Category Archives: Livestock

Kenyan farmers reap rewards of the amazing Brachiaria grasses

K24 Journalist Violet Otindo highlights the changing fortunes of dairy farmers using Brachiaria grasses to feed their animals in Kenya.

YouTube Preview Image

Preliminary data from dairy farmers participating in on-farm evaluations of Brachiaria grasses in Kenya shows that the nutritious grasses contribute to increased milk production.

The on-going research program on Climate-smart Brachiaria Grasses to Increase  Livestock Production in East Africa conducted by the BecA-ILRI Hub in collaboration with the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Institute (KALRO); Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) ; International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Colombia; and Grasslanz Technology Limited, New Zealand has engaged smallholder farmers in cultivating the grasses as major livestock feed sources and as a source of household cash income through the seed production.

The Swedish funded program has been successful in, together with farmers, identifying best bet varieties for different agro-ecological regions and creating awareness among the farmers, researchers, extension agents, policy makers and politicians on the significance of Brachiaria grasses to support a growing dairy industry. Through the project, farmers have discovered that the Brachiaria grasses not only preferred by animals but  also grow better than most forage in marginal soils of semi-arid and sub-humid environments that are common in most of Sub-Saharan Africa.

In this four minute video, K24 journalist Violet Otindo talks to Albanus Nduva from Kanzalu village of Machakos County in eastern Kenya, one of the 1200 farmers in Kenya who have been involved in participatory on-farm evaluations of Brachiaria grasses as pasture and recording the milk production data Otindo also gets insights from BecA-ILRI Hub scientist Sita Ghimire who leads the program and Donald Njarui from KALRO, Kenya as to why Brachiaria grasses are good for the environment.

________________________________________________________________________________

Read related stories:

Vibrant innovation platforms equals relevant research – sustainable gains in research through community involvement

Often, adoption of new technologies or practices designed to improve people’s, lives does not take place due to various factors including lack of understanding by communities and the absence of support for the innovations from leadership. Félix Meutchieye, Cameroon national coordinator of the “Harnessing genetic diversity for improved goat productivity” project speaks about the strides being made by the project in involving communities and increasing the chances of adoption of research findings through innovation platforms.

Felix Portrait_Issue3Harnessing the diversity of native livestock in Africa is becoming a pressing need as continual changes in the environment exert pressure on small holder livestock farmers. The higher temperatures and changing rainfall patterns are contributing to the increased spread of existing vector-borne diseases and the emergence of  new diseases as well affecting the feed production.

Small ruminants play a significant role in livestock production systems throughout the wide range of agro-ecological regions in Africa. For many rural farmers, they are a critical resource of nutrition and income, and goats in particular are more resilient and adapted to different husbandry conditions. It is well documented that genetic variation in ability to various infections and diseases as well as to adapt to harsh environments with higher temperatures and less water, exists between and within different breeds of goats.This adaptation is especially evident in indigenous breeds, but gaps still exist in the knowledge available.

The “Harnessing genetic diversity for improved goat productivity” project is focused on bridging this knowledge gap by helping farmers take advantage of the best genetic resources locally available. Our strategy involves working closely with the goat keepers, traders, policy makers and all other stakeholders so that there is collective ownership of the existing problems and in the approach to finding solutions. Through the innovation platform (IP) system, the project is drawing from the existing indigenous knowledge, receiving guidance in terms of farmers’ actual needs and preferences and establishing effective channels that act as vehicles for information on research findings and promotion of sustainable livestock keeping practices.

Already in Cameroon, one regional IP in Kouoptamo (West Highlands) has identified high fecundity as a desirable trait in their goats and are promoting their animals as high value breeding stock for proven twinning ability. Additionally, as a result of close engagement with the project through the
Cameroon National goat IP, the Ministry of Livestock, fisheries and animal industries has recognized the importance of goats and small ruminants as an important resource to grow the country’s rural economy and has started a program to revitalize three small ruminant breeding and multiplication
stations in different agro-ecological regions.

Our counterparts in Ethiopia have established a community based goat breeding initiative where a group of 50 farmers have formed a cooperative society to drive the breeding activities. The cooperative members brought their goats for selection to form the next generation of goat parents in their village and in the neighbouring villages as well.

I see this active participation by communities as a very exciting and practical way of doing research. Through community involvement, the project has been able to stay relevant and ensure that good science supports the things that are most relevant to Africa’s development.

