As modern livestock breeding methods are often unsuitable for poor households, the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and partners have developed a more suitable alternative: community-based breeding programmes focusing on improving indigenous sheep breeds suited to smallholder conditions. Such community-driven breeding programmes have proven highly successful in Bolivia, Mexico and Peru and more recently in Ethiopia.
Molale is a rural community located north east of Ethiopia’s capital of Addis Ababa. Around 2,700 households grow crops and raise sheep at altitudes above 3,000 metres. In 2009, ICARDA, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and the Austrian University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) worked with the community to improve local varieties of sheep. The 5-year community based breeding program was designed to improve the breeds, teach farmers to keep up to date records and develop a breeding cooperative. A data collection and recording system was put in place with ‘community animal breeding workers’ acting as enumerators and record-keepers supported by a research centre. All animals were tagged and tracked. After 7 rounds of selection were completed, the community established the ‘Menz sheep production and fattening cooperative,’ offering a viable business enterprise for many community members.
Community-based breeding increases the productivity and profitability of indigenous breeds without undermining their resilience and genetic integrity, and without expensive interventions. In Ethiopia, more than 500 households in remote communities have used the approach successfully for 5 years. The genetic traits of the animals have improved, so has their overall health and productivity and incomes from lamb sales have improved substantially for the community.