Written by Solomon Gizaw
Cooperative breeding groups are village-level community organizations where smallholder sheep and goat keepers cooperate to improve the genetic merits of their flocks through selective breeding. Smallholders may not be in a position to implement effective selective breeding within their individual flocks due to small number of animals and uncontrolled grazing/mating system.
Indeed, cooperation seems to be mandatory for smallholders as some of the village resources are owned and managed communally. These include grazing lands and watering resources, and even breeding rams are used communally under uncontrolled communal grazing/ mating systems such as in the Ethiopian highlands. Thus implementing genetic improvement, grazing land management and disease control programs would be challenging unless all or most of the villagers participate in the program.
The Livestock and Irrigation Value Chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project has initiated cooperative village sheep and goat breeding activities in its four project regions, namely Oromia, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ (SNNP), Tigray and Amhara. Sheep and goat groups have been organized and training has been provided on cooperative breeding and other value chain interventions to villagers and Bureau of Agriculture experts. Also, the villages’ sheep and goat flocks have been identified with individual animal ear tags, and cooperative selection and use of breeding rams and bucks is underway.
The cooperative breeding groups are a key entry point for introducing other value chain interventions and facilitating collective action by smallholders. Cooperation is increasing economies of scale of smallholders to access inputs and services and profitable markets. LIVES staff coach and mentor cooperative breeding groups to function as collective input providers and marketing groups. The cooperative group will also serve to introduce planned lamb/kid production through hormone-synchronized breeding to produce large cohorts of lambs/kids at a time (a LIVES’ intervention). This leads to more lambing/kidding during the best seasons to maximize lamb/kid survival and higher economies of scale to access profitable markets.
Structured sheep/goat selective breeding programs are non-existent in Ethiopia. Cooperative breeding groups could form a basis for designing structured breed-level or regional sheep and goat breeding programs. There has been quite a number of initiatives in setting up village level cooperative breeding groups for sheep and goat in Ethiopia by the national research system and CGIAR centres. Currently, quite a few cooperative breeding villages have been established for Menz, Bonga, Horro, Wollo, Arsi-Bale, Tigray Highland sheep types and Abergelle, Central Highland and Konso goat types/breeds.
It is high time that coordination and structuring of individual activities into breed-level regional breeding programs is initiated. Existing collaboration/coordination among institutes needs to be built and expanded upon (e.g. LIVES with Regional Bureaus of Agriculture, the International Center for Agriculture Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the International Livestock Research Institute-Biosciences eastern and central Africa (ILRI-BecA) Hub with the national research system).
The way forward could include institutionalization of the individual breeding activities, standardization of breeding scheme designs, technical coordination, central databases, and adopting value chain approaches.