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Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund fellow conducts inventive goat genetic diversity research in DR Congo

Goats are among the most common farm animals in developing countries. Africa is home to about 35% of the world’s goat population (FAO 2016). They play an important socio-economic, nutritional and cultural role in rural households. An important indicator of goats’ adaptation to environmental conditions is their reproductive efficiency.

DR Congo has three major agro-ecological zones: the alluvial basin in the northeast and the central part; savannah in the central, western and the southeast; and the high-altitude volcanic mountains in the east of the country. More than 4,082,624 indigenous goats are spread throughout these agro-ecological zones.

Herd of goats

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, goats are the second most domesticated species after chicken. Goats make up between 30% and 60% of the country’s total livestock numbers. The country hosts three major breeds: the small goat, dwarf goat and Kasai goat. Congolese goat farmers raise and breed goats for meat production and commercial transactions, contributing up to 72% of households’ income in rural areas in the country. The productivity of African’s indigenous goats is low, and little is documented on the genetic diversity, production system and distribution of goats in DR Congo.

Patrick Baenyi, an Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellow from the Evangelical University in Africa, DR Congo, undertook a survey on 202 goat farmers in the country to identify typology, production management and critical traits considered in goat selection by farmers in three agro-ecological zones — South Kivu, Tshopo and Kinshasa. In his pioneering research, he collected phenotypic data and used phenotypic and molecular markers, that are the basis for animal genetic diversity studies, to characterize goat genetic resources.

The survey revealed that goats in the three zones were clustered into breed clusters, grouped into small goat and dwarf goat, mostly characterized by a black coat colour and curved horn. The clusters were further distinguished by their reproductive traits (i.e. the number of kids per gestation period, such as twins or triplets) and the total number of kids per goat’s lifespan.

Baenyi and a member of his team collect a blood sample from a goat in Tshopo, DR Congo

Baenyi’s study was an important first step towards goat breeding in the country and aids decision-making on goat genetics improvement in the country. Its findings suggest that molecular characterization by sequencing and genotyping should be considered by animal breeders to clarify the physical differences in goat breeds that were observed and to identify whether these differences are genetic or adapted from environmental influence. A good understanding of this genetic characterization is useful in designing effective strategies for managing, improving and conserving domesticated animal resources.

‘Working with the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub reinforced my skills in conducting genetics research and showed me the value of collaborating with other researchers and sharing my findings with the public. I was also trained in bioinformatics and proposal writing and I have continued with the invaluable mentorship relationships that started during my time at the hub,’

says Baenyi.

He is currently working under the supervision of ILRI’s Roger Pelle and his and is studying for his PhD in animal genetics and breeding at the University of Nairobi.

Ko Awono promises to improve Brachiaria grass production and marketing to secure farmers’ livelihoods in Cameroon

Cameroon, like other African countries, relies on agriculture as a main economic activity with livestock employing at least 30% of the country’s rural population. The livestock sector in Cameroon is crucial to its economic growth, food and nutrition security, and job creation. Forages of African origin, such as Brachiaria have been instrumental in the transformation of the livestock sector in many parts of the world including tropical America, Australia and East Asia. But the potential of native forages to alleviate livestock feed shortage in Africa has been little explored.

In 2012, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub started the ‘Climate-smart Brachiaria Program’ in partnership with the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) and development partners in sub-Saharan Africa. This program aims to increase livestock productivity in the region by providing high-quality and climate-resilient Brachiaria grass.

Paul Ko Awono, an Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellow at BecA-ILRI Hub from the Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD) in Cameroon, is researching how to improve Brachiaria seed production technology in Africa. His study, which is supervised by Sita Ghimire and Kingsley Etchu from BecA-ILRI Hub and IRAD, involves collecting information about Brachiaria seed production systems in the North and Adamawa regions of Cameroon, evaluating agronomic performances of Brachiaria landraces and improved cultivars, and examining the quality of Brachiaria seeds produced by farmers in the country. In Cameroon, Brachiaria seed is often traded as a cash crop and is a source of income for many farmers.

So far, Ko Awono’s research has revealed that the size of the farmlands dedicated to Brachiaria production are smaller (0.25 to 0.5 ha) in the North region compared to those in the Adamawa region (1 to 15 ha). His research also shows that Brachiaria seed yield is low in both regions (≤ 300 kg/ha). Major constraints on Brachiaria production in both regions include weed infestation, wandering animals and lack of market for Brachiaria seeds. Additionally, he has found that Brachiaria landraces mature earlier and are better adapted to harsh environmental conditions than improved cultivars. His research has also uncovered that Brachiaria seeds samples produced by farmers in the two regions are of variable qualities (poor to excellent) and some seeds samples are superior for germination than the improved cultivars.

