Scaling community-based sheep breeding for genetic improvement in Ethiopia

Inception field visit on scaling-up community-based breeding programs in Doyogena climate-smart landscape. Photo: G. Ambaw (CCAFS)
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Jan 17, 2019

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John Recha (CCAFS), Gebermedihin Ambaw (CCAFS), Aynalem Haile (ICARDA), Addisu Jimma Falita (Areka Agricultural Research Center)

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CCAFS is partnering with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas to scale-up community-based breeding in Southern Ethiopia.

Sheep are changing the lives of smallholder farmers in the Doyogena District of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region (SNNPR) of Ethiopia. The district faces climate related risks that include increasing rainfall intensity and variability, water stress, soil erosion, deforestation, severe land degradation and fragmentation, declining soil fertility, shortage of livestock feed, and increased incidence of crop and livestock diseases and pests.

To help farmers address these challenges, a strategic collaboration between the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), in partnership with the Ethiopian National Agricultural Research System, has been designing and implementing small ruminant community-based breeding programs (CBBP) on a pilot basis since 2010.

Scaling-up resilient improved breeds

Due to increased demand from farmers for resilient and improved sheep breeds, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) has partnered with ICARDA to upscale the community-based small ruminant breeding program in Doyogena. This process kicked-off with a field visit in November 2018, with the participation of smallholder farmers, Inter Aide, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Resources (MoALR), and the Areka Agricultural Research Center. The scaling-up involves dissemination of improved genetics from established CBBPs to other communities in the district and the establishment of market linkages for breeding rams, sheep and their products.

Smallholder farmers with improved sheep breeds in Doyogena climate-smart landscape. Photo: G. Ambaw (CCAFS)

Two villages were selected for gathering baseline data, including birth rate, age, dentition, weight, the total number of lambs born, and weaned lambs from existing ewes. By taking into consideration the number of ewes found in the villages, 20 improved breeding rams were acquired by CCAFS and ICARDA and distributed to the community through the breeder farmers cooperatives in October 2018. Through the cooperatives, other farmers from surrounding villages are learning about the benefits of improved rams and are purchasing these breeds, resulting in widespread adoption beyond the target communities.

Community-based breeding in Doyogena

The CBBP approach aims at genetic improvement of small ruminants. It considers farmers needs, perspectives, and active participation, from inception through implementation. The pilot phase has demonstrated that CBBPs are technically feasible, result in measurable genetic gains in performance traits and impact on farming livelihoods. The impact of the CBBP pilot phase is evident through:

  • Involvement of at least 3,200 households that have improved sheep in 40 villages.
  • Change in farmer behavior: previously the “best” fast growing lambs were sold and slaughtered, known as negative selection; however, now they are kept for improving the breeding stock.
  • Increased income from sheep production by an average increase of 20% in the households across three sites.
  • Increased mutton consumption whereby an average of three sheep are slaughtered per family per year compared to one sheep in 2010 across three sites.
  • High demand for breeding rams from neighboring communities, other government programs and development partners in all sites, proding the base for specific business models on breeding and artificial insemination.
  • Mobilization of capital by breeding cooperatives to buy rams and establish sufficient feed, and build on the initial revolving funds supported by the project.
  • Selection of the CBBP as a strategy of choice by the Ethiopian Government for genetic improvement of small ruminants as indicated in Ethiopia’s Master Plan and Growth and Transformation Plan II (GTP II).

Figure: Growth performance of sheep in Doyogena, Ethiopia. Legend: bwt= birth weight (kg), wwt = weaning weight (kg), 6mwt = six-month weight (kg). Source: J. Recha and G. Ambaw (CCAFS)

Delivering climate and food security benefits

The small ruminants are important in ensuring food security under a changing climate, as they provide households with both nutrition and disposable income. Their small body size, flexible feeding habits and short generation intervals make them suited to climate-risk management. Their low investment costs are affordable to subsistence farmers and are often owned and tended by women and children.

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