Genetic improvement, Conservation and Enhanced use of West African Ruminant Livestock


To catalyze and facilitate regional actions for coordinated efforts to conserve indigenous ruminant livestock genetic resources and improve their use in response to changing production and market circumstances.


The legendary disease tolerance of the N’Dama cattle, the West African Dwarf goat (WAD) and the Djallonke sheep of West Africa is well documented in scientific literature. The remarkable adaptation to dry and hot conditions by several Sahelian ruminant livestock breeds is also well recognized. However, only modest efforts have been made to improve these breeds and reverse their loss. National efforts on conservation and use of livestock resources have been largely sub-optimal, and there has not been much coordination or collaboration at the regional level.

ITC, CIRDES, ILRI and other regional and international organizations have implemented a number of multi-country livestock projects. There are currently two such projects: Sustainable management of endemic ruminant livestock of West Africa (‘PROGEBE’), hosted by ITC and implemented in The Gambia, Senegal, Guinea and Mali, and Introgression des gènes du bovin Zébu sahélien dans les populations trypanotolérantes Bos taurus: stratégies pour une gestion durable des races bovines trypanotolérantes en Afrique de l’Ouest, coordinated by CORAF/WECARD through INERA Burkina Faso and implemented in Benin, Burkina Faso and Mali. Many more well-funded and sustained efforts are required to meet expectations and produce the necessary impact.

Climate change, with its likely differential impacts on different eco-zones of West Africa, presents new questions for livestock production. For example, what will the Sahel look like in the future and to what extent will livestock disease complexes in the humid zone shift?

Through its work to produce State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources and other activities, FAO is leading inter-governmental processes to sensitize governments to the need to address the loss of livestock genetic diversity with its inherent adaptive capacity. These processes take time; many decisions require lengthy negotiations. In the meantime, little is being done to stem the losses – and time is running out.

Given the regional nature of many of these issues, WALIC - with its new mandate - should be in a position to use its intergovernmental convening and advocacy roles to catalyze coordinated regional actions with ECOWAS.

Main challenges

The main challenges for this thematic area include:
  1. How to effectively raise awareness among the stakeholders involved in livestock R&D about the urgent need to pay attention to loss of diversity in livestock as an important challenge of global importance.
  2. How to gather and make available, systematic and accessible formats, data, information and knowledge on indigenous livestock resources of West Africa – and to ensure that these data are used to inform the livestock R&D agenda.
  3. How to leverage national interests and capacities to create a regional momentum and capacity and coordination mechanisms to effectively harness the potential for livestock development in a way that builds on existing human and physical capacities.
  4. How to identify and harness the potential of globally available livestock resources for the benefit of specific systems in West Africa.
  5. How to resolve the tension between the conservation of indigenous livestock resources and the need to improve livestock production and productivity to meet the needs of today


Building on previous work and experience

WALIC will build on work done by ITC on an open nucleus breeding scheme for the genetic improvement of N’Dama cattle and Djallonke sheep and goats, as well as initiatives to test crossbreeding for milk production in the region. Work on goats will build on lessons from ITC’s previous initiatives and experiences by ITC on its on-farm and on-station Djallonke sheep work.

Availability of technologies

There is a great opportunity for WALIC to make significant progress in its work on genetic interventions through partnerships with organizations such as ILRI, which are in the forefront of relevant genomics and bio-informatics work, such as the application of selective breeding programmes that take advantage of new tools, such as genomic selection.

Recognition of the need for system resilience

There has been increased interest by partners in the development of approaches to increase livestock system resilience to drought and enhance food security for pastoral communities. The strategic intensification of livestock in certain areas is inevitable if the levels of production necessary to meet the anticipated demand are to be achieved. The question is how this can be done without compromising the resilience of the system and increasing the risk of loss of critical genetic diversity in indigenous livestock populations.

Key result areas

West African livestock production is characterized by diversity in the production environment – from low potential areas characterized by serious biophysical constraints to medium and high potential areas where there are opportunities for reducing biophysical challenges. In low potential areas, where endemic sheep, goats and cattle are currently kept for meat and milk production, the objective will be to gradually improve the productivity of these animals without losing their adaptation to the environment, such as tolerance or resistance to certain diseases and tolerance to heat. WALIC’s role will be to help countries define their breeding goals and strategies for their livestock improvement programmes.

In higher potential areas, especially in peri-urban systems or in wet areas where there are opportunities to control animal diseases, the objective will be to improve productivity through the use of medium to high input genetics that are based on indigenous breeds crossed with selected exotic breeds and to implement strategies to improve the delivery of feed, health, breeding services and other inputs and services.

  • Development of a regional (West African) strategy and implementation framework for the conservation and use of indigenous ruminant resources
This will involve analyzing the current situation across the region as a basis for identifying potential multi-country actions that take account of local contexts. The work will build on lessons learned from ongoing work by PROGEBE and other initiatives. The resulting framework will enumerate options, tools and approaches for conservation (in-situ and ex-situ) and use, building on the work of ITC and others, as well as analyses of breeding schemes undertaken in the region.

1.2 Enhancing the use of indigenous livestock resources

A key strategy is to develop approaches that will enhance the use of indigenous genetic resources in a diverse range of production systems. WALIC will work with other regional organizations to develop pilot projects, for example to develop guidelines and syntheses of best practices, based on work by ITC, PROGEBE and other initiatives to date. Attention will be given to developing or adapting options for the genetic improvement and use of indigenous breeds, building on lessons learned from the open nucleus breeding pilots undertaken by ITC and making these options widely available in the region. The formation of breed societies will be facilitated, as will the conservation (in-situ and ex-situ) of endangered breeds.

1.3 International evaluation of strategically selected breeds and crossbreeds

A diversity of genetic options will be explored for their usefulness in the range of production systems that are emerging in response to market opportunities. WALIC will develop a framework for undertaking international comparisons of promising breeds and crossbreeds from different regions of the world, based on performance and information on production systems. The comparisons will include genotypes that have shown promise outside of Africa as well as genotypes that have performed well on the continent. The activity could include an evaluation of the Kenana and Butana cattle of Sudan, which are considered potential African dairy breeds; the Gir and Guzera cattle, which are generally used in crossbreeding for milk production in tropical areas of Brazil; and crossbreeds (and possible composite breeds) of exotic and indigenous species for dairying in West Africa, building on work previously undertaken by ITC. Comparative genome level characterization of indigenous and selected tropical breeds will support this work and will be undertaken in collaboration with partner laboratories both inside and outside of Africa.

1.4 Development of a multilingual livestock genetic resources database for West Africa

Activities will include collection, analysis, archiving and making information available on West Africa’s livestock resources, including genetic and phenotypic data and information on production systems (including environment). The database will be available in English, French and Portuguese and will be linked to global databases: DAD-IS of FAO and DAGRIS of ILRI. Data collection will be underpinned by the development of standard on-farm recording protocols and approaches.