Paul (middle) with his supervisors at Brachiaria experimental plots at Garoua, North Cameroon

Paul’s research revealed that the size of the farmlands dedicated to Brachiaria production by a farmer were smaller (0.25 to 0.5 ha) in the North region as compared to Adamawa region (1 to 15 ha). His research also indicated that Brachiaria seed yield was low in both regions (≤ 300 kg/ha) and the major constraints of Brachiaria production in both regions were weed infestation, wandering animals, and lack of market for Brachiaria seeds. Additionally, Brachiaria landraces were earlier in maturity and were better adapted to harsh environmental conditions than improved cultivars. His research also uncovered that Brachiaria seeds samples produced by farmers in North and Adamawa region were of variable qualities (poor to excellent) and some seeds samples were superior for germination than improved seeds.  

Ko Awono recognizes the role of the ABCF fellowship, which he received in 2019, has played in his work as a forage researcher. ‘It gave me several opportunities: I learnt how to write research proposals, set up agronomic trials, and collect, analyse, and interpret data.’ He also learned several techniques related to seed quality determination in the laboratory and greenhouse settings.  ‘The training and mentorship I received at BecA-ILRI Hub has played a key role in my work. It helped me to improve my scientific skills, which has made me a better researcher. ‘I am using the skills and knowledge I gained to help Cameroonian farmers increase the quality and quantity of Brachiaria seeds, which will improve their livestock production, incomes and livelihoods,’ he concludes.

Speed Breeding, a promising approach to crop breeding

Speed Breeding is a new and exciting approach to breeding originally inspired by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that promises to develop new crop varieties faster, offering hope for food security in the continent. Through Speed Breeding, African researchers are working to develop new crop varieties faster.

The technique involves growing plants under continuous light (20–22hours). This allows plants to photosynthesize for longer, resulting in faster growth. With this technique, four to six generations of wheat plants can be grown per year instead of two generations under normal growth conditions. The result is researchers develop new crop varieties quicker.

Researchers at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa–International Livestock Research Institute Hub, known as the BecA-ILRI Hub and the John Innes Centre, UK, are bringing the benefits of Speed Breeding to Africa. Scientists Peter Emmrich and Oluwaseyi Shorinola are applying Speed Breeding to grass pea and wheat breeding in Africa, demonstrating that the technique can be used for major and orphan crop breeding.

Breeding for improved wheat lines under Speed Breeding conditions at the BecA-ILRI Hub

Shorinola is developing new wheat lines that have seen increased grain size and protein content and that are resistant to major wheat diseases in East Africa. His research has already resulted in faster growth of wheat plants under Speed Breeding conditions in Africa.

‘Speed breeding is such a simple way of growing plants faster. Unlike many advanced technologies that do not easily translate to Africa, Speed Breeding can easily be adopted by African breeders to accelerate their work. There is no “magic” or complicated science behind it; we are simply using LED lights to extend the length of day for plants, and this makes plants grow faster’, remarks Shorinola.

Emmrich is working on eradicating the toxin produced in grass pea, making it safe to eat in East Africa. Speed Breeding is helping the researchers to breed the low-toxin trait developed at the John Innes Centre, UK, into high-yielding varieties that are adapted to East Africa.

Grass pea is great at surviving extreme weather conditions such as drought and flooding, so the researchers hope non-toxic varieties will contribute to maintaining food and nutritional security as climate change progresses, especially in Ethiopia, where grass pea is already widely consumed.

According to Emmrich: ‘The amount of power needed for the lights and temperature control makes this too expensive for farmers to use. Breeders, however, often have to put their plants through many generation cycles, and in this context Speed Breeding can save both time and money. That means improved varieties can be made available quicker.’

Recognizing the potential of Speed Breeding for accelerating crop improvement in Africa, the BecA-ILRI Hub is planning to expand its Speed Breeding capacity and to integrate it with other modern technologies like gene editing and genomic selection and to make it accessible to African researchers.

