Improved forages for Africa

20 August 2015. The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), with partners in the UK, Colombia and Kenya bring together their leading expertise in forage breeding for animal nutrition, cutting-edge genomics and phenomics technologies to accelerate the improvement of Brachiaria, a vital livestock feed crop in central Africa and Latin America.

This project is in partnership with the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS), UK, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Colombia, and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Kenya. These activities are supported by a BBSRC International Partnering Award, which aims to support the development of long-term international collaborations, and funding from the Research Councils UK (RCUK) and British Council’s Newton Fund, which through science and innovation partnerships, promotes the economic development and welfare of poor people in partnering countries.

International expert skill-sets in genomics and bioinformatics enhance the capacity to breed improved forages for Africa. More than 80 per cent of the world’s agricultural land is for grazing to support the ever increasing demand for meat and milk for an expanding and growing urban population while boosting the income of rural families. The scarcity of grass feed is a worrying constraint standing in the way of this livestock productivity.

“Our scientists are working towards a common goal of increasing sustainable agriculture, and collaborations like this allow us to exploit our combined expertise to contribute to the important issue of food security. This project will deepen our interactions with international centres in Africa and Latin America, and improve forage breeding for livestock production.” Project lead, Sarah Ayling, Crop Genomics and Diversity Group Leader at TGAC

Some Brachiaria species have been cultivated as forage grasses, providing nutrition for ruminants

across the globe. As well as nutrition, the grasses have desirable genetic characteristics linked to drought and pest-resistance and adaptation to poor and acidic soils. Over the past 25 years, several African species of Brachiaria have been used commercially as forages in the tropics; the most widely sown forage plant in tropical America.

With its combined high nutritional value and stress resistant properties, the Brachiaria breeding programme at CIAT is crossing different species to produce new varieties with superior traits. A particular Brachiaria species, B. decumbens, grants resistance to aluminium, which has a high concentration in acid soils. Most low-income livestock keepers live in tropical grasslands in countries in central Africa with great grazing potential but are vulnerable due to the growing problem of increasing acid soils and longer extreme weather seasons.

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