Project aims to boost productivity and health of village chickens

Adopting a more local and flexible approach to sustainable development could be key to improving the productivity of small-scale chicken farms in Ethiopia, according to a study published in Nature Sustainability.

The research was led by the University of Liverpool, in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh, University of Nottingham, the Royal Veterinary College, Wageningen University and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

The study reveals village chicken populations in Ethiopia to be genetically diverse and highly adapted to their local physical, cultural and social environments. The research recommends that development interventions, including breeding programmes, should consider this diversity, as well as be designed and tailored to the local needs of the village populations.

There is an active interest in breeding improved chicken populations that are resilient. The production of chicken is an integral part of the African agricultural landscape, therefore villagers need an economically sustainable enterprise. However, a variety of global interventions have proved unable to deliver sustainable improvements thus far.

The research team sought to address this, by investigating disease challenges and the genetics of the local chickens, the nature of the production systems and the socioeconomic reasons why chickens are bred. The study, which was conducted in two districts of Ethiopia, illustrated that the genetics of village chickens showed high levels of adaptation to their local ecosystems, disease challenge, management and cultural variations of their environment. The data suggested that there have been varying factors, including trade routes, religion and culture, that have contributed to the vast and varying introduction of chicken populations in Ethiopia.

Professor Rob Christley, who led the project, said: “The importance of culture and location should not be underestimated. Conventionally, the transfer of technology has often taken a top-down approach – 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 Paul Wigley, from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health, said: “That chickens are so locally adapted, despite often appearing similar, does present challenges to increasing productivity.

“There is not a ‘one size fits all’ chicken for Ethiopia or any village system. It could be argued that improvements in management, the use of vaccination and improvements to disease control such as simple biosecurity measures are as important as the genetic potential of the bird. Such measures need improvements in access to information and training.”

Article: The role of local adaptation in sustainable production of village chickens by Judy M. Bettridge, Androniki Psifidi, Zelalem G. Terfa, Takele T. Desta, Maria Lozano-Jaramillo, Tadelle Dessie, Pete Kaiser, Paul Wigley, Olivier Hanotte and Robert M. Christley, published in Nature Sustainability (2018) volume 1, 574-582, doi: 10.1038/s41893-018-0150-9

[SOURCE: University of Liverpool, Royal Veterinary College]