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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

UC Davis begins breeding poultry for impoverished Africans

Africa could be receiving some new hot, healthy chicks if Davis scientists have anything to say about it. Researchers from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis and the School of Veterinary Medicine are working on creating disease-resistant, heat-resistant chickens for hunger-prone areas of Africa. In particular, the work focuses on fighting Newcastle disease, which kills 750 million chickens every year.

“Newcastle disease is the number one disease that kills chickens throughout most of the developing world, so across Africa, South [and] Central America and across much of Asia. Newcastle disease kind of sweeps through rural villages once or twice a year and kills most of the chickens,” said David Bunn, director of the effort called Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry.

With new technology and innovative genomics, the team hopes to breed fowl suitable for the most affected areas. This isn’t genetic modification, but it’s a step up from traditional breeding. They examined local birds that can withstand heat and incorporated what they know of the genotype of American chickens that can resist disease.

“What we’re doing is … we’re going to be looking at three local breeds in East Africa … and then we’re looking at three breeds in Ghana, which is in West Africa … because we’re really hunting for genes and so we want to look at a diverse set of birds,” Bunn said.

In the United States, the collaboration with Iowa State aims to identify genes in American poultry that cause resistance to Newcastle disease.

While it may seem more logical to solve global hunger with energy-rich plants rather than needy animals, chicks bring in a lot of money for a community.

“The exciting thing about this project is that poultry is a very good income generation opportunity for small-scale agricultural producers … The poultry sector … is likely to grow in demand over time,” said Josette Lewis, associate director of the World Food Center at UC Davis.

Further, chickens don’t require much land or other resources, allowing them to be raised easily in rural and suburban areas.

When you crack the case, it’s not just about the food. Chickens create income for impoverished areas. In Africa, women and children often raise poultry for sustenance and salary. If chickens could be resistant to Newcastle disease and the heat of the desert, these women and children could have reliable means of nutrition and financial security.

Naftali Moed, a second-year environmental policy analysis and planning major, understands the importance of agriculture over industry in the developing world.

“The key thing that makes agriculture different from other means of revenue generation is that it enables communities to become more internally sufficient and independent by providing people with control of their food source. It is this empowering aspect of agriculture to enable individuals to gain more control over their food and ultimately their society that is critical with regards to agriculture in impoverished areas,” Moed said.

As our population increases beyond all limits, strains on our food system will become more noticeable. There is a way, however, to minimize the pressure. When the famished can feed themselves while making a profit, global hunger will begin to disappear. A few chickens can make a huge difference, and that should have a lot of people feeling sunny side up.


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