Livestock Research for Rural Development 29 (11) 2017 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

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A review on the pradox of goat characterizations and their consequences on the development of the goat sector in Ethiopia

S Oumer and T Firew1

Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Assosa University, P O Box 18, Assosa, Ethiopia
1 Department of Animal Production and Technology, College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Bahir Dar University, P O Box 79, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia


Several goat characterizations and development projects have been undertaken since the beginning of goat research in Ethiopia. Hence, it is important to review their consequences on the development of the goat sector by assessing the outputs generated to-date. The purpose of this review was to provide an overview on the paradox of goat characterizations and their consequences on the development of the goat sector in Ethiopia.

From this review, it is clear that numerous phenotypic and genetic characterizations and goat development projects, aimed at improving productivity of indigenous goats, have been undertaken for the past two decades. A wealth of information and a number of technologies have been generated. Some of the characterization works haven been published in different journals. However, there are also gaps in goat characterization efforts and development works that need to be addressed. The primary attempt in phenotypic characterization should be to categorize goats at the district level into one of the recognized breeds by comparing their characteristics with those described nationally and regionally. Only limited activities on genetic characterization in general and gene level characterization in particular have been conducted on indigenous goat breeds. Most of the implemented goat development projects lacked clear targets aligned to the production environments and farmers’ objectives, functional institutional synergies and exit strategies. This calls for a restructuring of the entire goat characterization and research and development platform in the country.

Key words: development works, molecular, phenotypic


With the current goat population size of 29 million (FAOSTAT 2014), Ethiopia stands third in Africa and sixth in the world accounting for 9% and 3% of the African and global goat population, respectively. The majority of the goat population is found in large flocks in the arid and semi-arid lowlands where pastoralists in the south, east, and west keep them for milk production, for slaughter and for sale. Goats in the highlands are widely distributed in the mixed crop-livestock production systems with very small flock size as a means of cash earnings and meat (Tesfaye 2004; Solomon et al 2014).

So far, a series of goat development programs and projects and a number of research activities on characterizations of the production system, phenotypic and molecular characterization were conducted in research centers and universities in the past two decades to evaluate and improve the productivity of the indigenous goats (Solomon et al 2014). However, the productivity and the contribution of goat to the country’s economy is far below the potential (IBC 2004). Therefore, the objective of this review paper was to provide an overview on the paradox of goat characterization and its consequence on the development of the goat sector in Ethiopia.

Goat genetic resources of Ethiopia and their productive characteristics
Goat genetic resources of Ethiopia

Ethiopia is regarded as a reservoir of livestock genetic diversity following being the gate way in to Africa (IBC 2004). The country is endowed with a large population of goats (29 million) (FAOSTAT 2014) in which most of them are indigenous (99.77%) (CSA 2012) and are reared in diverse production and agro-ecological systems (Tesfaye 2004).

Based on physical descriptions and microsatellite genotyped data, Ethiopian goat genetic resources were classified in to 14 (FARM-Africa 1996) and eight clusters (Tesfaye 2004), respectively. The 14 goat populations were further regrouped into four family groups based on phenotypic description and geographic location and into two groups based on the production system, and three groups based on the agro-ecological location of the goats (Table 1) (FARM-Africa 1996). A family is a group of breeds that are genetically more related and physically more similar than breeds outside the group. The families and breeds are named after their geographical location, the ethnic communities maintaining them, or based on some identifying physical features (ESGPIP 2009). Breeds are also not bounded by political boundaries and the same breed can be present in different countries for example the Barka goat in Eritrea (known as Begayit in Ethiopia) and Nuer in Sudan (ESGPIP 2009).

Table 1. Summary of sampled goat populations and their classification (FARM-Africa 1996)

S. No



Production system



Small eared Somali



Arid and Semi-arid


Long eared Somali



Arid and Semi-arid


Hararghe Highland


Mixed livestock




Rift valley


Arid and Semi-arid



Rift valley

Mixed livestock




Rift valley


Arid and Semi-arid


Arsi-Bale goat

Rift valley

Mixed livestock





Mixed livestock

Arid and Semi-arid



Small East African

Mixed livestock




Small East African

Mixed livestock




Small East African

Mixed livestock




Small East African

Mixed livestock




Small East African

Mixed livestock





Mixed livestock

Arid and Semi-arid

Though their number is limited to 0.23% (CSA 2012), some exotic goat breeds (Anglo-Nubian and Toggenberg) and Boer goat semen are introduced with the aim of improving milk and meat production of the local goat breeds. Thus, crossbreeds between Anglo-Nubian and Hararghe Highland and Anglo-Nubian and Somali are being used for milk production by smallholders in central, eastern, southeastern, and southern parts of the country. Toggenberg and their crosses with Hararghe Highland are used for research purposes at the then Alemaya now Haramaya and the then Debub now Hawassa Universities (Solomon et al 2014).

