On 20 and 21 December 2012, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) ran a training course for national partners and collaborators on methods and approaches for phenotypic characterization of animal genetic resources.
“For genetic resources to contribute to food security goals, we need to know what we have, be able to improve them, be able to prioritize to effectively utilize them, and conserve them for the next generation” – Solomon Abegaz, director of Ethiopia’s Institute of Biodiversity Conservation (IBC)
Last week, ILRI’s Iain Wright welcomed participants to an ICARDA- ILRI training course for national partners and collaborators on methods and approaches for phenotypic characterization of animal genetic resources. The aim was to sensitize researchers and academics to the approaches, tools and methods used in this area.
He emphasized the importance of livestock in Ethiopia – there are more animals than people and some estimates indicate that livestock contribute to around 45% of Ethiopia’s agricultural GDP in 2008-2009.
To gain from the sector however, livestock diversity needs to be fully characterized and documented. Getnet Assefa, livestock director at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) explained that that the country’s genetic resources, sheep and goat especially, need to be properly characterized – “to supply the desired types of animals that farmers and markets want.”
Referring to the sector more generally, Solomon Abegaz reported that Ethiopia “has great genetic resources, but we have not been able to make very good use of its potential, exploitation is lagging behind, the challenges we face are both conservation and sustainable utilization.” An important element to take this work forward, he said, is to have uniformity in methodologies (data collection, analysis). So this training is very important.
ILRI course leader Tadelle Dessie set the training within the wider context of the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish that is working on small ruminant value chains in Ethiopia.
He emphasized the partnership aspects of the program – across different CGIAR centers and among national and international organizations working in Ethiopia. He reminded participants how their parents probably grew up in rural areas where it is traditional for people to all build their houses together, drawing on the skills and knowhow of neigbours, family and friends. “We need to bring this approach to our research and development”, he said, explaining how partnership in this research program is about ‘giving’ and ‘taking’:
- Development investors provide money, influence and advocacy; they get better bang for their bucks, better-targeted impacts.
- Livestock/fish researchers provide evidence and capacity building; they get co-development of new science.
- Multinational agencies provide policies, advocacy, means to scale up interventions; they get evidence-based knowledge.
- Development partners provide relevance, reality checks, expertise; they get practical science for real development.
The course was led by Halima Hassen from ICARDA and Tadelle Dessie from ILRI and brought together ‘trainees’ from federal and regional agricultural research centers and universities. It covered the conceptual framework for animal genetic resources (AnGR) characterization, an operational framework of AnGR, data collection, management and analysis, reporting and communication, a checklist of actions and provided a practical session in the field.
The training was anchored around 2 projects forming part of the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish:
- Improving the livelihoods of smallholders through implementation of sustainable small ruminant (goats) improvement programs – led by ICARDA with the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation and financed through the Africa-Brazil Agriculture Innovation Marketplace
- Harnessing genetic diversity for conservation, resistance to disease and improving productivity of livestock – led by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa – International Livestock Research Institute Hub and financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency