Genetic Characterisation of Indigenous Cattle Breeds in Zambia

Genetic Characterisation of Indigenous Cattle Breeds in Zambia

The livestock Node has been carrying out a project on the genetic characterisation of indigenous Zambian cattle breeds. Characterisation of three of the four indigenous cattle breeds namely the Angoni, Barotse and the Tonga has been completed. Characterisation of the Baila is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

The primary objective of the project is to conserve indigenous breeds of cattle which are better adapted to the local environment against both disease and unfavourable climatic conditions, but under threat of extinction and gene dilution due to years of crossbreeding. While earlier works on characterisation used Randomly Amplified Polymorphic DNA, the SSR-based DNA sequencing offers a better data reproducibility, critical for conservation purposes, as the project goes a step further in creating and consolidating a germplasm of nuclei of the indigenous pure cattle breeds.

The livestock sub-sector in Zambia contributes significantly to GDP protein source as well as income for the betterment of rural livelihood. While this is the case, however, disease outbreaks as well as periodic droughts continue to pose a threat to this sector especially for rural small scale farmers.

Indigenous livestock are known to be more tolerant and resistant to withstand adverse climatic conditions and disease compared to their exotic counterparts. However, recent years have seen an epitome in crossbreeding of indigenous livestock breeds with more superior exotic breeds in pursuit of enhanced animal productivity. While this has yielded positive results from one end, a threat is posed from the other against livestock survival in view of the visibly changing climatic conditions and episodes of disease outbreak. This said, the loss of genetic diversity within indigenous livestock breeds has been a major concern partially blamed on indiscriminate crossbreeding or even replacement of local breeds. 

The four important indigenous breeds in Zambia are the Angoni, Barotse, Baila and the Tonga.  Three of the four have so far been genetically characterized by DNA sequencing technique, using recommended ISAG microsatellites. This work has been done by the National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research (NISIR) in collaboration with the University of Zambia (UNZA), and with technical corporation support from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Characterisation of the Baila is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Read more