ACGG / Africa / Agriculture / Breeds / Chickens / Ethiopia / Farming Systems / Genetics / Indigenous Breeds / Launch / LiveGene / LIVESTOCKFISH / Nigeria / Project / Spotlight / Tanzania

New project promises more productive chickens for Africa’s smallholders


Irma Stern, Zanzibar Woman with Chicken, 1957 (via Wikiart).

Regard it as just as desirable to build a chicken house as to build a cathedral.
—Frank Lloyd Wright

The most common of all the world’s livestock species, and till now one of the least attended to by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), is flying straight into ILRI’s research agenda for Africa through a new five-year African Chicken Genetic Gains (ACGG) project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The project involves several institutions and will run from 2014 to 2019. It will work to genetically improve Africa’s chickens and to better deliver the superior chickens to small-scale farmers. It has four main aims: reduce poverty, raise productivity, increase consumption of animal protein in poor households and empower rural women. Beyond the project’s three target countries—Ethiopia, Nigeria and Tanzania—the germplasm, data and knowledge generated should also benefit millions of poor households in other countries where backyard chicken production remains a mainstay of rural and peri-urban livelihoods.

Employing the latest technologies in ‘new genetics’, the multidisciplinary and multi-institutional project team will work with national experts and partners to improve Africa’s local breeds—with the aim of producing pre-vaccinated high-producing birds with low-feed requirements and well-suited to local conditions—and to speed their delivery to those who need them most. The project will also be working with farmers to test their preferences for “exotic” strains, especially those from India, and where these are preferred, to enhance farmer access to the strains and potentially improve the strains in-line with farmer preferences.

The African Chicken Genetic Gains project plans to leverage existing research and innovative approaches to develop and supply improved chicken genetics for the poultry value chains of the three target countries. The project will emphasize:

    1. High-producing birds well-adapted to low-input production systems
    2. Farmer preferred breeds
    3. Innovation platforms to help develop and spread solutions across value chains
    4. Public-private partnerships to advance the breeding, multiplication and delivery work
    5. Targetting poor women

The project will work to achieve all of the following:

  • Data-driven and culturally relevant understanding of the types of chickens poor farmers, especially women, prefer
  • A productive multi-country network of public-private partnerships for long-term chicken genetic improvement that employs modern tools to drive accelerated genetic gains and to deliver more productive, farmer-preferred breeds
  • Smallholders access to their preferred local breeds that have been pre-vaccinated and genetically enhanced so as to be at least 200% more productive
  • Evidence that adoption of the improved chicken genotypes indeed leads to significantly increased production, productivity, income, and household consumption of animal-source foods among smallholders
  • Evidence of increased empowerment of women smallholder farmers in chicken value chains

First announced during one of ILRI’s 40-year anniversary events on 1 November 2014 (when the project was officially funded), the project actually officially kicked off 18–19 May 2015 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. At the project’s first management team meting, all the partners promised strong integration across all three countries and all thematic teams. Tadelle Dessie, an Ethiopian animal geneticist and breeder based at ILRI’s campus in Addis Ababa, is leading the project, which contributes to ILRI’s global livestock genetics program, LiveGene. Dessie spelt out the broad outlines of ACGG at the project management meeting in a slide presentation (below).

In addition to ILRI, the main partners in the ACGG project are Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria supported technically by the Federal University of Agriculture, in Abeokuta, Nigeria (FUNAAB); the Tanzania Livestock Research Institute (TALIRI) supported technically by Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in Tanzania; the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) in Ethiopia; the Animal Breeding and Genetics Centre at Wageningen University and Research Centre, in the Netherlands (Wageningen UR); and PICO Eastern Africa.

Find out more about the ACGG project

See all the slide presentations made at the first ACGG project management meeting (May 2015):

African Chicken Genetic Gains: A platform for testing, delivering, and continuously improving tropically-adapted chickens for productivity growth in sub-Saharan Africa

Long term genetic gains implementation plan for the African Chicken Genetic Gains

Facilitating partnerships and institutional engagements for effective implementation of the African Chicken Genetic Gains program

Baseline activities and data management for the African Chicken Genetic Gains program

Communications and knowledge management in the African Chicken Genetic Gains program

5 thoughts on “New project promises more productive chickens for Africa’s smallholders

  1. Africa´s chicken have been able to feed African population for hundred of millions of years. Why do we need to improve chickens? Why teaching these population to increase consumption of animal proteins? What is the need for it? I deplore this aggressive, american style Über-agra attitute which with the excuse of addressing “poor women” needs (which would much better be taken care by absence of wars, not by genetically artificially modified food…) I suspect is really just perpetrating USA big agra interests among populations which may not be as educyted on the topic as other.

    • Thank you for your comment. Food security exists “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life” (, but up to 2 billion people globally experience food insecurity due to low food quantity and quality. Furthermore, children under five are significantly impacted by food insecurity with 37.4% of children in sub-Saharan Africa being stunted and 21.0% underweight (UNICEF/WHO/World Bank, 2013).

      While we agree with you that the causes and potential solutions to food insecurity are many in number, we believe that increased production of chicken products at the smallholder level can be a significant contributor to improved food security in sub-Saharan Africa. The main outputs from family chicken production, meat and eggs, are a regular source of high value nutrition for home consumption with eggs alone providing zinc, folate, vitamins D, E, K, and A, and selenium. With nearly 40% of global chicken exports going to Africa and the Middle East (Rabobank, 2013), there is also a tremendous opportunity for income growth through the sale of chicken products.

      While we believe that we need to realize the potential for increased productivity of chicken production in sub-Saharan Africa, we also agree that there is significant potential in existing chicken populations in Africa. Therefore, ACGG as a development based research program, will identify and evaluate the performance of a wide range of chicken strains, a number of which will come from Africa, to determine their ability to produce eggs and meat while being kept in smallholder management conditions. Just for clarification, ACGG puts environmental sustainability high on its agenda and refrains from using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and hybrids. Furthermore, only strains preferred and identified by Africa’s smallholder farmers will be selected for wide multiplication, distribution, and sale. We also agree that promoting small to medium-sized businesses in local economies contributes to the reduction of poverty and food insecurity, and therefore, ACGG is targeting partnerships with local and regional businesses in Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Tanzania.

      All research methodologies followed by ACGG go through ILRI’s Institutional ethics committee and will be implemented in accordance with international agreements (Convention on Biological Diversity Nagoya Protocols).

  2. really a nice and well organized project to help poor rural women and young girls in ethiopia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.