Getting goat facts straight – ABCF fellow makes a presentation during the 6th All Africa Conference on Animal Agriculture

“There is need for us, African scientists to design research to suit our own context so that we can get the real picture of what we have on our continent.”

This was the powerful message delivered by Getinet Mekuriaw, an Africa Bioscience Challenge Fund (ABCF) research fellow at the BecA-ILRI Hub, during the Sixth All African Conference on Animal Agriculture in Nairobi on 27 October 2014. Mekuriaw’s presentation titled “A review of genetic diversity of domestic goats identified by microsatellite loci from global perspective” was based on a paper authored together with five other scientists from the Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub and ILRI. The paper was an evaluation of the research that has been done so far in establishing the genetic diversity of domestic goats globally.

Africa Bioscience Challenge Fund fellow, Getinet Mekuriaw at work at the BecA-ILRI Hub. (photo credit: BecA-ILRI Hub/Marvin Wasonga)

Africa Bioscience Challenge Fund fellow, Getinet Mekuriaw at work at the BecA-ILRI Hub. (photo credit: BecA-ILRI Hub/Marvin Wasonga)

Genetic diversity holds the key to animal breeding and selection. Accurate information on the observable characteristics or traits of a species, their form and structural features and how this varies amongst different populations in a given region is crucial in the development of appropriate breeding strategies for the improvement and for the conservation of important breeds.

In Africa, the role of indigenous goats in smallholder livestock production is growing rapidly as keeping them is often the only practical way to use vast ranges of grasslands that cannot be used for crop production. There is evidence of local goat breeds being better able to withstand the increasingly harsh environmental conditions that come with climate change including higher temperatures, lower quality diets and greater disease challenge.

Unfortunately, not enough has been done to generate information about the genetic resources available and it is feared that many goat populations could disappear before they are even identified. Mekuriaw attributed the gaps in knowledge on goats globally, and in Africa specifically, to deficiencies in research methods. While it is indeed possible that there is low genetic variation between goat populations in Africa and beyond due to uncontrolled and random mating within flocks as well as huge population movement in between regions, inefficient technical and statistical data management have contributed to conclusions drawn from research so far.

Mekuriaw, a PhD student from the University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, is currently attached to the BecA-led research project “Harnessing genetic diversity for improved goat productivity” under the ABCF fellowship program. Through this component of his PhD research which is supervised at the BecA-ILRI Hub by project Principal Investigator Dr Morris Agaba, Mekuriaw hopes to establish the extent of diversity among indigenous goat breeds in Ethiopia. He also hopes to map out the genes responsible for growth and twinning and thus contribute to the establishment of a breeding strategy that will select goats for those traits. In addition, he is also developing a molecular tool, DNA profiling, which enables the determination of pedigree of the animals which will also be used in the establishment of the breeding strategy.

Mekuriaw’s research is helping the BecA-led project to achieve its overall goal which includes empowering goat breeders in Cameroon and Ethiopia to develop better goats suited to resource-poor farmers and to develop ICT based tools to support management decisions throughout the goat production chain.

Welcome home Brachiaria! Home coming of Africa’s “super” grass

“The hitherto overlooked Brachiaria grasses have returned home to Africa and have been warmly embraced by smallholder dairy farmers in eastern Africa.”

Presenting a paper co-authored by nine scientists from seven institutions including the BecA-ILRI Hub, Dr Brigitte Maas from International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) gave an overview of the research, successes and challenges of adopting improved Brachiaria hybrids Mulato and Mulato II in the African context during the 6th All Africa Conference of Animal Agriculture in Nairobi on 27 October 2014.

Brachiaria grasses have higher nutrient content than most commonly used forages. They are adapted to drought and low fertility acidic soils. These grasses are good for the environment as they enhance nitrogen use efficiency, sequester carbon, and reduce greenhouse gas emission and ground water pollutions. These attributes make Brachiaria one of the most widely cultivated forages in South and Central America, and Australia where they have been shown to increase milk and meat yields in cattle.

Farmers participatory selection of brachiaria grasses

Farmers select their preferred variety of Brachiaria grasses at the KALRO-Katumani experimental plot in eastern Kenya. (photo credit: ILRI/Samuel Mungai)

Re-introducing Brachiaria grasses to their native home
Despite the fact that they are native to Africa and that they occur plentifully across many regions of sub Saharan Africa, these grasses are yet to be explored and fully utilized as forage on the continent. However, thanks to the implementation of a Swedish funded research program “Climate-smart Brachiaria grasses for improved livestock production in East Africa” which is led by BecA-ILRI Hub in partnership with CIAT; Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO); Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB); and Glasslanz, the anonymity of these “wonder grasses” is coming to an end. The heightened publicity of the importance of Brachiaria grasses and as a strategy to mitigate the effects of climate change has resulted in substantial interest in these grasses among farmers, researchers and policy makers across the continent.