Cathrine Ziyomo, BecA-ILRI Hub’s Program lead, says that most of the crops that make significant contributions to Africa’s food security have a lengthy generation time and complex biology. She adds that Speed Breeding presents researchers and plant breeders with unique opportunities to fast track genetic improvements for important traits. 

‘We hope that by establishing a Speed Breeding platform in Africa, the Hub can simultaneously increase access to modern and innovative methods of crop improvement while increasing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of breeding for under-researched crops’, says Ziyomo.

Shorinola and Emmrich’s research is done in partnership with the John Innes Centre, with support from the Royal Society and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), UK.

Africa sits at the frontline of a changing climate system and is very vulnerable to climate change. Agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa needs a boost to feed the 600 million people currently experiencing food insecurity, and the extra 1 billion people expected to live in the next 30 years on the continent. In this light, developing better yielding and more nutritious, climate-resilient crop varieties faster is a major priority for Africa’s researchers.

Research at BecA-ILRI Hub supports vaccine development policy in Kenya

By Jane Githinji, assistant director of veterinary services, Kenya and ABCF alumnus

Jane githinjiAs head of the virology laboratory at the Central Veterinary Laboratories in the Directorate of Veterinary Services (DVS) in Kenya, my responsibilities include laboratory surveillance, and confi rmation and reporting of animal viral diseases. My reports form the basis upon which disease control strategies are developed. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that these reports refl ect the true picture of the disease situation in the country, from which appropriate disease control policies and strategies can be derived.

Like in most developing countries, poultry farming in Kenya is mainly in the hands of the smallholder rural poor, mostly women and young people, and is usually the only livelihood source for smallholder farmers. Outbreaks of infectious viral diseases that cannot be treated pose a major constraint on poultry production. Vaccination is the recommended method of control for these diseases. But vaccines do not always prevent occurrence of a disease.

The apparent failure of vaccines to protect chicken from infectious bursal disease (IBD) got me interested in understanding the cause of the disease despite prompt vaccinations by farmers (IBD causes immune suppression, making chicken more prone to other infectious diseases). I wanted to improve my understanding of the epidemiology of IBD in Kenya, starting with the comparative molecular characterization of the circulating viruses with the currently used vaccine virus strains.

The facilities available at the central veterinary laboratory are suitable for carrying out basic molecular analysis. However, to undertake more advanced molecular research required to gain a better understanding of IBD viruses circulating in Kenya, I needed access to the facilities at the BecAILR Hub. Under the mentorship of the BecA-ILRI Hub scientists, in a very conducive research environment as an ABCF fellow, I learned many skills, including sequence editing and analysis, primer design, scientific paper writing and communicating science to non-scientists. These crosscutting skills will be very useful in improving my diagnostic capacity, and ultimately, scientific data collection for policy development at the DVS.

Based on the feedback and recommendations I gave to the DVS director, I am confident my research findings will form the basis for developing effective IBD control strategies, including diagnosis, vaccination, hatchery surveillance and certification, IBD vaccines registration and vaccine production. Implementation of such strategies will have far reaching impacts on poultry production, poverty alleviation, nutritional security, economic empowerment for women and young people, and self-employment. Reducing antimicrobial residues in poultry products will also contribute to a reduction in antimicrobial drug resistance in humans.

With my newly acquired skills, I will be able to contribute more to livestock research: science, technology and innovation. I am a better mentor to young people, a better leader and manager, a more fulfilled person, and, above all, an asset to my country. My time as an ABCF fellow marked the beginning of what I believe will be a journey full of discoveries, networking, research development and fulfilment.

chicken and chics

Read more about the bioscience research and innovations that underpin development outcomes in the BecA-ILRI Hub 2016 Annual Report.

Supporting African-led agricultural research to drive economic growth – Part 2

Investigating the role of bushmeat in the transmission of zoonotic diseases in Tanzania

Research conducted by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub in collaboration with National Health Laboratory of the Tanzania Ministry of Health and Social Welfare; Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST); Sokoine University of Agriculture; Tanzania National Parks; Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute; Frankfurt Zoological Society; and Pennsylvania State University.

An outcome of the BecA-ILRI Hub’s Swedish funded initiative to strengthen infrastructural and human capability at NM-AIST, was the awarding of a grant to the institution by the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

The NM-AIST School of Life Sciences and Bioengineering and a consortium of partners including the BecA-ILRI Hub received a grant to investigate the role of bushmeat in the transmission of six pathogens between animals and humans in Tanzania.

