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Diversity is key for sustainable chicken farming in Ethiopia

Adopting a more local and flexible approach could be key to boosting small-scale chicken production in Ethiopia, study finds.

One of the chickens that has been analysed in Ethiopia.
One of the chickens that has been analysed in Ethiopia.

Research led by the University of Liverpool, in collaboration with UK and African partners, reveals that, despite often appearing similar to each other, village chicken populations in Ethiopia are actually genetically diverse and highly adapted to their local physical, cultural and social environments.

Researchers have investigated the genetics and disease challenges of chickens from two districts of Ethiopia; Horro, around 300 km northwest of Addis Ababa and Jarso, around 400 km east of Addis Ababa, along with the nature of the production system and the socioeconomic reasons why chickens are kept.

Genomic analysis conducted at The Roslin Institute revealed that the village chickens showed high levels of adaptation to their local ecosystems, resistance to disease and to the management and cultural variations of their environment. On top of adaptation, the data obtained by all partners suggest that there have been multiple introductions of chickens in Ethiopia that may relate to trade routes, religion and culture.

Challenges and opportunities

Chicken production is an important agricultural activity in many nations and can play an important role in reducing poverty and improving nutrition and gender empowerment. Whilst many people are able to raise village chickens and they require few inputs, productivity is low and constrained by, among other things, disease, predation and scarcity of feed.

There is much interest in trying to breed a chicken resilient to its environment, whilst providing the basis of an economically sustainable enterprise. Globally, however, a wide variety of interventions have so far proved unable to deliver sustainable improvements.

Published in the journal “Nature Sustainability”, the study suggests that in order to be successful, development interventions, including breeding programmes, need to consider this diversity and be tailored and designed to allow for flexible implementation, depending on local needs.

Our genomic work revealed that despite often appearing similar, chickens in different villages are actually genetically different from each other. There results suggest that they adapt to both environmental and socioeconomical local conditions.

Dr Androniki PsifidiThe Roslin Institute / Royal Veterinary College

The importance of culture and location should not be underestimated. Conventionally, the transfer of technology has often been from researchers to farmers, ignoring the considerable knowledge of the farmers. This often leads to interventions that are inappropriate to the social, physical and economic settings in which farmers operate, leading to unsustainable interventions.

Professor Rob Christley - project leadUniversity of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health

The research was carried out by the University of Liverpool in collaboration with the Universities of Edinburgh and Nottingham, the International Livestock Research Institute, the Royal Veterinary College and Wageningen University. Dr Androniki Psifidi and Professor Olivier Hanotte, who played a key role in this project, continue working in new projects trying to provide sustainable solutions for chickens as part of the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health.

Funding support was provided by the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Scottish Government.

** This news story has been prepared from materials provided by the University of Liverpool Press Office (simon.wood@liverpool.ac.uk +44 (0)151 794 8356). **

Pete Kaiser with the project's team in Ethiopia
Pete Kaiser with the project's team in Ethiopia.

Pete Kaiser

We regret that Pete Kaiser, from The Roslin Institute, passed away during the later stages of this project. Pete was a larger-than-life character, a generous collaborator in the field of avian immunology and genomics and was very proud to have played a key role in this research. He is dearly missed.

Related links

Original publication

New poultry facility in Ethiopia explores genetic diversity

Gene expression and sex differences

Predicting lifelong health and productivity of cattle

Chicken health for development

Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health