Animal improvement for increased productivity and food availability

The challenge to increase food production in developing countries lies in efficient exploitation of genetic diversity among and within breeds of different species. The most productive and adapted animals for each environment must be identified for breeding purposes. Only then will it be viable to increase food production without further increasing the number of animals with the subsequent effects of land degradation. A production system must therefore consider all aspects of the resources needed along with the outputs, both positive and negative.

Many breeding programmes for different species in temperate climates have shown the opportunities to increase the output per animal after a few decades of selection. Even more remarkable results, especially for meat production with different species, have been obtained in well-designed crossbreeding schemes in the short-term. These programmes have been favoured by resourceful environments and well developed infrastructure and markets. Evidence from the tropics also indicates acceptable results in well targeted within breed selection and crossbreeding programmes [CS 1.2 by Mpofu]; [CS 1.5 by Kahi]; [CS 1.40 by Chacko];[CS 1.19 by Yapi-Gnaore]; [CS 1.26 by Ramsay et al.]. The issue, however, is how to design sustainable breeding schemes for indigenous breeds under inherent tropical conditions (see section 6.2 Module 1 and Rege et al., 2011) where resources are limited, feed availability and quality varies greatly depending on the type, geographical location and season, and the demand on animals that are better able to adapt to the ever changing environment due climate change is increasing. The critical question is how to maximize productivity in these schemes, including fitness and adaptive traits, without adversely affecting the environment and diversity needed for the unknown future. Furthermore, such programmes must be developed in the context of prevailing cultural and socio-economic conditions, i.e., as parts of the livestock use in the total development of a region or community. Consequently, aspects of developing genetic improvement programmes for tropical conditions are far more complex than for breeds in temperate climates of the developed world.

As stated in Module 2, Section 3, the value of indigenous breeds in the tropics and the requirement of long-term strategies that any development of a breeding programme must comply with to be sustainable have largely been neglected. However, the same genetic principles apply to the same species wherever they are. Only methods for application will vary and must be adapted to different circumstances. Designing a breeding programme is much more than genetic theories and increased productivity. It is a matter of infrastructure, community development and an opportunity for improved livelihood of livestock owners through better animals and markets for their products [CS 1.15 by Dzama]; [CS 1.19 by Yapi-Gnaore]. This module will, therefore, indicate some general principles to consider when designing breeding programmes and highlight both genetic and external factors and issues that might be of importance specifically for tropical farming systems.