An interdisciplinary and multi-institutional team of scientists from Tanzania, Kenya and the US are using state-of-the-art techniques to map the distribution of anthrax, ebola, marburg and monkeypox viruses as well as Brucella and Coxiella in bushmeat in Tanzania. The team assesses the biological risk and potential for impact on human health from these diseases.

The BecA-ILRI Hub provides capacity building, expertise and technology for the microbiome component of the project using the genomics platform. During a week-long workshop facilitated by the BecA-ILRI Hub at NM-AIST, Francesca Stomeo provided training on the theory and practice of the genomics pipeline to be used in the project.

Read more about the bioscience research and innovations that underpin development outcomes in the BecA-ILRI Hub 2016 Annual Report.

bushmeat

Supporting African-led agricultural research to drive economic growth – Part 1

Scaling up the use of Brachiaria grass as a key forage in Africa

Research implemented in Kenya and Rwanda by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub and national partners — the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and  Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB)

On-farm evaluations in Kenya and Rwanda have confirmed that the use of Brachiaria grass extends forage availability for livestock by up to three dry months. These evaluations also confirmed previous observations of increases in milk production and weight when cattle are fed on Brachiaria grass. Over 6,000 farmers in both countries are growing the four best-bet Brachiaria varieties (Basilisk, MG4, Piatã and Xaraés), which were identified through the use of a participatory approach with key stakeholders. These varieties are being concurrently scaled out in Kenya and Mali by the Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVDD) dairy project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Feed the Future Initiative. There is growing interest and a push to adopt Brachiaria grasses in other countries including Botswana, Cameroon, Mozambique, Namibia and Somalia.

This research has identified potentially beneficial bacteria that occur naturally within the grass (bacterial endophytes). The endophytes could be useful: increasing production of hormones that regulate: plant growth and boost biomass production in Brachiaria; improving soil nutrient solubility and soil fertility; enhancing drought tolerance; and improving the overall health of the grass. These endophytes are currently being evaluated under greenhouse conditions for their ability to confer drought tolerance to Brachiaria.

To ensure the transfer of technologies to national programs, seven researchers from five East African countries were trained on forages biotechnology through the Brachiaria program. After periods of between six and nine months at the BecA-ILRI Hub the NARS researchers returned to their home institutions with transferable skills acquired through the training. An in-depth external review of the program concluded that it has made significant contributions to the improvement of forage availability and livestock productivity in the aforementioned program countries.

Read more about the bioscience research and innovations that underpin development outcomes in the BecA-ILRI Hub 2016 Annual Report.

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Driving Africa’s agricultural development by enabling biosciences innovations

AR 2016 reportIn 2016, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa–International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub celebrated 15 years as a centre for excellence for agricultural research. Against a backdrop of renewed impetus for innovation in agricultural research for development (AR4D) in Africa, BecA-ILRI Hub and its partners showcased their joint achievements in responding to the Science Agenda for Agriculture in Africa (S3A)— leveraging science in an agriculture-led social and economic transformation. The event also offered us an opportunity to acknowledge our donors, whose support has made these accomplishments possible.

Research facilitated by the BecA-ILRI Hub drives the bioscience innovations that underpin development outcomes. The success of the climate-smart Brachiaria program in developing technologies that are readily adapted by farmers has generated a demand for their scaling-up. Strategic partnerships, for instance with the North Carolina State University (NCSU)—leveraging the human resource of advanced research institutions—have enabled groundbreaking work in tackling the devastating cassava mosaic disease, potentially increasing yields in what is a staple crop for over 250 million people in Africa.

Through the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellowship program, up and coming research fellows from national agricultural research systems (NARS) have contributed to the formulation of evidence-based agricultural policies. For instance, seminal work on maize and food safety has provided a clearer picture of the interventions required throughout the value chain in Rwanda and research into chicken vaccines has supported the elaboration of policies guiding the production of vaccines for infectious bursal disease in Kenya. Moreover, the establishment and support of communities of practice (CoPs) for ABCF alumni has enabled the development of a comprehensive regional approach to the tackling of key livestock and crop research challenges.

In step with technology advances, the BecA-ILRI Hub launched the Integrated Genotyping Service and Support (IGSS) platform to enhance efficiency and precision in plant and livestock breeding, as well as quality seeds assessment. In research led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), application of this new technology has improved understanding of the genetic basis for resistance to maize lethal necrosis (MLN). The ongoing upgrading of the BecA-ILRI Hub’s technology platforms is fast-tracking research within the regional NARS and reducing the need for scientists to leave Africa to do their work.