Productive characteristics of Ethiopian indigenous goats

Traditional livestock breeds, unlike modern commercial breeds, play multiple roles. Some of the roles of indigenous goat breeds in Ethiopia include: goats are used for milk, meat and skin production; they are part of the cultural heritage of the communities keeping them; they have multiple values and special merits such as adaptation to their unique environment and have different production potentials such as twinning percentage and growth (ESGPIP 2009).

Ethiopian goats produce 67,580 tons of meat (FAOSTAT 2010) and contribute about 16.8% (Ameha 2008) of the total annual meat production in the country. The average annual meat consumption per capita is estimated to be 8 kg/year which was lower than the global average meat consumption (38 kg/year) (Ameha 2008). Available reports indicate that the average carcass weight produced from yearling goat in Ethiopia is 8.5 kg (Adane and Girma 2008) which is the second lowest in sub-Saharan Africa and lower than Nigeria (12.7 kg) and Sudan (13.0 kg) (FAOSTAT 2008).

With regard to quality characteristics of goat meat, there is little information in Ethiopia except one notable research work conducted by Ameha et al (2007). According to the authors, Ethiopian indigenous goats, regardless of the genotype, have less total non-carcass fat with p H ranging between 5.49 and 5.86 and is considered normal (Arguello et al 2005; Ameha et al 2007). The content of moisture (67%), protein (20.1%) and ash (1.2%) in meat from Ethiopian indigenous goats is also reported to be optimum and within the range estimated for other goat breeds found elsewhere (Ameha et al 2007). The study further demonstrated the potential of Ethiopian goat breeds to produce high quality meat due to high content of unsaturated (desirable) fatty acids (61-80%) and low content of saturated (undesirable) fatty acids. According to the authors, the meat produced from Ethiopian goats is juicier and has better shelf life.

The milk production potential of Ethiopian indigenous goats has not been adequately studied in the past and most of the studies are done on-station. Research results indicated that the goat production accounts for 16.7% of milk consumed in the country (Tsedeke 2007) and daily milk yield (DMY) of indigenous goats range between 0.3 and 0.45 kg (Galal and Getachew 1977). There is also report confirming that DMY of most indigenous goats in their natural habitat is about half a kg (MOA 1999). However, there is a good potential to increase the DMY to about 1 kg through improved management system and relatively higher DMY is produced from the lowland goats as compared to the highland goats (Dereje et al 2015). Therefore, future characterization endeavors should give more emphasis to lowland goats to improve their milk production potential and for dairy goat breed development.

Indigenous Ethiopian goats produce quality premium skins and 8 million goat skins are produced in Ethiopia per annum (Belete 2009). Worldwide, the skin of Bati goats is renowned for its high quality (Mahmud 2010) in which the skin is thicker, highly flexible and with clean inner surfaces, and excellent for producing high quality suede leather (Mahmud, 2010).

No recognized use of fiber has been reported from Ethiopian goats though some goat breeds (e.g. Arsi-Bale goats of Bale highlands) are known to have long hair (Solomon et al 2014).

Goat characterization and development works in Ethiopia
Phenotypic characterization of Ethiopian goats

In Ethiopia, goat characterization and development works date back to the mid-1970s as part of the small ruminant research program (Aschalew et al 2000; Solomon et al 2014). The first attempt to phenotypically characterize the existing goat types of Ethiopia by the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) in 1975 was one of the few pioneering efforts made to classify the indigenous goat breeds into specific groups. Based on the available data, goats were classified into five major groups as Nubian, Highland, Afar, Somali and Long Tailed Gishe (IBC 2004).

