By Clet Wandui Masiga
Ugandans and other tropical countries should support the use of modern genetic technologies for goat improvement in the community-based breeding approach.
In this approach, a team of experts with specialised skills from around the world have been mobilised into a network called African goat improvement network (AGIN) whose main objective is to understand goat breed structure and use next generation genetic tools to improve their production.
Key among the partners is the United States department of Agriculture; Agricultural Research Services (USDA-ARS) that is leading the implementation.
Other partners are BOKU University, Cornell University, international livestock research institute (ILRI), Virginia State University, International goat genome consortium in China (IGGC), and Iowa state University.
In Uganda the project is implemented at community level and its main partners are the farmers, local governments of the selected districts, Tropical Institute of Development Innovations (TRIDI), Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (ASARECA), National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) and National Animal Genetic Resources Centre (NAGRC).
We started by collecting goat samples from all the regions of Uganda and now experts have been in Hoima and Nakapiriprit districts to select goats that will be part of at least 5000 goats to be selected to aid community based breeding programme (CBBP) of goats.
The field trip was represented by Prof. Hans Solker of BOKU University, Vienna, Austria and was conducted from 21st to 24th of April 2015. In a series of field visits conducted between 2012 and 2014, we asked farmers to identify the key traits they require for goats. The farmers indicated need for goats for more meat, twining and milk production.
Accordingly, in June 2014, we organized a field trip for scientist and specialized persons in Ethiopia. The team visited pioneer sites in Ethiopia where CBBPs have been piloted in Menz, Molale and Mehalmeda.
This was to enable participants to learn how rams (male sheep) were selected and used and to see the CBBP in action.
We arranged a group of farmers to select the best young serving ram, and there was a competition for the best young serving rams and ewes. It’s this breeding technology that has now been transferred from Ethiopia to Uganda and Malawi. This process is however lengthy and may take up to 17 years to see real impact. We are therefore suggesting complementing this approach with genomic breeding approach.
For us to benefit from this genomic approach, the first step was to develop a goat genome as a research tool/resource.
To locate the actual goat for the genome assembly was resource consuming but using statistical and genetic tools, our partners at USDA-ARS, located a San Clemente breed, a perfect inbreed goat whose selection methodology and identification was presented at plant and animal genome conference at San Diego in Jan 2014.
They used illumina goat SNP chip to screen different goat breeds before identifying this perfect reference goat. This year, our partners have reported that using PacBio technologies, they are on right truck to develop a reference genome to construct DNA-based breeding tools for genetic improvement.
Once this tool is available we can use it to know the approximate number of genes in a goat genome, and focus on identifying the functions of each of the genes and use different genomic tools to breed goats for the desired traits by the farmers.
Already, we have collected DNA from goats in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Cameroon, Mozambique, Morocco and Zimbabwe to aid our genomic understanding the goat breeds from these countries. The therefore need laws in place to support us deliver these technologies to farmers.
The writer is a conservation biologist and geneticist and farm entrepreneur
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