Community-based breeding programmes for small ruminants | Livestock and Fisheries Management (Livestock Feeds)

Climaticvariability and the associated risk of crop failure has increased, causingsignificant rural populations to depend on food aid. One way to improvefarmers’ resilience is to diversify income by fully utilising the productivepotential of adapted small ruminant genetic resources. According to FAO (2008),Ethiopia is estimated to have 26 million sheep and 21 million goats distributedwithin, and hence adapted to, a diverse range of agroeco Read more..

Description of the technology or innovation

Climaticvariability and the associated risk of crop failure has increased, causingsignificant rural populations to depend on food aid. One way to improvefarmers’ resilience is to diversify income by fully utilising the productivepotential of adapted small ruminant genetic resources. According to FAO (2008),Ethiopia is estimated to have 26 million sheep and 21 million goats distributedwithin, and hence adapted to, a diverse range of agroecological zones of thecountry. More than 99% of these are owned by smallholders and are used as asource of income and protein (meat and milk), as well as non-food products likemanure, skins and coarse wool. Sheep and goats are sources of risk mitigationduring crop failures, property security, and monetary saving and investment inaddition to many other socio-economic and cultural functions, means of savingand social security for the rural poor (Tibbo 2006).


Lack of genetic improvement programmes, increasingfeed scarcities and poor flock health, coupled with weak infrastructure andinadequate animal health delivery systems in marginal areas, are majorconstraints to achieving economic sufficiency. Studies show that indigenoussheep breeds have significant between- and within-breed variation for growthand survival that can be exploited and improved through selective breeding,allowing productivity per animal to be improved. Within-breed selectionprogrammes based on proven approaches from developed countries, and importationof exotic breeds for breed replacement or crossbreeding, have generally failed.There is an urgent need to design a suitable breed and productivity improvementprogramme that suits the needs and wishes of smallholders for developingcountries.

Assessment/reflection on utilization, dissemination & scaling out or up approaches used

Scientistsintroduced a new approach involving local communities and institutions in thedesign and implementation of breed improvement programmes. The studies revealedthat farmers inadvertently sell their best fast-growing (breeding) animals,resulting in negative selection within the local breeds partly because of smallflock size and cash poverty, which hamper their ability to strategically planreplacement stock.


Anongoing community-based breeding programme in eight communities with 10,000registered Afar, Bonga, Horro and Menz sheep breeds on-farm is reversing thistrend and increase the productivity of local breeds, initially by retainingselected best young rams and rotating them among group members (livestockkeepers), sharing the costs of keeping these rams within the group. The projectinvolves local communities and stakeholders in designing a holisticresearch-for-development programme considering the science of genetics, animalhealth, feed resources, socio-economics and marketing, and institutionalarrangements, and is generating an information providers’ guide (IPG) to bereplicable in other developing countries.


Theproposed technique could be scaled-up in Ethiopia and other similar settings indeveloping countries.


Scaling-up approaches

Theusers of the innovation include livestock keepers (smallholder farmers andpastoralists), public and private enterprises through partnerships in muttonand live animal trading (including exports), leather factories, microfinanceinstitutions, local and export abattoirs, national agricultural researchsystems, development institutions, agricultural universities, non-governmentalorganisations and policy makers.


Theapproaches used to disseminate and reach the users of the technology orinnovation included training of national researchers at MSc and PhD level,on-the-job training for researchers (group and individual trainings), andconducting research trials using the proposed techniques.


Critical factors for successfulpromotion and wider adoption

§  Motivation and interest of researchpartners

§  Enabling policies

§  Commitment of the Government of Ethiopiain support of the project with direct benefit to smallholders

§  Participation of young scientists

§  Continuous feedback to fine-tuning theprotocol and ease of use of the technology

§  High participation of farmers, andinterest of research and development partners

§  Involvement of key stakeholders rightfrom the start

§  Use of participatory tools and theappropriation by farmers of their own breeding plan, disease control schemesand improved feed resource base

§  Motivating, organising and training offarmers including awarding of best performers

§  Commitment of scientists to make anintelligent balance of genetic principles and consideration of practical aspects,as well as flexibility to accommodate other emerging interventions during theproject lifetime, such as feeds and health issues

§  Recognition of and respect forindigenous knowledge as well as experience of farmers in solving their ownpractical problems in the process.

