Tackling Food Insecurity in Africa: Harnessing Genomics to Improve Small-Scale Poultry Production in Tanzania and Ghana
Small-scale poultry production has tremendous potential for improving nutrition and reducing poverty in less developed countries. Malnutrition is common in low-income rural communities, causing stunting and reduced cognitive development in affected children. Poultry eggs and meat deliver high-quality sources of protein and micro- and macronutrients. Poultry rearing also provides a major income-generating activity for households in which women and children are the major beneficiaries. Chickens serve as a living savings bank and require very little investment, thereby offering rare opportunities for investment and security against risk. However, efforts to achieve these positive impacts in resource-limited settings are constrained by poultry losses due to yearly outbreaks of Newcastle disease (ND). In addition to ND, heat stress limits poultry production in Africa.
Vaccination is one of most effective approaches in preventing ND outbreaks. However, the logistics of implementing sustainable ND vaccination programs in Africa, especially in rural areas, are extremely challenging. Genetic improvement of resistance to ND and heat stress through identification of genes or genetic markers associated with these biotic and abiotic stressors provides a promising approach to addressing these constraints. The genetic approach combined with genomic technology offers a long-term, cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution. The University of California, Davis-led Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry has brought together a multidisciplinary team of professionals with expertise in genetics/genomics, poultry production and health, epidemiology, and international development to work in collaboration with the academic, government and private sectors in Tanzania and Ghana to develop a more comprehensive approach to tackling these production constraints.
Advanced genetic and genomic approaches have been successfully used to improve disease and drought resistance in crops. The Genomics to Improve Poultry Innovation Lab is applying cutting-edge genomics technology to identify genome-wide natural genetic variations existing in African indigenous chicken ecotypes that are associated with ND resistance and heat tolerance utilizing both diverse indigenous local ecotypes and well-characterized chicken experimental genetic populations. An inexpensive diagnostic platform consisting of these genetic markers will be developed for further genetic selection and breeding to develop chicken strains with enhanced innate resistance to ND.
A chicken strain with enhanced ND resistance will be invaluable to smallholder farmers living in rural communities in Africa. As a result, there is a critical need for the Genomics to Improve Poultry Innovation Lab to develop a sustainable model for breeding and distribution of the improved strain. The Innovation Lab is engaging with smallholder farmers and other stakeholders from the public and private sectors in Tanzania and Ghana who are interested in African indigenous poultry production to better understand the vital actors in the poultry value chain and the key considerations for developing breeding and distribution models. The Innovation Lab held a workshop in 2015 that brought together experts from across the poultry value chain in West and East Africa to discuss existing models and brainstorm on approaches for ensuring the improved strain can effectively reach and increase production by smallholder farmers.