ILRI scientists Okeyo Mwai and Julie Ojango were recently among the first ever group of experts in livestock genetics to participate in the annual Grand Challenges for Health meeting. They made important contribution to the dairy and poultry discussions that will be used as a basis for a strategy that will help transform livestock productivity for smallholders in Africa.
Launched in 2003, by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges in Global Health seeks to improve health and save many lives in the developing world. This year, for the first time since the launch, agricultural innovation, including the linkages between agriculture and health featured in the annual meeting. The meeting was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 28-30 October 2013.
Addressing the gathering on behalf of the Dairy Genetics East Africa (DGEA) project, ILRI collaborator John P. Gibson of the University of New England (UNE), Australia noted that on average, less than 50 per cent of farmers have access to artificial insemination (AI) services and only ten percent of breeding is as a result of AI. There is therefore need to understand and target bull breeds in East Africa for improvement if the yield per animal is to rise thus economically benefiting the farmer.
Gibson, in a presentation entitled Overview of Dairy Genetics East Africa, said the yields per animal are much lower than generally expected and the region lacks a genetic strategy for improvement of the herd. There is a limited heifer supply and the traditional methods of gradually improving cattle breeds, one calf at a time, is extremely expensive and slow. In spite of this, smallholder dairy has dramatically improved the livelihoods of just under five million farmers in the region recently.
Now in its second phase, the project has so far helped smallholders take advantage of the region’s’ booming dairy sector and improve their incomes by giving them access to top quality breeds better suited to their local environment. Partners in the project include the University of New England (UNE) represented by John Gibson and the PicoTeam through former ILRI scientist Ed Rege.
This year’s Grand Challenges meeting was co-hosted by the Brazilian Ministry of Health, Grand Challenges Canada, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.