Category Archives: Tanzania

Biosciences fund brings Tanzanian researcher one step closer to unravelling the genetic diversity of the Small East African goat

Goat production is among the foremost agricultural activities that sustain the livelihoods of millions smallholder farmers and pastoral and agro-pastoral communities in Tanzania. Majority of Tanzania goats (about 98%) are assumed to belong to the Small East African (SEA) breed, with very few belonging to other exotic dairy and meat goat breeds.

The Small East African goat breed is predominantly found throughout eastern Africa and parts of southern Africa. These goats have different tribal or local names and are mostly kept by pastoralists in the rural areas, agro-pastoralists and mixed (crops-livestock) farmers for meat. Their coat produces good quality leather. Some of the valuable characteristics of these goats are a tolerance to heartwater (an endemic tick-borne disease of ruminants), worms and other diseases commonly found in East Africa, such as mange. They are small (they range in weight between 20 and 45 kgs), agile and active goats whose colour ranges from pure white, pure brown to pure black with various intermixes of the three colors.

A young boy herds SEA goats in Tanzania

But different agroecological zones result in differentiations in the goats’ adaptive nature. SEA goats in Tanzania have not been fully characterized, and as a result, there is no breed- or strain-specific information on their genetic variability or uniqueness. Today, it is still unclear whether the indigenous goats of Tanzania are one breed (SEA) or if they fall under different strains or ecotypes. Additionally, the performance and adaptive attributes of the SEA goats kept in the country are still unknown.

Tanzanian farmers have made numerous efforts to crossbreed SEA goats in an attempt to improve their productivity, an activity that could prove more harmful than helpful if not checked. Crossbreeding by farmers without understanding the goat genetic resources could lead to loss of some of the unique features of these goats. On the other hand, understanding goat genetics has the potential to increase SEA goats’ milk and meat productivity and create sustainable development of goat farming in the country.

A woman milks an SEA goat belonging to the Pare Doe strain

Athumani Nguluma, a senior research officer at the Tanzania Livestock Research Institute (TALIRI), and a former Biosciences eastern and central Africa – International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellow, is studying the genetic diversity of SEA goats in Tanzania. His goal is to better understand this important goat breed so that he can contribute to a clearer understanding of its population genetic structure and unique genetic features. This knowledge will be vital in designing SEA breed improvement and conservation programs, which could solve the low meat and milk productivity problem of the local goats that plagues Tanzanian farmers thereby considerably improving household income and bringing other socio-cultural benefits.

At TALIRI, Nguluma is working with the organization responsible for coordinating research in Tanzania including small ruminant research, which is where Nguluma was exposed to previous research on SEA goats and his interest was piqued. While studying for his PhD, he worked on the characterization of SEA goats, but due to insufficient funding, his assessed only a few subpopulations of the breed and identified only a few microsatellite markers of the breed’s genome.

Receiving the ABCF fellowship broadened Nguluma’s research from what he had initially hoped to do. His study, which has been ongoing for a year, is focused on assessing the diversity of goats in the major agro-ecological zones of Tanzania. His research methods include on-farm collection of goat blood samples and a cross-sectional research design through farmer interviews to gather information about the goats breeds in the country and their production environment. So far, he has obtained phenotypic and maternal genetic variation data of goats from 11 out of 26 regions in the country.

Nguluma appreciates the role of the BecA-ILRI Hub in equipping him with the skills to do this work. ‘Before coming to BecA-ILRI Hub my knowledge and skills on molecular genetics and genomics was low. I have since been exposed to state-of-the-art molecular labs and the technical knowhow in molecular research. I have also gained modern bioinformatics skills and access to important software for my research.’

The Tanzanian Ujiji Doe strain from the SEA breed

The next steps in his research include data analysis, report writing and publishing his findings. He will also conduct a comparative genomic study of the country’s goat populations to better understand the uniqueness of particular breeds. Later he will carry out whole sequencing of their genetic code so he can develop markers for improvement to boost their productivity. 

While at BecA-ILRI Hub, he was supervised by Roger Pelle. At TALIRI, he’s supervised by S. W. Chenyambuga and Zabron Nziku from TALIRI.

Researcher using skills gained at BecA-ILRI Hub to hasten adoption of improved Brachiaria grass varieties in Tanzania

With an area of 885,800 km2 and a population of 58,458,191 people, Tanzania is one of the largest and most populous countries in Africa. Crop and livestock farming is the main source of livelihood for most Tanzanians. The country’s large livestock population includes 25 million cattle, 16.7 million goats, and eight million sheep.

The main source of feeds for livestock in Tanzania is natural pastures, which are found in the country’s vast rangelands. But these feed sources are often of poor quality and insufficient, especially in the dry seasons. Additionally, conversion of natural pasture into crop production and non-agricultural use areas, and the degradation of pasture due to overgrazing and poor management have reduced the feed available to the country’s livestock.

One step towards addressing the shortage of quality animal feeds in Tanzania is by establishing the available alternative feed resources. Walter Mangesho, a senior livestock research officer at the Tanzania Livestock Research Institute (TALIRI) and a former Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) fellow at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub, is assessing the Brachiaria grass ecotypes in Tanzania and their morphological and genetic characterizations.

Mangesho collects morphological data (measuring culm thickness) of one Brachiaria ecotype. Standing is TALIRI Tanga field research assistant Salvatory Kavishe recording data

In addition to establishing the types of Brachiaria grasses in the country; Mangesho’s research aims to improve selected Brachiaria grass cultivars, which have high biomass production potential, are nutritive to livestock and resilient to climate change. His goal is to avail the improved Brachiaria varieties to smallholder farmers in Tanzania who will use them as feed to improve the productivity of their animals. ‘I am determined to work towards solving the major livestock challenges in Tanzania, which include a shortage of quality feeds,’ he said

His research, which started in Dodoma, has so far identified and collected 142 Brachiaria ecotypes from 10 regions of Tanzania. These ecotypes are now maintained in a field at TALIRI in Tanga, Tanzania. All the ecotypes were characterized for morphological characteristics and genetic diversity. A subset of the ecotypes with superior phenotypes have been selected and are currently being multiplied for further evaluation.

‘While at the BecA-ILRI Hub, I worked with a team of highly-qualified researchers, mentors and trainers who helped me in molecular biology and genomics research that I had no prior experience with. They strengthened my morphological data collection skills,’ Mangesho remembers of his time as an ABCF fellow at BecA-ILRI Hub.

Mangesho trains on DNA extraction at BecA-ILRI Hub

He was supervised by BecA-ILRI Hub’s Sita Ghimire, Cathrine Ziyomo and Nasser Yao. Jonas Kizima from TALIRI and Angelo Mwilawa from Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, Tanzania also supervised his genomic and morphological data collection while at the hub.

‘I hope to start multi-location trials in December 2020, once the Brachiaria cultivars are ready,’ remarks Mangesho about his next plans for the near future.

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.

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