Genomic Selection Platform Holds Promise for Breeding Stronger, More Disease-Resilient Indigenous Chickens
This post is written by Nadira Chouicha, Terra Kelly and Huaijun Zhou from Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry.
Village poultry production has great potential for alleviating malnutrition and poverty in Africa’s climate-stressed rural communities. Improving poultry production holds promise for higher incomes and better nutrition for women and children, who often raise chickens for sustenance. Poultry production in Africa is currently constrained by annual losses of flocks due to outbreaks of Newcastle Disease. An inexpensive and effective vaccine is available to protect chickens against Newcastle Disease in Africa; however, the level of routine vaccination against the disease is still low in most rural communities due to logistical challenges. Therefore, management of this disease is still a major challenge in low-resource settings. An important complementary strategy to Newcastle Disease prevention and control is genetic improvement.
To this end, the USAID Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry developed a genomic selection platform for selection and breeding of indigenous chickens with improved survival time in the face of highly virulent Newcastle Disease. Economically important traits, such as egg production and growth rate, are also being incorporated into the platform. These innovative genetic and genomic approaches provide a means to identify and select genetic variations important for breeding local, preferred chickens that can better tolerate hot climates and be more resilient in the face of Newcastle Disease infection. The lab’s mission is to improve the production of chicken and eggs by households and small farmers, and thereby improve food security, nutrition and livelihoods in Africa -- key goals of the Feed the Future program.
The USAID Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry research teams are working in Tanzania and Ghana to generate new birds for genetic selection and validate the platform with multiple generations of breeding. In parallel, teams are conducting value chain assessments, including choice experiments, to assess smallholder producers’ preferred poultry traits and willingness to pay for improved indigenous poultry lines. Information from this assessment will be used to evaluate potential business models for breeding and distribution. Key to this assessment is understanding how to ensure that women smallholders have access to and benefit from the improved lines.
In the process of achieving these outputs for the project, the teams are strengthening the institutional and human capacity in Ghana and Tanzania, including establishing poultry research facilities and diagnostic laboratories as well as training a cadre of poultry professionals. The program’s focus on technology transfer and knowledge exchange is aimed at developing a pipeline of future leaders who have the tools, competencies and skills needed to sustainably maintain a genetic improvement program in Africa. Enhancing resilience among indigenous poultry in rural areas in Africa will contribute to increased agricultural productivity, which in turn will have positive impacts on livelihoods, particularly for women and children, who are commonly the beneficiaries of poultry production in Africa.
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To improve poultry production in Africa and reduce mortality of local chickens, The USAID Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry developed a genomic platform for selection and breeding of indigenous chickens in Tanzania and Ghana with improved survival time in the face of deadly Newcastle Disease.