Africa is gearing up to mitigate the impact of climate change and global warming on animal health and production by establishing animal resources seed centres of excellence.
The objective is to conserve livestock genetic materials, with a focus on endangered indigenous animals.
“The centres of excellence will be an improvement of existing regional gene banks in Uganda (East) Africa), Botswana (Southern Africa), Burkina Faso (West Africa), Chad (Central Africa) and Tunisia (North Africa),” the African Union – InterAfrican Bureau for Animal Resources said in a statement.
Several players from the sector, including farmers and policy makers, met in Nairobi on Thursday and Friday to craft a business model and governance structure to operationalize the centres of excellence.
The centres will apart from storage, also conduct research, training in molecular characterization and gene conservation, and promote best practices in gene banks. They will also create awareness on advantages of indigenous genes.
The Nairobi workshop organized by AU-IBAR to develop a roadmap to rolling out the seed centres of excellence and a resource mobilization action plan.
Dr. Mary Kariuki a technology, innovations and skills development expert at AU-IBAR, said unlike the gene banks, the centres will ensure a knowledge-based economy and sustainable utilization of indigenous gene resources.
“Climate change is here with us and we need genes that are resilient to extreme weather events like droughts and cold weather. Unfortunately, Africa is fast losing its indigenous genes that can withstand these climatic conditions and that is why we need the centres of excellence to effectively address the situation,” Kariuki said.
Speaking on the sidelines of the workshop, Kariuki said the animal resources seed centres of excellence will also assist countries to develop national conservation strategies, and promote knowledge sharing.
AU-BAR provided equipment worth $1.4 million through the European Union funded genetics project to the regional gene banks that will be upgraded into centres of excellence.
Prof. Anne Muigai, a lecturer of genetics at Jkuat, cites the African’s perception that exotic animal are better as the main reason behind the loss of indigenous breeds which are more resilient to the current climatic conditions.
“As a result of cross-breeding and discarding of indigenous animals we ended up with exotic breeds which cannot survive in the current environment. We have to recalibrate and go back to our indigenous animals to be able to adapt to climate change whose impact is already being felt in the livestock sector,” she said.
Indigenous livestock are very resilient and are fully adapted to the environment and are able to withstand even extreme heat. On the other hand, an equivalent exotic breed like Ayrshire will become stressed, thirsty and sweaty when temperatures are high and this have effect on production.
“In Africa just like across the globe, climate change has meant that we have fewer, shorter and unpredictable rainy seasons. This has led to frequent droughts, lack of water and high temperatures. The animals we had discarded are the once which are fully adapted to these conditions. An increase in temperature by 1 degree centigrade will not kill these animals,” noted Prof. Muigai.
The gene banks were established in 2017 to boost livestock production by conserving genetic materials of indigenous animals. They have, however, not been successful due to their limited mandate.