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African Livestock -

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African Livestock

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The ABC acknowledges the provision of free goods and services by the not-for-profit organisation,
The Crawford Fund, which promotes and supports international agricultural research and development.

Across the developing world, pressures from climate change, increased population and loss of arable
land means farmers need all the help they can get. Paul Willis goes to Kenya where farmers are
rediscovering native livestock breeds. Traits that used to devalue indigenous cattle and sheep are
now seen in a more favourable light and local farmers are reaping the benefits of reintroducing old
breeds into new herds.

NARRATION

There's a genetic revolution on the farms of the developing world. Kenyan farmers are
re-discovering useful breeds, some of which have almost been neglected into extinction.

Dr Paul Willis

All across the developing world, pressures from climate change, increased population and loss of
arable land, means that farmers need all the help they can get, just to feed the people. And a
surprising source of help comes from the genes of unusual breeds like this one.

NARRATION

These are Ankole cattle, one of several indigenous breeds found exclusively in Africa. And here, at
the International Livestock Research Institute, indigenous breeds are the life's work of Dr Okeyo
Mwai.

Dr Okeyo Mwai

I have a passion for studying indigenous, genetic animal resources. One because they were branded
as not being very productive, and for a long time, not enough research focus was put on them. We
are talking over a hundred and fifty breeds of cattle alone in Africa.

NARRATION

There are many reasons why Africa's indigenous breeds have been ignored until recent times.

Dr Okeyo Mwai

Most of the developing countries went through a colonial phase. The indigenous animals were not
seen to be productive enough.

NARRATION

But now, the native livestock are making a comeback, as Ranch Manager, Simon Kibiru explains.

Dr Paul Willis

What sort of cattle are we looking at here, Simon?

Simon Kibiru

We're looking at the Duruma cattle.

Dr Paul Willis

They look quite small to me.

Simon Kibiru

Yeah, this breed is from very dry country, and actually the body seems to be smaller so that they
can be able to survive in the driest areas.

NARRATION

Traits that used to count against native cattle are now seen in a more favourable light. Local
farmers are reaping the benefits of re-introducing old breeds into new herds.

Dr Paul Willis

Now if I saw these in Australia, I'd think they were Brahmins, but they're not, are they?

Simon Kibiru

No, they are not Brahmins. These are East African Borans. They can withstand diseases that are
found in this area. And they are very good for meat.

NARRATION

And it's not just the cattle herds that benefit from this re-think in livestock management. Dorper
sheep are a breed developed by the South African government to grow meat quickly in arid areas. But
these Dorpers have been cross-bred with a very special local - Red Maasai sheep.

Dr Paul Willis

They don't produce wool, they've got hair, and when it comes to meat production, there are other
breeds that produce a lot more meat. But these guys have got a genetic trick which will be very
valuable, not only to African sheep farmers, but to sheep farmers around the world.

Dr Okeyo Mwai

We have found that they have a genetic ability to resist a high infestation with worms. We know
that it's inheritable, therefore it is carried within the genes of the Red Maasai.

NARRATION

Dorpers on the other hand are vulnerable to parasites, especially during times of drought.

Dr Okeyo Mwai

This animal is very anaemic.

NARRATION

Anaemia is one of the first signs of worm infestation.

Dr Okeyo Mwai

So this is a Dorper animal. It's anaemic. Lots of worms. Last year, when we had one of the worst
droughts, most of the people here lost almost sixty per cent of their Dorper herd.

NARRATION

By introducing the Red Maasai bloodline to the Dorper flock, farmers hope for the best of both
worlds - resistance to worms, while maintaining a decent body weight. It's a balancing act between
genomics and economics. Okeyo has been working with this farmer for over twenty years to improve
his flock. It all paid off during the drought, when his herd came through with fewer losses than
many of his neighbours.

Dr Paul Willis

Okeyo, I'm no sheep expert, but these sheep look to be in better condition, they look fatter than
the ones that we saw earlier on in the day, and yet the land seems to be about the same, so what's
the difference, what's happening?

Dr Okeyo Mwai

Oh, the difference is very simple. This farmer is keener, he's been doing his breeding much better.
He's more focused and started earlier returning to the Red Maasai, indigenous Red Maasai sheep.

NARRATION

Back in Nairobi, Okeyo keeps extensive stud books and other data for tracking successes and
failures over many generations. Today, he can also call upon DNA technology to assist him in the
quest for a better African flock.

Dr Okeyo Mwai

Our job is to race against time, not to lose the genes that are already there. So as the genomic
tools are becoming much more affordable, sooner or later we're beginning to have the whole sequence
of the sheep genome.

NARRATION

By pinning down these valuable indigenous genes before they become extinct, researchers hope to
bring a bit of Red Maasai toughness to sheep across the globe.