The role of breeding as a tool to address productivity and quality challenges in livestock and poultry value chain

The performance of the agricultural sector is critical in ensuring food and nutrition security in Africa. Increasing productivity and efficiency of agricultural value chains is key to stimulate growth as agriculture remains the largest economic sector for many African countries. The African population is expected to grow considerably by 2050. Such increase in population will demand more food in the future, and demand for livestock and poultry products will continuously increase.  


However, livestock and poultry sector is facing several challenges. Climate change will have effects on sustainable animal production through changes in ambient temperature (heat stress, nutritional stress), rainfall, humidity, solar radiation, altered patterns of animal and plant diseases (threat of new disease, frequency of existing diseases), nutritional value of cultivated and natural pastures and change in pasture composition (growth, yield and stocking rate) and adaptation of animals to production environments.1 2 At the same time, livestock also contributes to climate change through the release of greenhouse gases (GHG). The impact of climate change and continued uncontrolled release of GHG will have a twofold implication for the livestock industry, and consequently food security (Scholtz et al., 2013a). 


Cattle production contributes substantially to African farmers’ livelihoods. Approximately 300 million heads of cattle are reared in Africa that represents about 20 percent of the world’s cattle population. However, the agricultural productivity of most of these breeds remains low. Aside from inadequate feeds, diseases and lack of commercial orientation, one of the major production constraints is poor genetics. Sub-Saharan African countries like Ghana, Kenya and Senegal is a home to a large population of indigenous cattle. Indigenous breeds are a unique reservoir of genetic resources for the continuous improvement of livestock productivity in Africa and elsewhere. While they are adapted to the local environments, indigenous livestock are poor milk and meat producers compared to the commercial breeds raised in the extensive system.  Hence, to meet the growing demand for livestock products, governments focused on the importation of exotic breeds, which poses a threat to local genetic resources. This suggests lack of exploitation of their genetic potential as well as inadequate nutrition, health services and management.7 Many small-scale African livestock farmers also struggle to meet quality standards, which are increasingly influencing production and trade in agricultural goods. Livestock sector in most African countries is still characterized by the traditional production practices and lack formal breeding programs.  


Given this, an improved understanding of the livestock and poultry adaptation to their production environments is necessary. There is a need for more efficient production innovations, in terms of proper trait definition and matching genotype with production environment, to meet consumer demand for animal products in both quantity and quality. The role of animal breeding in ensuring food and nutrition security has been clearly demonstrated in many developed countries, for example in Europe. Over the last several decades, the livestock productivity in developed countries has improved mainly because of the application of more efficient breeding programs. 8Europe has a leading role in animal breeding and reproduction as demonstrated by its highly scientific and technological breeding industry. Moreover, Europe ensures the high value of its products. 


While the food and nutrition security situations in Africa and Europe largely differ, substantial convergence exists between the two continents in terms of: (i) the policy objectives of food and nutrition security, (ii) problems associated with food quality and safety, (iii) climate change, and (iv) the changing roles of family farms. There is commonality in the main policy objectives of the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) with regard to FNS: to attain higher levels of production of safe and quality food that is accessible and affordable, while preserving the natural resources that agricultural productivity depends upon.9  Such common objectives will bring Europe and Africa closer to find common solutions/markets through exchange of good practices in technology and innovations on food and nutrition security.   


The objective of this report is to investigate the role of animal breeding in the partner European countries in terms of (1) increase of the competitiveness of breeders’ association and (2) conservation of animal genetic resources including breeding programmes to generate relevant lessons for African partner countries in addressing livestock and poultry productivity and quality challenges in Africa.