Application of Genomics to Improve Disease Resilience in Smallholder Poultry Production
Local indigenous chickens are an essential resource for rural communities in Africa, providing an important source of household income as well as protein and micro and macronutrients that are vital for preventing cognitive deficiencies, stunting and other growth delays in malnourished children. Indigenous chicken production systems are based on scavenging, requiring minimal investments, thereby offering smallholder farmers security against financial risk.
Managing disease in these systems is one of the most significant hurdles for smallholder producers. Newcastle Disease (ND) is endemic in Africa and causes large economic losses. Although vaccination against Newcastle Disease virus (NDV) can reduce mortality among village flocks, sustainable ND vaccination programs are difficult to implement, especially in rural areas with limited extension services. Furthermore, NDV vaccines do not provide complete protection against virulent strains of the virus.
Genomics offers novel ways to improve disease resilience in these chicken populations, providing a complementary approach to vaccination. The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry(GIP IL) is applying cutting-edge genomic approaches to develop a comprehensive genetic selection platform to be used for selection and breeding of chickens with enhanced resistance to NDV. Utilizing these approaches, our research teams in the U.S., Ghana, and Tanzania have identified multiple targets for integration into the platform, including genetic markers, genes, and signaling pathways, and other biomarkers associated with resistance to NDV and heat stress in chickens.
Value chain assessment
Our team is also conducting a poultry value chain assessment in our target countries of Ghana and Tanzania to inform on the development of a business plan for breeding and distribution of the improved chicken line. Through this assessment, we are investigating how the new genetics can best reach local producers, considering how the product fits into existing value chains for poultry and identifying different market segments for initial promotion, approaches to ensure gender equality, and business strategies for scaling.
Achieving these objectives for the program brings us closer to our goals of reducing poverty, hunger, and malnutrition that we expect to occur as a result of decreasing major losses due to Newcastle Disease in African chickens. Decreasing mortality in indigenous chickens will result in increased agricultural productivity, which is becoming increasingly important as the global demand for animal rises with growing human populations. It also has positive impacts on livelihoods, particularly for women and children, who are most commonly the beneficiaries of poultry production in Africa.
The GIP IL is led by the University of California, Davis in partnership with Iowa State University, Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania (SUA), the University of Ghana (UoG), and International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).