While improved varieties developed in Latin America are being tested in Africa, challenges from pests and diseases have been observed on these imported varieties. The grassed developed in South American conditions have already been observed to be vulnerable to spider mites; sorghum shoot fly, and a number of fungal diseases that are currently in the process of identification. This has necessitated a deeper investigation into locally available diverse genetic resource in Africa to identify the pest and disease resistant varieties.

Finding the best local varieties for the African context

Dr Sita Ghimire, lead scientist in the BecA-led project on Brachiaria, examines one of the varieties under testing at the KALRO-Katumani experimental field. (photo credit: ILRI/Samuel Mungai)

Dr Sita Ghimire, lead scientist in the BecA-led project on Brachiaria, examines one of the varieties under testing at the KALRO-Katumani experimental field. (photo credit: ILRI/Samuel Mungai)

Since Africa hosts a high genetic diversity of Brachiaria, the way forward would be the utilization of this untapped genetic resource to breed varieties that are suitable to the African context. The BecA-ILRI Hub-led project is exploring local ecotypes and gene bank accessions of African origin for drought tolerance, pests and disease resistance and biomass yields. This program consists of four main components – evaluating Brachiaria genotypes for drought tolerance and adaptation to marginal soils; evaluating varieties for biomass production, animal nutrition (including feeding experiments) and seed production; identification and use of phytobiomes for potential agricultural applications as bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides and bio-yield enhancement agents; and the building the capacity of African scientists to conduct research on Brachiaria grasses.

This collaborative research effort is giving renewed hope to millions of smallholder livestock farmers across eastern Africa who operate smallholder crop-livestock mixed farms on less than 10 ha and are at pains to increase their production in a set up where natural grazing is limited or no longer available

____________________________________________________________________________________

Read related story: Climate-smart Brachiaria Grasses: livestock feed, household cash
View a poster on the project here:  Climate-smart Brachiaria Grasses for improved livestock production in East Africa

 

Genetic diversity studies: Improving goat productivity, improving farmers’ lives in Ethiopia

The most significant part of research is the point at which the output transforms the lives of those for whom it is intended. When Tilahun Seyoum, a small holder livestock farmer in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, learnt basic principles of goat breeding and health management from a group of researchers his approach to goat farming completely changed.

This Ethiopian goat displays its identity card proudly. (Photo credit:ILRI/Wondmeneh Esatu)

This Ethiopian goat displays its identity card proudly. (Photo credit:ILRI/Wondmeneh Esatu)

Researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) initiated a community based goat breeding initiative/program in Seyoum’s village and are helping him and 49 other farmers to exploit existing genetic diversity in their herds to improve goat productivity. The program is a part of the Swedish funded ‘Harnessing genetic diversity for improved goat productivity’ project led by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA-ILRI) Hub.  The project which spans Ethiopia and Cameroon is conducting genetic diversity studies in these countries, knowledge that is being used to empower breeders to develop better goats suited to their context.

Already, a tagging exercise has helped the farmers in the Luma Tatesa kebele in Meta Robi distinguish the difference between goats whose parentage is known and those of unknown pedigree. The tags also indicate that the performance of the future offspring of these goats can be predicted hence the increasing their value compared to untagged animals.

Through this project, farmers in participating in the research have also been provided with access to animal health workers and are learning how to observe differences in their performance caused by illness as they keep animal health records for breeding purposes.

Read the original article:
http://sustainable-livestock.ilri.org/2014/05/25/ear-tags-stir-fresh-interest-in-goats-in-ethiopian-village/

Read related stories: 
http://hub.africabiosciences.org/blog/improved-goat-productivity-in-ethiopia-qa-with-dr-tadelle-dessie/
http://hub.africabiosciences.org/blog/pose-and-click-hassle-free-goat-sampling-in-ethiopia/

Institutional benchmarking exercise brings Philippine Carabao Center to ILRI, Kenya

In March 2014, six key officials of the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) under the Philippines Department of Agriculture visited the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya to learn about the strategies, programs, and platforms for livestock research and development at the institute. This visit was part of a five-day international benchmarking exercise coordinated by the Science and Education for Agriculture and Development (SEARCA).

