The genetic make-up of indigenous cattle found in the Sub-Saharan African region is more resilient to climatic shocks and diseases, a study launched in Nairobi on Monday reveals.
Scientists who carried out the study that was published in the October issue of Nature Genetics said that Africa’s indigenous cattle varieties have proved highly adaptable amid evolving climatic conditions and pathogens.
“We believe these insights can be used to breed a new generation of African cattle that have some of the qualities of European and American livestock-which produce more meat and milk per animal,” said Olivier Hanotte, principal scientist at the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).
Scientists from ILRI and their counterparts from research institutes in South Korea, Britain, Sweden, and Sudan, studied the genetic traits of 172 indigenous cattle from Africa that revealed their resilience to harsh climate and diseases.
Hanotte said the research scientists embarked on “genomic time travel” that helped them gain new insight on the reasons behind the unique adaptability of African indigenous cattle.
He said that scientists involved in the study discovered that the arrival of Asian cattle breeds in East Africa 1,000 years ago and their cross-breeding with local varieties, enhanced their survival in hostile environments.
Steve Kemp, head of ILRI’s LiveGene program said the study yielded evidence that African herders commenced breeding local breeds called Taurine with the iconic Asian Zebu in the past millennia, to enhance their ability to cope with the hot and dry climate synonymous with the Horn of African region.
“You can see from studying the genomes of indigenous cattle that breeding for environmental adaptation has been the key to successful livestock production in Africa,” said Kemp.
“And that has to be factored in our future efforts to develop more productive, more sustainable animals,” he added.
Ally Okeyo Mwai, a principal scientist at ILRI who leads its African Dairy Genetic Gains Program, said the study is a wake-up call for countries to harness the resilient nature of local cattle breeds to boost food security and household incomes.
He said that climate-resilient livestock varieties are key to an adequate supply of milk and meat in a rapidly urbanizing African continent.
Jimmy Smith, ILRI director-general said the study reaffirmed that targeted livestock breeding has been instrumental in sustaining the health and wealth of African communities.
“The focus on breeding for resilience that guided past efforts provides a touchstone for future work to chart a sustainable path for livestock production in Sub-Saharan Africa,” said Smith.