The other nationwide phenotypic characterization of Ethiopian and Eritrean goats was conducted by Farm Africa’s Dairy Goat Development Project (FARM Africa 1996). The survey classified indigenous goats based on their geographic location and the ethnic communities who keep them. Based on the analysis of morphological data (Nigatu 1994) along with geographic distribution, fourteen distinct goat populations were identified across Ethiopia and Eritrea (FARM Africa 1996). The comprehensive approach of the study, the robustness of the analytical methodology and the dissemination of the findings has since been a benchmark for similar studies in other livestock species (e.g. Workneh et al 2003).

Since the onset of the first phenotypic characterization by MoA (1975), a number of on-farm and on-station phenotypic characterization of goats have been undertaken by Universities and research centers. For example, phenotypic characterization has been done for goats found in Benishangul Gumuz national regional state, Getnet et al (2005), in Amhara region, Halima et al (2012a) and in Bench Maji zone in southwestern Ethiopia, Tegegne (2012).

Getnet et al (2005) identified five morphologically different goat types, namely: Felata, Arab, Gumuz, Oromo and Agew. Felata, Arab and Gumuz goats predominate in semi-arid zones while Agew and Oromo goats are found in subhumid zones of the region. Halima et al (2012a) identified six morphologically distinct indigenous goat populations in the Amhara region, namely: Gumuz, Begia-Medir, Agew, Bati, Central Abergelle and Abergelle. Gumuz and Agew were distributed in both Amhara and Benishangul Gumuz regions. The authors indicated the presence of clear morphological variations between and within these goat ecotypes in terms of coat colour, head profile, horn orientation, ear form and head shape. In the southwestern part of Ethiopia, Tegegne (2012) defined two goat ecotypes: Meanit and Sheko which are most likely ecotypes of Keffa goats previously characterized in the adjoining area.

Currently, research on phenotypic characterization continues at the district level mainly through Master’s Degree research projects in various agricultural universities and different researchers have used different terms (breed, population, ecotypes, type) to describe different phenotypic variants of goats, leading to a lack of clarity in the distinctions between breeds, populations and ecotypes (Gizaw et al 2013). The primary attempt in phenotypic characterization should be to categorize populations at the district level into one of the recognized breeds by comparing their characteristics with those described nationally and regionally (Gizaw et al 2013).

Molecular characterization of Ethiopian goats

Molecular characterization is a complementary procedure used to unravel the genetic basis of phenotypes and their patterns of inheritance from one generation to the next, and to establish relationships between breeds (FAO 2011). To this extent, molecular characterizations of Ethiopian goats have been conducted on some breeds of goats (Yoseph 2007).

Characterization of nine goat breeds, of which four indigenous (Afar, Hararghe highland, western highland and western lowland), two exotic breeds (Toggenburg and Anglo-Nubian) and three crossbred populations (crosses between the exotic breeds and Hararghe highland and Somali goat types) were studied (Addisu et al 2002) using blood protein polymorphism. The study revealed high genetic variation between populations and close genetic relationship (low genetic variation) within populations.

Tesfaye (2004) studied 11 Ethiopian indigenous goat populations using 15 microsatellite markers and categorized them into 8 genetic clusters namely: Arsi-Bale, Gumuz, Keffa, Woyto-Guji, Abergelle, Afar, highland, and eastern and southeastern goats. The study also showed that about 75% of the total genetic diversity of Ethiopian goats is present in four breeds: Afar (24.32%), Abergelle (19.22%), Gumuz (16.59%) and Keffa (12.99%). In this study, nine reference breeds: four from African countries viz. two from Kenya, one from Guinea Bissau and one from Botswana, and five from non-African countries (one breed from Turkey, Egypt, Italy, Mongoliya and Sudi Arabia each) wear also included.

Chenyambuga et al (2004) focused on genetic diversity study of two goat breeds (Western highland and Arsi-Bale goats) using microsatellite markers.

Halima et al (2012b) focused on genetic diversity study of six indigenous goat types (Agew, Gumuz, Bati, Abergelle, Central Abergelle, Begemidir) found in the northern and northwestern regions of Ethiopian with 15 microsatellite markers. These were clustered into two genetic groups using molecular characterization.

The genetic diversity studies undertaken by Tesfaye (2004) and Halima et al (2012b) were based on 15 microsatellite markers. However, the FAO/ISAG working group (FAO 2011) recommended molecular characterization of farm animal genetic resources using 30 microsatellite markers to get more accurate data and for comparative analysis with other studies that have used less than 30 microsatellite markers (FAO 2011). Moreover, molecular characterization using neutral genetic markers such as microsatellites may not help much in identifying Quantitative Trait Loci (QTLs) that can be used for designing improvement programs using Marker-Assisted Selection (MAS) (Gizaw et al 2013).

