In Ethiopia, sheep are mostly kept by smallholders and the rural poor, including women headed households. They contribute substantially to the livelihoods of Ethiopian smallholder households as a source of income, food (meat and milk), and non-food products like manure, skins and wool. They also serve as a means of risk mitigation during crop failures, property security, monetary saving and investment in addition to many other socioeconomic and cultural functions.
At the farm level, sheep contribute up to 63% to the net cash income derived from livestock production in the crop–livestock production system. In the lowlands, sheep together with other livestock are a mainstay of pastoral livelihoods.
Nevertheless, the annual meat production from small ruminants is relatively small compared to the number of heads.
It is evident that the increasing demand for sheep meat cannot be met with the current inefficient production and marketing systems. Although Ethiopian sheep breeds are well adapted to the existing production environments, their full production potential is obviously not being realized due to a combination of constraints.
Although technologies to address many of the most common constraints are in hand, a key constraint is the lack of models of suitable and acceptable organizational strategies for producer groups that could facilitate access to services and markets. Research is therefore required to develop and test input and market service delivery options and models, as well as the institutional and organizational arrangements that would provide sustainable delivery and uptake of the available health management, feeding and genetic improvement technologies through effective public–private partnerships in which governmental support services and private partners are integral part of value addition process.