The visit to ILRI specifically aimed at identifying relevant and specific international public and private sector program concepts and strategies that are applicable, can be refined and adapted to strengthen the genetic improvement, enterprise development, and research and development of the National Carabao Development Program.

While at ILRI, the PCC team met with Dr. Rob Skilton, Team Leader, Capacity Building at the BecA-ILRI Hub who  gave them an insight to the different avenues of capacity building, knowledge transfer and  sharing of facilities that are being used to solve some of Africa’s key agricultural challenges.

The full article can be accessed here: http://www.searca.org/index.php/news/1454-searca-pcc-institutional-benchmarking-activity-in-kenya-begins-smoothly

Fattening the pig industry in eastern Africa: Finding ways to control African swine fever in Kenya and Uganda

Researchers from Kenya, Uganda and Australia chart the way to control African swine fever in East Africa

On 2-3 October 2013, a multi-disciplinary team of researchers who have been studying the patterns, causes, and effects of African swine fever (ASF) in Kenya and Uganda, shared their findings at a project closing workshop.

During the workshop held jointly with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases Operations (FAO-ECTAD) the team of researchers from Kenya, Uganda and Australia led by scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute shared data from their two-year long study.

African swine fever, which currently has no treatment or vaccine, is a highly contagious disease in pigs that causes nearly 100% losses in pig herds. Although it does not cause infection in people, outbreaks of the disease cause devastating income losses to farmers, and pig/pork traders. The project, “Understanding ASF epidemiology as a basis for control”, was funded by the Australian government as part of a research partnership between the BecA-ILRI Hub and Australia’s national science agency, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

The discussions generated at the workshop are expected to mark the beginning of a concerted effort to improve pig farming and expand the pig industry in eastern Africa.

Presentations from the workshop can be viewed here:http://www.slideshare.net/ILRI/tag/asfoctworkshop

 

Learning new skills through research at the BecA-ILRI Hub

By Rodrigue Ayagirwe Basengere, Junior Lecturer, faculty of Agronomy and Environment, Evangelical University of Africa-DRC and MSc Student in Animal Breeding at the University of Dschang, Cameroon 

Rodrigues Ayagirwe from DRC gets help from Isaac Macharia of Kenya

Rodrigues Ayagirwe, (center) gets some help from Isaac Macharia (left), a senior researcher at Kenya’s
plant regulatory agency Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) and
Africa Bioscience Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellow

As students conducting research on domestic cavies under the BecA-ILRI Hub project –“Improving production, nutritional protein and household income through increased consumption of domestic cavies”, my colleagues Jeanne Wikondi, Youchahou Poutougnigni and I visited the Hub in Nairobi Kenya to acquire skills in molecular biology.

Everything about, our one month stay at the BecA-ILRI Hub was very exciting, starting with the very warm welcome from the staff members which made me feel right at home. The superb planning and the training we received meant that we could already work in the lab within three days of our arrival.

We brought 109 blood samples from domestic cavies which I had collected from mono-modal agro ecological zone in Cameroon and our main task was to assess the genetic diversity of the cavies in this area.

Aside from having a laboratory technician assigned to assist us, we each received a comprehensive manual which enabled us to work independently and all the equipment and chemicals I needed were readily available.

At the end of every week, I attended a four-hour presentation session where all visiting scientists and ABCF fellows made presentation on the progress of their work. These sessions not only allowed research fellows to talk about the challenges they are facing, but they were also an opportunity for us to give each other suggestions on how better to go about our research.

I am very grateful for the training we received at the BecA-ILRI Hub. Not only were we able to establish the genetic diversity of cavies in our study area, but we also feel confident to give advice to cavy farmers regarding rearing of these species. Most importantly, we have acquired the knowledge and tools necessary to apply molecular biology in our research.

In future, we will try to determine which genes are responsible for desirable traits e.g. coat colour, growth rate and prolificacy. We hope that our findings will contribute to the selection and breeding of cavies for increased productivity.

World Food Day: What IS Food?

A meal of roast cavy served with bread in West Cameroon

A meal of roast cavy served with bread in West Cameroon

As we celebrate world food day, perhaps it’s time to stop and ask ourselves “what really is food?”

Food security in Africa is often measured by the availability of the staple starches and animal statistics that focus on major livestock such as cattle, sheep and goats.

Research to help African countries overcome the challenges of food insecurity traditionally focuses on improving staple starches such as rice, maize and wheat. These crops often require heavy inputs, are highly dependent on increasingly irregular rainfall and are also threatened by major crop pests and diseases.

