Feeds and nutrition, community-based sheep breeding and reproduction technologies were the focus of the November 2016 field day in Doyogena, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples region (SNNPR) of Ethiopia. Hosted by the Areka Agricultural Research Center, the event brought farmers and others together from the Doyogena, Ancha Sedicho and Hewora kebeles where sheep farming is the mainstay of livestock production.
Community-based breeding programs (CBBP) were introduced to Doyogena farmers in 2013 and, since then, 487 farmers have joined up. Improved feeding and nutrition strategies for ram fattening have introduced and tested by more than 150 CBBP members who undertook two fattening cycles in 2015 and 2016. More recently, reproduction technologies including artificial insemination (AI) and estrus synchronization have been introduced to farmers. The projects are coordinated by ICARDA Scientists, Aynalem Haile, Jane Wamatu and Rekik Mourad together with Areka researchers led by Deribe Gemiyo, Addisu Jimma and Kifle Tawle.
The field day got under way with welcoming remarks from Tsegaye Bekele, Areka Center Director who noted that the 2016 field day agenda reflected the latest efforts of the research center in addressing livestock problems at grass root levels with collaboration of various local and international organizations. “This year’s program is filled with vital information for all livestock producers,” he said.
The field day attracted more than 200 farmers as well as Agricultural Bureau officers, national researchers, development workers, extension workers, and government administration officers. The day consisted of tours of research and demonstration plots, accompanied by animated discussion among livestock officers and farmers.
Participants visited farmers’ fields where they saw demonstrations of different faba bean varieties bred for their dual purpose, food-feed traits as well as fodder oats and vetch varieties. Discussions included utilization of faba bean hay as livestock feed as it is a commonly grown food crop in the area. Deribe Gemiyo explained that the aim of forage legume production is to boost the forage base for integration with sheep breed improvement. This session showed the power of an integrated approach employing multi-disciplinary efforts of animal nutritionists, crop breeders and agronomists to achieve multi-dimensional crop improvement.
Farmers and other attendees were particularly concerned about pure seed production and sustainable forage seed supply system. Areka ARC is currently undertaking varietal verification with farmers to identify options acceptable to farmers and for ultimate multiplication and distribution to scale.
Farmers were encouraged to organize themselves into groups or cooperatives and start selling forage seeds to other localities. In an effort to improve forage legume seed supply and sustainable production, Areka ARC and CBBP members agreed a memorandum to produce and multiply forage seed. Currently, farmers are receiving training on utilization of forage legumes, use of alternative feed resources and sheep fattening strategies.
The Doyogena sheep flock is productive and produces many young. However, nutrition limitations lead to reproductive wastage (abortion, weak birth, still birth and pre-weaning stunt growth and mortality) and poor growth rates of lambs. In view of this, ICARDA recently introduced AI and estrus synchronization reproductive technologies to shorten lambing intervals, adjust times of lambing to periods of feed availability and reduce reproductive wastage. An additional benefit is the possibility to increase the numbers of lambs with similar ages and sizes within batches so as to facilitate ram selection for genetic improvement and market opportunities for lambs of similar ages.
AI technology for sheep, the first in Ethiopia, is being pioneered in two sheep breeding cooperatives in Ancha Sadicho and Hawora Arara. The increasing tendency towards market-oriented sheep farming by Doyogena farmers has increased the interests of farmers to reap benefits from multiple births and thus to try out these new technologies.
Zonal Livestock and Fisheries Department heads in attendance emphasized the importance that these reproductive technologies be scaled out. Desta Gabriel, from the Regional Bureau of Livestock and Fishery promised to provide ultrasound machines that can be used for sheep pregnancy diagnosis for some zones of the region. This was in response to concerns raised by the Head of the Livestock and Fishery office for Wolaita zone who highlighted the difficulty of pregnancy diagnosis in livestock. Scanning identifies pregnant and non-pregnant females after completion of the mating season. It offers i) an opportunity for re-mating; ii) culling of non-fertile females; and iii) timely planning of conditions for birth.
At the end of the day, general discussions between farmers and livestock officers were held and chaired by the Southern Agricultural Research Institute Director General, Nigussie Dana. The main challenge raised was how to scale up the reproductive technologies in view of the shortage of trained personnel. This calls for concerted efforts by Ministry of Agriculture and research. So far core teams of national technical staff (veterinarians and animal production specialists) have been trained by ICARDA on machine use, interpretation of ultrasound images, and data valorization in Ethiopia.
In his closing remarks, the Nigussie acknowledged all stakeholders who contributed to the success of livestock interventions in the region. He particularly recognized the consistent commitment of ICARDA in improving sheep production in the region over the past five years.
Story by Jane Wamatu, ICARDA with contributions from Deribe Gemiyo, Addisu Jimma and Kifle Tawle from the Areka ARC.
The activity was funded through the Livestock and Fish CRP and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)-funded SmaRT Ethiopia Project – Improving the Performance of Pro-Poor Sheep and Goat Value Chains for Enhanced Livelihoods, Food and Nutrition Security in Ethiopia.