly goat producing areas individual families keep 500 to 1000 goats, whereas in the south where goat keeping is complimentary to other
farming activities smaller herds of four or five goats per household are more common.