Likewise, research on livestock focuses on large livestock which are faced with major disease threats such as peste des petits ruminants, commonly referred to as PPR in goats and sheep or African swine fever in pigs.

Perhaps it is a high time new avenues to address food security by looking at crops that are adaptable to harsh climatic conditions and more resilient livestock were explored.

The amaranth, for instance, is a hardy, drought tolerant crop commonly regarded as a weed in many parts of Africa. This under-recognized “orphan” crop is especially beneficial for pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as babies and children since its leaves are a good source of vitamins A, C, K and folate, while the grain contains high levels of protein containing essential amino acids and minerals like iron, zinc and calcium.

In many parts of eastern, central and western Africa, domestic cavies or “guinea pigs” as they are commonly known are widely used as meat. Cavies provide high-quality meat with about 19-20% protein as compared to beef or lamb with lower protein contents of 17-19% and the cavy skin that is usually consumed contains even more than 30% protein. Incidentally, this mini livestock has become so important in Peruvian diets that it now has a national day – the National Guinea Pig Day.

Indigenous fruit crops are also greatly understudied yet they hold great promise in feeding the world. One example is the baobab, a common African bushland fruit tree. The fruit and leaves of the baobab are high in vitamin C, the seed and flower are high in protein, and the kernel contains edible oil. This fruit tree tolerates a wide range of vegetation types including scrub, wooded savannah hot, dry areas, and semiarid to sub-humid tropics south of the Sahara.

These are only some of the numerous resources that can be tapped into to provide increased food production, reliable income and high nutrition for a growing world population.

As we think about how to feed the world this World Food day, we could begin by adopting an “orphan” crop or mini-livestock.
_______________________________________________________________

Research at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub is focused on improving food and nutritional security and animal health including the exploration of under-recognised and under-studied crop, livestock and food safety issues.

Read more about research at the BecA-ILRI Hub: Research for a food secure Africa.

Read a related article on ILRI’s Clippings Blog:
‘The health of the poor is the wealth of the poor’: A little film for a big World Food Day and World Food Prize, 16 Oct 2013.

Join the World Food Day conversations on twitter: #WFD2013

Pose and Click: Hassle-free goat sampling in Ethiopia

Sarah Osama takes blood samples from a goat in Ethiopia

Sarah Osama takes blood samples from a goat in Ethiopia

Narrated by Sara Osama, Research Technician

Taking blood, tissue or hair samples for genetic analysis and at the same time doing physical measurements of livestock in the field can be a very hectic and time consuming activity.

This tedious but necessary sampling process has greatly been eased by the use of a sampling method (AdaptMap photo protocol and sampling kit) developed by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). When I visited the villages of Haro Wolkite and Luma Tatesain in Ethiopia on a mission to investigate the genetic basis of goats in that region, I had the opportunity to test the sampling kit which had a slight modification made to it at the Hub.

Photo shoot
By taking photographs of the goats at different angles, we were able to deduce the physical measurements of the goats without struggling to pin them down. The process involved making markings on the animal’s pin bones which could easily be viewed by the photographer. An identifying card was then attached to the animal on which information such as the animal’s unique identity number, sex, birth date, owner, breed, sampling date, district/location, country and the distance from the camera was recorded.

A photograph of the goat’s eye with a color guide placed next to it was taken to determine the anemic state for the animal. This “famacha” guide has five levels of red and an animal giving a low score of 5 (very pale red) indicates the animal could be suffering from anemia. A photograph of the teeth helped us estimate its age while various profile shots were taken to deduce the pin bone width; the chest girth; height and length; and the points of shoulder width. All the information acquired from the photo shoot was recorded onto the card attached to the animal.
Finally, blood samples are drawn immediately after taking photos of each animal. The blood samples were labeled using the identity numbers given to the animals while taking the pictures for physical measurements.

Take and give
The farmers in the two villages visited were very cooperative with the researchers and gave extra assistance in managing the blood samples on FTA cards (cards developed for the collection and storage of DNA from organic samples), as they dried under the shade of a tree before storage. The farmers expressed their satisfaction with the minimal handling of their animals and in return for their cooperation in the sampling process they received on-the-spot diagnosis and treatment for worms based on the eye exam. Since the team included production experts, the farmers also received advice on better production practices.

This sampling exercise was part of the field activities being carried out by the BecA-ILRI Hub led team researching the genetic diversity of goats for improved productivity in Ethiopia and Cameroon.