Recently, Solomon (2014) carried out genetic diversity and population structure of two (Gumuz and Abergelle goats) indigenous goat populations using high density SNP CHIPs array. Very recently, Getinet (2016) evaluated the genome-wide genetic diversity and structure of 14 Ethiopian goat populations using SNP CHIP array and grouped them into seven goat types.

There are also reports on gene level studies to support the breeding schemes intervened with molecular techniques, like marker assisted selection. Mestawet et al (2013) investigated αS2-casein gene polymorphism on 10 Ethiopian goat populations while Getinet (2016) studied the kisspeptin (KISS1) gene polymorphism on two indigenous goat populations, Gondar and Woyto-Guji, and found the importance of the gene for multiple births in Ethiopian goats and suggested for marker assisted selection breeding program. However, the genetic potential of Ethiopian goats for meat and resistance to disease or parasites has not yet been quantified.

Goat development works in Ethiopia

Since 1988, a series of programs and projects, aimed at increasing Ethiopian goat production and productivity and thereby enhancing its contribution to food security and the national economy, have been undertaken both at institutional and producers level (IBC 2004). For instance, the dairy goat development project (DGDP) was implemented by FARM Africa, Alemaya University, Awassa College of Agriculture and MoA between 1988-1997 (Habtemariam et al 2000; Workneh 2000) and resulted in the production of 2,809 local and 914 crossbred goats and established 15 buck stations. The extension work has also been a success in bringing attitude changes across government agencies, credit institutions and partner NGOs (Takyi 2008) and women’s groups were successfully established and local goats were distributed (Girma et al 2000).

Between the years 2006-2011, a nationwide project was implemented by several institutions (higher learning institutions, research institutions and agricultural development offices) as part of the Ethiopian Sheep and Goat Productivity and Improvement Program (ESGPIP) with USAID funding (ESGPIP 2009). After the completion of the program, sheep and goat production handbook for Ethiopia is published and centers for animal multiplication that may serve as a source of pure genetic material in the country have been established (WWW.

The paradox of goat characterization and development works on the development of the goat sector

Despite the efforts made to characterize the different goat breeds and substantial investment for the development of the goat sector, the resulting impact in improving the productivity of indigenous goats and their by the contribution to the overall economic growth was unsatisfactory (IBC 2004). Hence, the significant share of Ethiopia in East Africa's total output is attributable mainly to the size of the goat population rather than increased productivity.

Given the large goat population size, diverse breeds, wide distribution across various agro-ecological zones and production systems, there is a huge potential to characterize and utilize goats to raise the socio-economic status of producers in Ethiopia. However, there is a limited scope in the development of the goat sector and there is also absence of a clear strategy to improve goat production and productivity in Ethiopia (Solomon et al 2014; LMP 2015). Moreover, Ethiopian goats have not yet been identified and characterized as dairy, meat, or dual purpose goat breeds.

With the aim of improving the productivity of indigenous goats, cross breeding exotic goats with indigenous goat breeds was one of the development works in the goat sector adopted in Ethiopia over the last several decades (Solomon et al 2014). Crossbred goats have better performance over the indigenous breeds under on-station conditions. However, such superiority was not replicated under village conditions. As a result, the adoption rates of crossbred genotypes by farmers were found to be very low, in some cases as low as 20% with most of the adopters being better-off households rather than poor farmers (Teressa 2004). General loss in productivity was also observed with further increase in exotic blood level (Aschalew et al 2000). Hence, the crossbreds were not profitable, under village conditions, when returns per unit live weight or metabolic weight were taken into account (Workneh 2000) and the economic benefits of crossbreeding may have been overestimated as non-market effects and environmental values have not been included in breed comparison studies (Workneh 2000).

Since the mid-970’s, a number of programs and projects focusing on improving the milk and meat production potential of goats have been implemented in Ethiopia. However, some of projects discontinued before any evaluation had been done on-farm on the disseminated genotypes and most of the implemented programs on the sector lacked clear targets aligned to the production environments and farmers’ objectives, functional institutional synergies and exit strategies (Workneh 2000).



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Received 9 May 2017; Accepted 1 July 2017; Published 2 November 2017

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