Community-based livestock breeding

The Ethiopian government has adopted ICARDA’s community-based livestock breeding strategy to boost smallholder productivity.
The Ethiopian government has adopted ICARDA’s community-based livestock breeding strategy to boost smallholder productivity.

Modern livestock breeding methods are often unsuitable for poor households with small flocks of sheep and goats. ICARDA and its partners have developed a more sustainable alternative: community-based breeding programs focused on indigenous breeds, and suited to smallholder conditions.

Community-based breeding programs have proved highly successful in Bolivia, Ethiopia, Mexico, and Peru. The same approach can be used in other countries, to improve the incomes and livelihoods of poor communities in remote areas.

Community-based breeding increases the productivity and profitability of indigenous breeds without undermining their resilience and genetic integrity, and without expensive (and potentially diversity-reducing) interventions.


  • Farmer training to improve selection methods – for example, retaining fast-growing ram lambs for breeding, rather than selling them young
  • Pooling community flocks to create a large gene pool from which breeding rams can be selected
  • Farmer-scientist interactions to evaluate different breeding options and thus facilitate informed decisions on flock management
  • Setting up a recording system to monitor the performance of individual animals, leading to continuous genetic improvement.

The role of scientists is catalytic and is focused on integrating scientific knowledge and methods with traditional management practices to help farmers make the right decisions and, ultimately, reach their breeding goals. The approach is also integrated, taking into consideration genetics, nutrition, health, input supply, services, and market access.

Results have been particularly impressive in Ethiopia, where a partnership involving ICARDA, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), and the Ethiopian National Agricultural Research System designed and implemented community-based sheep and goat breeding programs targeting 3200 households in 40 villages.

At three sites – in Bonga, Horro and Menz – the scheme generated a 20 percent average increase in farmer incomes from sheep. Farmers have also created some 35 formal breeders’ cooperatives – which have been able to build capital from investments, including the buying of rams and bucks. The Bonga cooperative, for instance, has capital of around 60,000 USD.

Following this success, ICARDA’s approach to community-based breeding has now been integrated into the country’s national livestock plan. Regional authorities in Southern Nations and Amhara are also investing money in community-based breeding, and a new World Bank-funded national livestock program is up-scaling community-based approaches for small ruminants.