Current situation and future scaling up

Challengesencountered with respect to further dissemination, adoption and scaling up/ outare as follows: 1) top-down ‘cooperatives’ are viewed with suspicion and arenot easily accepted at the start; 2) sustainability of the project is uncertainas the genetic progress takes time and is not easy to demonstrate in the shortterm (at least four to five years for sheep and goats), since it takes a longtime for livestock breeding to produce results while the funding period usuallylasts on average three years. For small ruminants, a minimum of five years isrequired to show clear genetic progress; 3) farmers tend to sell theirfast-growing male animals because of cash poverty which results in negativeselection as mediocre animals are left to pass on their genetic material;organising farmers into breeders’ group is not always straightforward as thereis a need to innovatively analyse institutional set-ups and social networks andlook for opportunities that unite them as a community. Planning for such aprogramme should be done together with the community from the start; 4)community-based programmes may not be suitable for all situations—programmesshould be tailored to each situation to make them sustainable over time; and 5)lack of effective institutions could be a challenge as was the case with one ofthe four project areas.


Followingare recommendations for addressing the challenges:

1)    There is a need to train and build trustbetween livestock keepers and government, and discuss the approaches andbenefits right from the start. Livestock keepers should be made aware rightfrom the start about the programme, with particular regard to the problems ofsmall flock size, the absolute necessity of unity to maximise the benefits fromthe science of animal breeding. Proper training, motivation and full engagementin the programme should be instituted through trusted communication channels(traditional leaders, respected elders) in a truly participatory manner.

2)    Donors should be made aware of the timeframe required to realise impact in a long-term investment. The teaminnovatively created a revolving fund through purchasing and giving back thebest selected rams from the project members. The breeding rams are collectivelyowned and when sold will be replaced by the newly selected rams from flocks ofparticipating members. Other interventions such as improvement of feed resourcebase and feeding as well as health of the animals will have a clear impact in theshort term. A combination of such interventions with the breeding programmewould have greater impact and acceptance by the end users. We requested, forexample, a no-cost extension of one additional year which allowed us to see thefirst lamb crop of the selected rams. Awarding best performing farmers couldcreate interest and competition among farmers which leads to the desiredprogramme goals.

3)    Organising farmers to share the cost ofkeeping the best rams and encouraging the culling of mediocre ones throughvalue added activities such as fattening, targeting specific markets, wouldhelp farmers to attract better prices in collective marketing while theretained good breeding animals would result in genetic progress in the communalflock.

4)    Undertaking baseline studies tounderstand the system, preferences, production objectives and availableinstitutions is critical to customise and design the improvement programmesbased on priorities. Community-based improvement programmes in an agropastoralsetting should be customised according to the local situation. Migration insearch of water and feed was a major constraint to keeping the communitytogether during dry season. In the system, however, agropastoralists dore-unite after the dry season is over—food for thought in order to address thissystem carefully. In the pastoral system, a different approach may be requiredwhich needs to be explored.

5)    Close follow-up from the coordinationoffice is important to make sure that the programme is running as planned andto ensure its continuity until it can stand on its own. Strengthening thecapacity of existing institutions and facilitating the establishment ofeffective institutions would be beneficial.


Followingare the lessons learnt about the best ways to get technologies or innovationsused by the largest number of people:

§  Integrate technical, policy andinstitutional options;

§  Enhance participation by livestockkeepers in the design/planning and innovation;

§  Encourage, motivate, train, and awardbest livestock keepers;

§  Community-based improvement programmeswork where communities share resources such as grazing land, watering pointsand breeding animals;

§  Breeding projects require initialfunding and technical help, but should be planned to become self-driven;

§  Farmers are innovative in finding waysto combine production and adaptation traits to their breeding stock;

§  Match interventions to production systemand understand systems;

Start with a manageable programmes and move towards amore optimal situation as capacity builds. 

Gender considerations

§  Small ruminants are the species of thepoor as large ruminants are not affordable by female-headed households.

§  Involving women and men in thedefinition of breeding objectives allows capturing of important traits thatwould otherwise be missed.

§  Increased family income due to improvedanimal productivity and better market access results in improved welfare andnutrition of children and women.

§  Selection criteria for membership toinclude owners with small flock size.

§  Promote participation of young womenscientists in the programme.

Application guidelines for the users

Community-basedsmall ruminant breeding is one of the best options for dealing with geneticimprovement in small ruminants kept by smallholders in limited input systems.The approach provides an opportunity to sustainably improve productivity,maintain genetic diversity in situ, secure income and improve the livelihoodsof smallholders in developing countries.