Working to shape to continent-wide processes, BecA-ILRI Hub staff joined CGIAR research scientists, policymakers, and representatives of higher education networks and the private sector at a workshop to develop the concept of the the African Agricultural Research Programme (AARP). AARP is an initiative led by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) to strengthen the continent’s agricultural research systems for increased productivity, profitability and sustainability. As part of our 2018–2023 strategy, the BecA-ILRI Hub will seek to play a leading role in the application of and support for biosciences in the region. A landscape survey confirmed the comparative advantage of the BecA-ILRI Hub as an important regionally-valued bioscience facility. It identified opportunities to enhance our role in helping set the bioscience agricultural research agenda, as well as an advocate for the government funding of NARS work in bioscience technologies and services.

The coming year will, therefore, be characterized by engagement with key stakeholders to guide the development of our new five-year plan. We remain committed to helping Africa use biosciences as a means of transforming agriculture, bridging the gap between population growth and agricultural productivity on the continent. To the readers of this report, we hope you will accompany us on this grand AR4D journey in Africa. To our many partners and donors, thank you for your support.

Jimmy Smith Director General, ILRI

Jimmy Smith
Director General, ILRI

Appolinaire Djikeng Director, BecA-ILRI Hub

Appolinaire Djikeng
Director, BecA-ILRI Hub

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can download the full 2016 Annual report: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/83016

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Forging research partnerships between the BecA-ILRI Hub and Earlham Institute

By Joyce Nzioki, Research associate-bioinformatics at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub

Joyce Nzioki (left) and Fracnesca Stomeo at the Earlham Institute in Norwich, UK

Joyce Nzioki (left) and Fracnesca Stomeo at the Earlham Institute in Norwich, UK

From 1-13 July 2017, capacity building scientist Francesca Stomeo and I visited the Earlham Institute in Norwich, UK. Our mission was to explore ways of strengthening the budding partnership between the BecA-ILRI Hub and Earlham Institute as well as to gain knowledge that will improve the Hub’s genomics and bioinformatics platform.

We had an intense one and a half week of meetings and interaction with the institute’s genomics and bioinformatics specialists, with guidance of our hosts Anthony Hall, head of plant genomics and post-doctoral scientist Jose de Vega. There was much to learn about different aspects of genomics and bioinformatics, particularly in terms of lab and bioinformatics protocols and systems.

It was very exciting to share experiences on our research and training opportunities, and make potential connections for joint activities in the near future. The discussion we had with the project leader-bioinformatic algorithms, Bernardo Clavijo was invaluable in planning for the BecA-ILRI Hub annual advanced bioinformatics workshop that will take place in October this year. I am really glad that Clavijo will be among the trainers for that workshop.

Discussions on work by national agricultural research system (NARS) research fellows conducted at the BecA-ILRI Hub highlighted potential areas of collaborative research to enhance food safety and security in Africa including: improved conservation of fish, understanding drug resistance in Salmonella, plant transformation and exploiting various under-utilized African crop species. We were also challenged to consider introducing the portable Oxford Nano Pore sequencing technology to serve our partners who may not be able to purchase the bigger high through put sequencing machines.

From the visit to Earlham Institute, I saw a clear need for improved bioinformatics capacity to fulfil the potential of modern biosciences in Africa. Bioinformatics training—a key component of the BecA-ILRI Hub’s remit—is central to the training conducted at the Norwich Research Park (NRP), of which the Earlham Institute is a partner. We had fruitful discussions on strategies to empower a cohort of bioinformaticians in Africa with hands-on training in 2018.

I look forward to many joint research and training activities with scientists in Earlham Institute starting with the bioinformatics workshop in October!

The bioinformatics lab at the Earlham Institute in Norwich, UK

The sequencing facility at the Earlham Institute in Norwich, UK

About the author:
Joyce Nzioki is a bioinformatics analyst providing bioinformatics support to various on-going genomics projects at the BecA-ILRI Hub. She holds a Masters in Bioinformatics from Rhodes University in South Africa and a Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Technology from the University of Nairobi, Kenya. Through her MSc studies, she gained skills in working in a Linux environment, Python programming, mathematical and statistical applications to biology and bioinformatics (R and Matlab), structural bioinformatics, genomics and proteomics.

