Community-based breeding programs

Livestock market shed in Ethiopia
Livestock market shed in Ethiopia

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

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

The approach is participatory, relatively cheap and implemented directly by the farmers, unlike the often-unsuccessful conventional breeding programs involving nucleus schemes and/or importation of exotic breeds for crossbreeding. It is also integrated, taking into consideration genetics, nutrition, health, input supply, services, and market access.



  • Farmers are trained to improve selection methods – i.e. retaining fast-growing ram lambs for breeding, rather than selling them 

  • Community flocks are pooled to enlarge the gene pool from which breeding rams/bucks can be selected

  • Farmer-scientist interactions enable evaluation of different breeding options and informed decisions on flock management

  • A digital recording system monitors the performance of individual animals, leading to continuous genetic improvement



In Ethiopia, where ICARDA has partnered with ILRI, the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), and the Ethiopian National Agricultural Research System, 5000 households have directly benefited from CBBPs. The program is generating a 20 percent average increase in farmer incomes. 

Farmers have also created 40 formal breeders' cooperatives – which have been able to build capital from investments, including the buying of rams and bucks. One cooperative in southwest Ethiopia, for instance, has generated a capital of around US$ 96,000.

Successes of ICARDA's approach to community-based breeding has now been integrated into the country's national livestock plan. Through World Bank funding, the Ethiopian government and regional authorities are investing in the upscale of CBBP in the country. 

The suitability of the program within different production systems and measurable genetic gains and socioeconomic impacts have drawn the interest of local and international investors and governments. CBBP is now being implemented in Sudan, Iran, Uganda, Malawi, Liberia, South Africa, Tanzania and Burkina Faso.