Thisguide is believed to serve as starting material for stakeholders who wish topursue genetic improvement of sheep and goats in the context of community,where resources (grazing land, watering points, breeding animals) are shared.It provides guiding principles, the constituent elements and implementation ofcommunity-based breeding programmes.


Guiding principles

Geneticimprovement in small ruminants requires effective and efficient animal(performance) recording and breeding strategies and should start by definingbreeding objectives. The guiding principles and means to achieve the desiredbreeding objectives are available and depend on the complexity and capacity touse the path (see Figure 2.2).


Figure2.2: Guiding principles and pathway for community-based breeding strategy.


Abreeding programme consists of the following elements: 1) production objective,which may vary according to target population and production system; 2) breedchoice could lead to pure-breeding, cross-breeding or synthetic breeding; 3)breeding plan depends on breeding objective, selection criteria and matingsystem; and 4) the breeding structure to follow could be nucleus, open-nucleusor decentralised/ community based.


For acommunity-based breeding programme, breeding objectives need to be definedthrough a participatory and holistic approach (production systems based).Planning of a breeding programme requires the active involvement of thecommunity and should be based on their needs and capacity (ownership). Breedingstructures could be built on already existing practices and communityinstitutions. Adapting recording systems and plans to the capacity of thecommunity is crucial for success and to ensure sustainability. Where feasible,integration of breeding programmes with existing community developmentprogrammes may be necessary.



Beforeimplementing a programme, choice of breed(s) is important. This requiresknowledge of the breeds available for improvement through characterisationfollowing the standards developed by FAO (1986). Likewise, knowledge ofproductive and reproductive performances of the breeds is important to decidewhich breed to consider and which traits to improve and pathway to follow. Theprocess to design a community-based breeding programme may involve the processis given in Figure 2.3.


Figure2.3: Process of designing a community based breeding strategy.


Selection of community

External aspects (which can be lookedinto while considering areas to work)


1)   Marketaccess

Distance to market, transportation of products, quality ofroads. This is also critical as the market, under our definition, is thedriving force of this project.

2)   Guardagainst possible impacts by other projects

Irrigation, for instance, might result in more cropping andless livestock activities. A cross-breeding programme could jeopardise abreeding plan as farmers will see impacts in the short term that trigger theirinterest and cause them to abandon or disregard the plan.

3)   Synergieswith other projects

It is important to recognise that other concurrentstakeholders could be involved and let them also take part in the plan, forinstance a development programme that could actually provide the enablingenvironment for realisation of the project ideas,

4)   Governmentsupport

Although this one applies to the whole sector and not to aspecific community, consider also what are the local developments occurring inrelation to policies, credits and following government priorities, for instancethe development of abattoirs and feed-producing plants.

5)   NGOsupport


Community aspects (now focusing oncommunities within selected area)

1)   Sheepas priority

How much of the income is from sheep? Set a minimumpercentage for selection. It would be nice if a substantial portion of incomewas contributed by small ruminants.

2)   Thecommunity have sheep (400 ewes or more)

Consider the flock size distribution within communityfarms; preferable nearly equal distribution (avoid disparities: e.g. one farmerwith 400 animals, several farmers with 10).

3)   Communal/commongrazing

Communal grazing indicates that some collective activitiesalready exist. Look into it to see the institutional set-up that could bemaximised.

4)   Existingcommunity champion

This is very important in social and traditional structuresin the region. He/she should be identified as the inside community-basedfacilitator to work closely with the project’s community-based facilitator. Itis critical to identify this person as early as possible. This is why priordiscussion with extension people, researchers who previously worked in the areaand NGOs on the ground are consulted. It is likely that these people will knowwho is who.

5)   Willingness/interestto participate in the project

This is fundamental and would be centred on the discussionwith the community collective activities such as milk collection, processingand marketing. For this there is a need to conduct a participatory workshop toestablish a discussion with the community (an opportunity also to see how thepotential champion performs).


Suggested steps to follow

1)   Consultwith extension people, researchers working in the area, former livestockspecialist with knowledge of the area, NGOs and development projects. It wouldbe useful to create an inventory of stakeholders. Let these people suggest thetarget communities to visit. This will cover part A.

2)   Ifpossible, along with some of the people that already developed trust (providedthey agree with our goals), visit the communities and organise a participatoryworkshop. This will serve to gather information on part B.

3)   Documentthe whole process. Case studies: Experiences from ram exchange in X, Y, Zcommunities


Definition of breeding goals

Understandcurrent and envisaged breeding objectives in relation to economic value ofproducts and consumer preferences. To describe the production system, followstandards developed by FAO. To evaluate access to markets, identify constraintsand opportunities, structures of local, regional, national and internationalmarkets. Use a set of tools to define breeding goals in a participatory wayincluding choice cards, questionnaire survey and so forth.


