Researchers set to find low aggression genes for grasscutter domestication

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Participants at the Ghana Grasscutter Workshop
Participants at the Ghana Grasscutter Workshop
Spining

Miho Murayama, a Professor at the Kyoto University in Japan, has hinted of the possibility of finding genes with characteristics of low aggression to aid grasscutter domestication.

According to the Professor, a joint research between Kyoto University, the National Institute of Genetics and the University of Edinburgh made great progress in the genome analysis of grasscutter in the past three years and they were expecting to find the gene in the near future.

Prof. Murayama who is also the Manager of the Grasscutter Initiative for Rural Transformation (GIFT) gave the hint in a virtual presentation at the Ghana Grasscutter workshop held in Wa under the theme: “Grasscutter meat processing and value addition”.

She said finding the genes was important because high aggression among grasscutters was an obstacle in terms of domestication as it could lead to injuries and death of the animals.

Prof. Murayama said at the beginning of the project (April 2018), there were 225 animals to be domesticated, adding that during the three years, 144 animals were introduced and distributed.

She said there were 171 new borns, 208 died, 135 sold, 14 were consumed leaving 183 animals at the end of the first term (March 2021) of the Ajinomoto project.

The GIfT Project Manager noted that income realised from the 135 animals sold was used for food, education, and expenditure for breeding.
She said grasscutter meat was more expensive than other livestock, adding that, the money realised from grasscutter can be used for cheaper meals, which help improve nutrition.

“From the farmers’ story, they can use the income for purposes either than food such as paying of school fees and that motivated the farmers to keep rearing grasscutters”, she added.

Prof. Murayama said for sensitization, they distributed posters explaining nutritional balance among basic school students and farmers and expressed the hope that the knowledge would be shared with their families.

She said activities in the first term included an increase in grasscutter breeding support, genome-based domestication, increase in the number of grasscutters, increase in income, improved nutritional knowledge, and increase in the number of farmers and communities.

For the second term, the Project Manager said they were looking forward to improving nutritional knowledge at homes and elementary schools, support for grasscutter breeding, and establishment of meat processing technology.

Prof. Murayama said the project goal was to create a system in which the farmers association will take the initiative in rearing the grasscutter and making a profit independently whilst raising funds jointly.

Prof. Tsuyoshi Koide, Mouse Genomics Resources Laboratory, National Institute of Genetics, also in a virtual presentation on the topic, “Analysis of Gene and Genomes in Grasscutter”, highlighted the problems with edible grasscutters in West Africa.

They included overhunting of wild animals, environmental destruction due to hunting (bush burning, poisoning), and risk of infectious diseases such as Ebola virus and COVID-19.

He said these problems could be solved through domesticating grasscutters and in doing this, they were trying to establish a new livestock industry in West Africa.

Dr Christipher Adenyo, a Research Fellow at the University of Ghana and the GIfT Project Coordinator, in a virtual presentation said grasscutter rearing offered several benefits including delicious meat, high quality protein, ready market, good price, source of extra income, less space for keeping and cheap feeding from grass.

He mentioned the issue of housing, feeding and nutrition, health, tameness/calmness, litter size, and body weight/growth as some of the areas that required improvement and that this could be addressed through enhanced domestication, improved breed, and more protein.

Dr Adenyo said water was critical for pregnancy and lactation among grasscutters, noting that research showed that lack of water increases the incidence of stillbirth.

Prof. Boniface B. Kayang, University of Ghana, lauded the research on pito mash and urged the farmers to use it to feed their grasscutters for improved nutrition and better yield.
Mr Titus Dery, a Senior Research Assistant and the Upper West Regional Manager of the GIfT Project, said the project covered 10 districts in the Upper West Region since 2014.

He took the farmers through a demonstration exercise to let them understand some of the processed grasscutter products including jerky, canned grasscutter meat, and fermented dried grasscutter meat.

The GIfT Project was formed in 2017 with sponsorship from Ajinomoto Foundation and Innovate UK to continue with the activities sponsored by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in the period of 2014 to 2016.

The collaborative Institutions are the University of Ghana, Kyoto University, University of Edinburgh, Kagawa University, the National Institute of Genetics, and Gifu University among others.

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