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Exploring biological control of crop disease through plant-pest interactions

Aphids, leafhoppers and whiteflies are responsible for the spread of diseases causing significant crop yield losses globally. On 5 July 2017, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub hosted a symposium to explore ways in which the knowledge of plants, disease-causing organisms and their vectors can be used to combat devastating crop diseases in Africa.

Stephen Runo of Kenyatta University (left) with JIC scientists Beccy Corkill, Olu Shorinola and Sam Mugford (photo JIC/Matt Heaton)

Stephen Runo of Kenyatta University (left) with JIC scientists Beccy Corkill, Olu Shorinola and Sam Mugford (photo JIC/Matt Heaton)

In sub Saharan Africa, the aphid-transmitted bean viruses—bean common mosaic virus (BCMV) and bean common mosaic necrosis virus (BCMNV)—cause up to 100 percent losses for smallholder bean farmers. Growers of cassava—a staple food for over 250 million people— experience losses of up to 23 million tonnes annually across Africa due to disease caused by whitefly-transmitted Cassava mosaic viruses.

In the face of increased regulations on the use of pesticides, a better understanding of the plant-microbe-vector interactions could lead to the development of urgently needed bio pest-controls. The July forum brought together researchers from the BecA-ILRI Hub, Kenyatta University, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Auburn University and North Carolina State University based in Africa; and the John Innes Centre (JIC) from UK.

From left to right: Josiah Mutuku (BecA-ILRI Hub), Olu Shorinola (JIC), Steven Runo (Kenyatta University), Beccy Corkill (JIC) and Sam Mugford (JIC) at the BecA-ILRI Hub greenhouses (photo: JIC/ Matt Heaton

From left to right: Josiah Mutuku (BecA-ILRI Hub), Olu Shorinola (JIC), Steven Runo (Kenyatta University), Beccy Corkill (JIC) and Sam Mugford (JIC) at the BecA-ILRI Hub greenhouses (photo: JIC/ Matt Heaton

The symposium was held under the Alliance for Accelerated Crop Improvement in Africa (ACACIA) initiative—a new initiative established to harness diverse research efforts for hastened crop improvement in Africa.

Read full story: Deciphering Plant-Insect Interactions on the ACACIA website.

Read about the ACACIA initiative: New initiative to accelerate crop improvement for food security in Africa

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Scientists applying genomic ‘intelligence’ to sustainable livestock development in Africa at the BecA-ILRI Hub

Goat in a market in Nigeria (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

Goat in a market in Nigeria (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

From 19–30 June 2017, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub will host the third edition of the Animal Quantitative Genetics and Genomics annual training workshop. The training is strengthening the capacity of researchers in Africa to apply an in-depth understanding of livestock genetics to the design of livestock breeding programmes.

Early this month (8–12 May 2017) over 250 experts from the public and private sectors in more than 50 countries across the globe gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to discuss the benefits and potential of livestock during the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL). The increasing demand for animal protein in emerging economies in Africa presents the challenge of sustainably improving livestock productivity while at the same time maintaining genetic diversity.

Since 2012, the BecA-ILRI Hub has been conducting research to improve performance of indigenous goats using their genetic diversity. Working in Cameroon and Ethiopia, the “Harnessing genetic diversity for improved goat productivity” project looked at the genetic adaptation of goat populations in the two countries to environmental challenges including drought and disease.

To Getinet Mekuriaw, an assistant professor at Bahir Dar University in Ethiopia and a visiting scientist at the BecA-ILRI Hub, the key to sustainable development of livestock in Africa is in the optimal exploitation of genetic resources to improve indigenous breeds.

‘We have the evidence of a rich genetic resource in livestock in Africa, and particularly in indigenous goats,’ Mekuriaw said ‘the next step is investing in research that will link this intelligence to the design of trait-focused breeding programs.’

Mekuriaw’s PhD contributed largely to establishing the extent of diversity among indigenous goat breeds in the two countries of interest for the BecA-led research. He also investigated the genetic potential of the goat populations in adaptation, disease resistance, reproduction and hair fibre production.

Strategies to enhance livestock production–including exploiting the natural potential of local breeds–could greatly contribute to the realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through increased agricultural capacity in developing countries.

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Read more about the 7th Multi-stakeholder partnership meeting of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock

Read related post – Cooperating with the future: Towards multiplying the multiple benefits of sustainable livestock