To makean assessment of alternative breeding plans you may need to conduct simulationstudies to measure genetic and economic gain under different scenarios. ZPLANis used for this reason—consult BOKU partners (see contact address).


Developing adequate breeding structures

Thisrequires understanding of current and envisaged community breeding practicesand social network analysis which allows understanding of the existinginstitutional arrangements.


Field implementation issues

§  Organisational issues: structure ofimplementing team (researchers, extension, farmers)

§  Consultation with community to selectbetween alternative breeding plans

§  Animal identification

§  Recruitment of enumerator

§  Definition of traits to be recorded

§  Development of database

§  Performance recording (comment on whichtraits to record)

§  Evaluation of animals

§  Selection of candidate rams (e.g. animalshows)

§  Use of selected rams: ram exchangescheme

§  Culling of unselected rams (valueaddition, for instance castrating, fattening and pooled marketing targetingspecific market)

§  Complementary services (supplementaryfeeding, forage development, conservation and utilisation of crop residues,urea treatment of straw, veterinary programmes)

§  Capacity building: farmers, extensionpersonnel, researchers.


Monitoring and evaluation


§  Regular feedback from beneficiaries is necessary

§  Timely corrective measures should betaken as appropriate

§  Evaluate technical and operationalactivities of the project


Toevaluate success of a breeding programme:

§  Assessment of breeding progress (geneticchange at individual and systems level)

§  Economic gains from breeding programme


Institutional and policy issues

Formaland informal institutions within and outside the community from case studiesare indispensable to tackle the institutional problems. It is important toestablish legal organisations, including options for forming cooperatives withthe additional aim of facilitating market linkages (identification ofappropriate markets for animals, access to inputs supplies) and facilitatingaccess to credit, land and other resources (such as watering points). Tomaximise the likelihood of success it is important to foresee synergies withother development activities (government plans, NGOs). Policy issues supportingor affecting project implementation and impact should be dealt with carefully.


Inconclusion, the strengths of the community-based breeding programmes are asfollows:

§  Designed according to the needs offarmers

§  Sustainability: involvement of farmersright from the beginning (ownership of the programme)

§  Building on existing institutions andpractices (communal grazing, ram sharing and so forth)

§  Costs: less investment needed, costshared among beneficiaries

§  No external interference, excepttechnical guidance and monitoring the progress


Thechallenges are:

§  Benefits from breeding can only be seenin the long run, and may take four to five years

§  Convincing beneficiaries could bedifficult without other short-term accompanying interventions (animal healthservices, improving feed resource base)

§  Commitment is required from governmentfor technical support over a longer period of time

§  Overcoming cultural taboos, such aspayment for ram/buck service

§  Livestock sector may not be a toppriority for the government

§  Other initiatives propose otherapproaches (e.g. cross-breeding)

§  Low literacy level of beneficiaries maylimit its adoption

Contact details

Name and address of the key scientist:

DrMarkos Tibbo Small Ruminant Scientist;

Diversificationand Sustainable Intensification of Production Systems Program; InternationalCenter for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA);

P. O.Box 5466, Aleppo, Syria:


Mobile:+963 96 774 2192;

Fax:+963 212213490;



Name and contacts of key partners:

ProfJohann (Hans) Sölkner,

Universityof Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences Vienna (BOKU),

Departmentof Sustainable Agricultural Systems, Section Livestock Sciences,

GregorMendel Str. 33, A-1180



Fax:+43147654 3254;



DrAynalem Haile,

InternationalLivestock Research Institute (ILRI);

P. O.Box 5689,

AddisAbaba, Ethiopia;





FAO[Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations]. 1986. State of theart in management of animal genetic resources. Section B. Methods forcharacterisation pp 347–358. FAO Rome.


GetachewT, Haile A, Tibbo M, Sharma AK, Sölkner J, Wurzinger M. 2010. Herd managementand breeding practices of sheep owners in a mixed crop-livestock and a pastoralsystem of Ethiopia. African Journal Agricultural Research. 5(8):685–691.


DugumaG, Mirkena T, Haile A, Iñiguez L, Okeyo AM, Tibbo M, Rischkowsky B, Sölkner J,Wurzinger M. 2010. Participatory approaches to investigate breeding objectivesof livestock keepers. Livestock Research for Rural Development. Volume 22,Article #64. Available from 14 April 2010).


