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June 2009



Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute

I am Chanda Nimbkar, trained at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and University of New England, Australia, as a conventional animal breeder and working at the Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), an NGO in Maharashtra State of India.
We have introgressed the FecB or Booroola gene for prolificacy from the Garole sheep of West Bengal into Maharashtrian Deccani sheep and developed, through backcrossing and using for breeding DNA-tested animals heterozygous or homozygous for the gene, a strain of sheep that is virtually like the Deccani but has 30-50% higher lamb production and is adapted to the conditions under which shepherds on the Deccan plateau rear their sheep. A small amount of supplementary feeding of these sheep is cost-effective and helps to maximize the profit made from rearing this strain which we have named NARI Suwarna. There are about 250 such FecB carrier ewes being reared profitably in local smallholder shepherds' flocks at present. We have been monitoring the performance of carrier animals in these flocks since their introduction in 2003 and also give them training in sheep management and support services for sheep insurance. Forty carrier rams have been bought for breeding by sheep owners, NGOs and State governments and some States have expressed an interest in introducing the gene into their local breeds.
Our partners in this project were the National Chemical Laboratory in Pune, India, the University of New England in Armidale, Australia and the University of Melbourne, Australia. The funding agency for this project for 10 years (1998 to 2007) was the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). Renewal of the grant was a process of periodic reviews and extensions after satisfying the evaluators of reasonable progress. This year we were successful in getting a grant from the Dept of Biotechnology of the Government of India to set up the DNA test at our institute, to fine tune the breeding program and include improvement of other traits of economic importance, such as lamb growth rate, and to expand the dissemination and performance recording in shepherd flocks. Sale of lambs is the main source of income from Deccani sheep rearing and lambs are sold at about 4 months of age. Price of sheep meat is high and has been rising by 10-15% per year over the last several years and is expected to keep rising with the increasing human population. The FecB gene has therefore provided the opportunity for moderate and sustainable intensification of production.
This is also a step towards raising the efficiency of resource use. We are able to use the gene and the DNA test (PCR-RFLP) (which are both patented), without paying a royalty because those patents are not valid in India.
We now have a flock of 500 breeding ewes, 400 of which are FecB carriers. At our Institute, we just had one animal breeder and one vet on the project and the rest were Bachelor's degree holders (sometimes from unrelated
disciplines) or Secondary School Certificate holders as ACIAR does not pay salaries of 'professionals' and it is difficult to get qualified people willing to work in remote areas. So training of our staff while working was a part of the project. We had tremendous help from our project partners for this. This year there may be some support under a Central Govt scheme for 'integrated development of small ruminants'.
I agree with the statements of Satish Kumar (message 31) and E.M.
Muralidharan (message 43) that biotechnology research has to fit into a comprehensive improvement program of crops, animals or anything else, with a strong emphasis on applicability. Otherwise it is going to eat up public funding without delivering the expected progress. This sounds so logical but is very often ignored.
Ms. Chanda Nimbkar, PhD (Animal Breeding) Director, Animal Husbandry Division Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute P.O. Box 23 Phaltan 415 523 Maharashtra, India
Front Office: +91-2166-262106
Mobile: +91-9960940805
chanda.nimbkar (at) gmail.com