Striving for Resilient Livestock Systems and Enhancing Women’s Livelihoods
This post is written by Nadira Chouicha, Terra Kelly, and Huaijun Zhou.
Understanding the Challenge
Smallholder producers in low and middle-income countries face a multitude of challenges, including poverty and food insecurity. Coupled with poor access to key inputs and services, livestock smallholders are particularly vulnerable to shocks, such as climate variability and disease outbreaks among their animals. In Africa, ongoing warming trends are having devastating impacts on indigenous livestock systems, which are already constrained by low productivity and efficiency. Similar to crop systems, livestock systems are subject to risk from warming and extreme weather events, including heat stress and drought. In addition to the direct effects (e.g., heat stress) of warming, climate change can have devastating indirect effects (e.g., higher disease burdens and lower water and forage availability and quality) on livestock systems, with producers experiencing lower yields and higher rates of illness and death among their animals (FAO 2008).
In rural communities in Africa, women and children are at the forefront of this crisis as they depend on livestock production for nutritional security and income to meet basic households needs. Research has demonstrated how climate change can disproportionately impact women and children (Alderman 2010, Glazenbrook 2011) and that these inequities are likely to be compounded with the impacts of climate variability (Denton 2022). Hence, greater focus needs to be placed on how to support women in climate change adaptation as they play critical roles in livestock keeping and household nutrition. Interventions that extend to women and children are critical for sustainability of adaptation strategies (Mazet et al. 2009).
In addition to the importance of taking a gendered approach, greater emphasis on long-term sustainable solutions to these complex issues is warranted. For instance, there is a need for greater investment in innovative technologies, such as genetic improvement (of production, disease resistance and heat tolerance) in indigenous livestock systems. When coupled with a gender-sensitive approach, genetic improvement has the potential to drive more sustainable solutions to these complex challenges at the intersection of climate, agriculture and health.
Understanding the Solutions
Genomic selection and breeding of more resilient local chickens
The USAID Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry (IL-GIP) aims to address some of these complex challenges through development of a genomic selection platform for genetic improvement of indigenous chickens. The platform will be used for genetic selection and breeding of chickens with higher productivity, in terms of growth and egg production, and greater resilience in the face of a devastating endemic disease — Newcastle disease (ND). This approach provides a means to select natural genetic variations important for breeding indigenous, preferred chickens that can better tolerate hot climates, produce more meat and eggs, and be more resilient in the face of infectious diseases. The program is combining this innovation with a gendered approach to understand how best to ensure women smallholders have access to genetically improved poultry lines and are engaged actors along the poultry value chain.
Small-scale poultry systems have been touted as a climate-smart approach that holds promise for meeting rising demands for animal-source foods in a rapidly changing world. Small-scale indigenous poultry production systems provide households with nutritionally-rich food. They generate less greenhouse gases than other livestock animals (Dunkley 2011) and require minimal inputs and little to no land, making them accessible and suitable for the most vulnerable communities, especially in climate-stressed regions. Across Africa, indigenous chickens serve as a living savings bank and when reared by women, provide valuable sustenance and income that bring health, nutritional and educational benefits to the household (Wong et al. 2017).
The GIP-IL genomic selection platform is expected to lead to improvements in productivity and reduced mortalities associated with ND in indigenous poultry systems, and in turn, decrease smallholder vulnerabilities to shocks. Through poultry value chain assessments and private sector engagement, our program has highlighted the importance of supporting women smallholder poultry producers in adoption of agricultural innovations, including improved poultry lines. Examples of needed support, identified through these assessments, included microfinancing, reliable suppliers for inputs and assistance with accessing extension services, training and markets. Equalizing women’s access to resources and training is critical for reducing gender inequities in agriculture, improving women’s livelihoods and availability of nutrient rich animal-source foods and increasing resilience of livestock systems in the face of climate change. Engaging women smallholders in the production of indigenous poultry lines with enhanced resilience in the face of climate change and disease threats offers an innovative and climate-smart approach to improving nutritional security and livelihoods in Africa.
Interested in sharing comments or learning more? Contact us at [email protected].
Alderman, H. 2010. Safety nets can help address the risks to nutrition from increasing climate variability J. Nutr., 140 (1), pp. 148S-152S.
Dunkley, C.S. 2011. Global warming: How does it relate to poultry. University of Georgia Extension Bulletin No. 1382. Available at: https://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=B1382.
FAO. 2008. Climate Change and Food Security: A Framework Document. FAO, Rome.
Glazenbrook, T. 2011. Women and climate change: a case-study from northeast Ghana. Hypatia, 26 (4), pp. 762-782.
Jones, P.G., P.K. Thornton. 2009. Croppers to livestock keepers: Livelihood transitions to 2050 in Africa due to climate change. Environ. Sci. Policy, 12 (4), pp. 427-437.
Mazet, J.A.K., D.L. Clifford, P.B. Coppolillo, A.B. Deolalikar, J.D. Erickson, R.R. Kazwala. 2009. A “One Health” approach to address emerging zoonoses: the HALI Project in Tanzania PLoS Med., 6, p. 12.
Wong, JT, J. de Bruyn, B. Bagnol, H. Grieve, M. Li, R. Pym, R.G. Alders. 2017. Small-scale poultry and food security in resource-poor settings: A review. Global Food Security, Volume 15: 43-52.
The GIP-IL is led by the University of California, Davis, in partnership with Iowa State University, Sokoine University of Agriculture, University of Ghana and International Livestock Research Institute. This article was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of the University of California and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.