Edea Z,Haile A, Tibbo M, Sharma AK, Assefa D, Sölkner J, Wurzinger M. 2009.Morphological and biometric characterisation of Bonga and Horro indigenoussheep breeds of smallholders in Ethiopia. Ethiopian Journal of AnimalProduction. 9(1):117–133.


GetachewT, Haile A, Tibbo M, Sharma AK, Kifle A, Terefe E, Wurzinger M, Sölkner J.2009. Morphological characters, body weight and body measurements of Menz andAfar sheep breeds. Ethiopian Journal of Animal Production. 9(1):99–115.


Tibbo M,Sölkner J, Wurzinger M, Iñiguez L, Mwai O, Haile A, Duguma G, Mirkena T,Rischkowsky B. 2010. Community-based breeding: a promising approach for geneticimprovement of small ruminants in developing countries. Session 43 ‘Breedingand recording strategies in small ruminants’. EAAP Annual Meeting 2010 held on26 August 2010, Heraklion, Crete Island, Greece.


Haile A,Mirkena T, Duguma G, Getachew T, Edea Z, Tibbo M, Iñiguez L, Rischkowsky B,Mwai O, Wurzinger M and Sölkner J. 2010. Community-based breeding to exploitgenetic potential of adapted located sheep breeds in Ethiopia. Internationalconference on food security and climate change in dry areas, held from 1–4February 2010, Amman, Jordan.


DugumaG, Mirkena T, Sölkner J, Haile A, Tibbo M, Iñiguez L, Wurzinger M. 2009. Designof community-based sheep breeding programs for smallholders in Ethiopia. EAAP –60th Annual Meeting, Barcelona 2009. Book of Abstracts. Page 122. Availablefrom


DugumaG, Mirkena T, Haile A, Tibbo M, Sölkner J, Wurzinger M. 2009. Participatoryapproaches for defining breeding objectives in community-based breedingprogrammes. In: p 291–300, Proceedings of the 16th Annual Conference of theEthiopian Society of Animal Production (ESAP) held from 8–10 October 2008 inAddis Ababa, Ethiopia.


GetachewT, Haile A, Tibbo M, Sharma AK, Sölkner J, Wurzinger M, Terefe E. 2009. Use oflinear body measurements for performance recording and genetic evaluation ofMenz and Afar sheep breeds under village condition. In: p 113–121, Proceedingsof the 16th Annual Conference of the Ethiopian Society of Animal Production(ESAP) held from 8–10 October 2008 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


Edea Z,Haile A, Tibbo M, Sharma AK, Sölkner J, Wurzinger M. 2009. Relationship of livebody weight and other linear body measurements in two sheep breeds of Ethiopia.In: p 105–112, Proceedings of the 16th Annual Conference of the EthiopianSociety of Animal Production (ESAP) held from 8–10 October 2008 in Addis Ababa,Ethiopia.


Haile A,Tibbo M, Duguma G, Mirkena T, Sölkner J, Wurzinger M. 2009. Community basedsheep breeding: a new approach to genetic improvement. In: p 291–300,Proceedings of the 16th Annual Conference of the Ethiopian Society of AnimalProduction (ESAP) held from 8–10 October 2008 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


MirkenaT, Duguma G, Haile A, Wurzinger M, Tibbo M, Sölkner J. 2009. The genetics ofadaptation in domestic farm animals: a review. In: p 302–323, Proceedings ofthe 16th Annual Conference of the Ethiopian Society of Animal Production (ESAP)held from 8–10 October 2008 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


Edea Z,Haile A, Tibbo M, Sharma AK, Sölkner J, Wurzinger M. 2009. Breeding managementpractices of indigenous sheep breeds of smallholders for designing communitybased breeding strategies in Ethiopia. In: p 241–249, Proceedings of the 16thAnnual Conference of the Ethiopian Society of Animal Production (ESAP) heldfrom 8–10 October 2008 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


GetachewT, Haile A, Tibbo M, Sharma AK, Sölkner J, Wurzinger M. 2009. Sheep breedingpractices and trait preferences in the smallholder and pastoral productionsystems of Ethiopia. In: p 273–284, Proceedings of the 16th Annual Conferenceof the Ethiopian Society of Animal Production (ESAP) held from 8–10 October2008 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 159


Tibbo M,Iñiguez L, Rischkowsky B. 2008. Livestock and climate change: local breeds,adaptation and ecosystem resilience. CARAVAN 25: 37–39. Available from

comments powered by Disqus