The poultry industry is the fastest-growing sector in African agriculture, with an annual growth rate of 6%, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Several diseases, low production and high mortality pose challenges that can be overcome by next-generation genetics.
The African poultry industry employs more than 50 million people across the continent and has a market value of more than US$16 billion. As a result, Africa is home to millions of poultry farmers, most of whom are small-scale farmers who rely on their birds for food and money. However, the African poultry sector has various obstacles to overcome, including disease outbreaks, low productivity and high mortality rates.
Nevertheless, a fresh era of genetic technology is offering hope for the future of African poultry agriculture in response to these obstacles. Genome editing and genomic selection will enable breeders to choose favourable qualities with more accuracy and speed than traditional breeding approaches, resulting in faster genetic development, better disease resistance and enhanced feed efficiency.
Disease outbreaks, which continue to be a major threat to African poultry farmers, have the ability to wipe out entire flocks and cause enormous economic losses. For example, the avian influenza outbreak in Nigeria, which began in 2021, resulted in the death of millions of birds and severe economic damage. In addition to disease outbreaks, small-scale chicken farmers in Africa are dealing with low production, poor feed conversion and high death rates. These difficulties frequently result in poor incomes, food insecurity and slower economic growth in rural areas.
African poultry breeding programmes further encounter management issues. Many breeding programmes lack the necessary infrastructure, technical expertise and funding required to manage them efficiently. This can lead to poor record-keeping and inadequate selection criteria, resulting in limited genetic progress. Despite these obstacles, African poultry breeding efforts have had considerable success. Through selective breeding, for example, certain breeding programmes have been successful in increasing the productivity and disease resistance of local poultry populations. These achievements show that African poultry breeding projects have the potential to contribute to food security and economic growth in the region.
Next-generation genetics, such as genome editing and genomic selection, offer great opportunities for African poultry farmers, enabling them to increase their birds’ genetic potential and alleviate some of the industry’s issues. Breeders can use these technologies to select desirable features with more accuracy and speed than traditional breeding approaches, leading to faster genetic development, better disease resistance and enhanced feed efficiency.
Genome editing and genomic selection are 2 strategies that are transforming animal breeding, particularly in African poultry breeding programmes. Genome editing is a technique that allows scientists to make exact modifications to an organism’s DNA. It entails the use of enzymes that can cut DNA at specific locations, allowing for the insertion, deletion or replacement of genetic material. For example, scientists at The University of Edinburgh, Scotland, recently employed genome editing to generate avian flu-resistant chickens. The researchers were able to prevent the virus from replicating in the chicken’s cells by deleting a section of its DNA, thereby making the bird immune to the disease.
Genomic selection, on the other hand, is a strategy that analyses DNA information to predict an animal’s breeding value. It entails analysing thousands of genetic markers spread across the genome, which can be used to determine an individual bird’s genetic value. By choosing the best animals for breeding and shortening the generation interval, this method has the ability to accelerate the genetic progress of poultry.
Both genome editing and genomic selection have benefits and drawbacks. They can also be employed in combination to produce the best outcomes. Genome editing can be used to introduce new genetic variants into a population, while genomic selection can be used to identify the best-breeding individuals.
However, genome editing is costly and time-consuming and may have unforeseen consequences for the genome. Genomic selection, however, relies on the notion that genetic markers are associated with the traits of interest, which is not always the case. Despite these limitations, genome editing and genomic selection are effective techniques for improving the efficiency and sustainability of African poultry breeding programmes. They can help small-scale farmers to enhance their productivity and profitability while decreasing the environmental impact of poultry production.
Adopting next-generation genetics in African poultry breeding programmes has the potential to enhance the sector by boosting bird genetic potential, reducing disease outbreaks and increasing small-scale farmer profitability. Farmers can achieve long-term increases in productivity and improvements in animal welfare while decreasing their environmental impact by incorporating these technologies in breeding programmes. The following are some of the ways genome editing and genomic selection can transform African poultry breeding programmes:
Disease resistance: Genome editing will enable scientists to create disease-resistant poultry breeds. This minimises the need for antibiotics and other medications, resulting in healthier and safer food products. Genomic selection will also aid in the identification of genetic markers linked to disease resistance, making it easier to pick birds with desirable characteristics.
Improved feed conversion: Poultry breeds genetically selected for higher feed conversion ratios will have greater feed efficiency and use less feed to produce the same amount of meat or number of eggs. This will result in lower production costs and increased profitability for farmers.
Increased productivity: Due to genomic selection, farmers will be able to select birds with desirable features, such as faster growth rates, more egg production and better meat quality. This will eventually lead to increased productivity and profitability for farmers, as well as enhanced food security for the continent.
Shortened generation intervals: Genomic selection reduces the time required to produce a new generation of birds. This will enable farmers to raise more birds in a shorter period of time, enhancing production and profitability.
Improved accuracy of breeding values: Genomic selection improves the accuracy of estimated breeding values, making it easier to pick birds with desirable traits. This will result in more rapid genetic advancement and higher output.
In summary, genome editing and genomic selection will provide various benefits to the African poultry breeding industry. They will boost disease resistance, feed conversion, productivity, and breeding value precision. These advantages will enhance farmer profitability and improve the continent’s food security.
There are various hopeful initiatives and recommendations that can help to enhance the impact of African poultry breeding programmes as they continue to employ genomic selection and genome editing technologies. However, more research is needed to understand the genetic basis of important traits in African poultry to be able to fully exploit the promise of genomic selection and genome editing. Studies may aid in the identification of new targets for genome editing, as well as the precision of genomic selection. On top of this, African poultry breeding programmes could benefit from international partners who have experience with genomic selection and genome editing.
These collaborative efforts can help to disseminate knowledge and technology while also providing access to new genetic resources. It is important to note that genomic selection and genome editing generate massive volumes of data that must be managed and analysed. African poultry breeding programmes should invest in data management and analytic infrastructure to ensure that these technologies are effectively used.
Disease is a key concern for African poultry farmers, and breeding programmes should prioritise disease resistance. Disease-resistant genes can be introduced into chickens using genome editing, and disease-resistant birds can be selected via genomic selection. As with any new technology, genomic selection and genome editing bring ethical and regulatory concerns that must be addressed. African poultry breeding programmes need to work with authorities and stakeholders to develop guidelines and rules to guarantee that these technologies are used responsibly.
Overall, genomic selection and genome editing have the potential to change African poultry breeding programmes and increase the production and sustainability of the poultry industry. By investing in research, working with international partners, developing infrastructure for data management, focusing on disease resistance, along with considering ethical and regulatory issues, African poultry breeders can maximise the benefits of these technologies and help meet the growing demand for poultry products in the region.