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PARTNERSHIPS FOR ENHANCED ENGAGEMENT IN RESEARCH (PEER)
Cycle 9 (2020 Deadline)


Assessment of the resilience of local Baladi goat in Lebanon: a viable sustainable solution to a changing climate in a transhumant system

PI: Pauline Aad (paad@ndu.edu.lb), Notre Dame University-Louaize
U.S. Partner: Joan Burke, U.S. Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service
Project Dates: May 2021 - May 2023

Project Overview:
 
 9-331 Aad conference flyer
The local Baladi goat, an alpine-type, highly resilient animal, is managed in a pastoral transhumant system, travelling long distances in cold, wet winters or hot, dry summers. Some rangeland could harbor pathological parasites that infect goats, while other rangeland environments may have plants with secondary compounds to mitigate parasite infection. However, these plants could have detrimental effects on the animal, reducing feed intake, inducing nutritional deficiencies, and triggering neurologic effects. Thus, the Lebanese rangeland needs to be further assessed for the presence of such compounds and their impacts on the grazing patterns of the Baladi goat. Because there is little to no literature assessing the available pastures in Lebanon and the occurrence and medication resistance of parasites in Baladi goats, this research has several aims. The first is to analyze the resilience of Baladi goats to environmental changes, food stress, and challenges by using meta analysis of unpublished reports from various agriculture colleges in Lebanon. As part of this effort, the project team will evaluate the availability of pasture and its quality and further correlate that with climatological data. The second project aim is to assess the transhumant system epigenome in Baladi goats by analyzing milk production depression under the transhumant conditions of hand milking and the presence or absence of supplementation and other environmental challenges. In addition, for the first time in Lebanon, the researchers will analyze the prevalence and threats of internal parasites of small ruminants by collecting goat fecal samples from various flocks and determining their association with specific pasture grasses typically known to act as natural anti-parasites. The U.S. partner Dr. Joan Burke will contribute her expertise on this point. Another project aim involves analyzing blood samples from targeted flocks to genotype them for parasite resistance and milk production using the SNP chip array, which will be done with U.S. co-partner Dr. Brenda Murdoch (University of Idaho), an expert geneticist and molecular biologist. At the same time, project co-PI Dr. Khaled Houchaymi (Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute) will screen genes for heat resilience to further validate the climate resilience of the local Baladi goat.The overarching research outcome will be to determine the best management strategies for optimal milk production, natural treatment of parasites, and improved reproductive efficiency. Furthermore, the project aims to identify possible markers for marker-assisted selection of resilient goats in the transhumant system.

To help extend the benefits of the research to struggling local farming communities, the project team will establish extension services in collaboration with their local governmental collaborator, the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI), as well as local transhumant communities and the private agro-farming sector. The team is also partnering with a privately owned, family-managed Baladi goat milk processing factory in order to provide technical knowledge to the transhumant farmers they deal with. The pastoral community’s livelihood is highly vulnerable, struggling with pasture scarcity and disparity, lack of fresh water sources, and threats from the influx of foreign flocks from Syria. Unfortunately, most of the research on the Baladi goat focuses on changing the managerial system to an intensive, supplemented, heavily managed one, which makes it an unsustainable model in the Lebanese market. Many private investors are trying to integrate the Baladi goat into their milk processing industry, but they are faced with major threats, including the consistency of milk production and quality, variable undesired aromatic and acidic residues in the milk, and the high cost of supplementation. In this light, the project’s development goals are to (1) analyze economic sustainability of the transhumant system by assessing milk production, supplementation effects, and parasite control; (2) develop an extension support system for farmers in order to disseminate accurate and proper management practices and maximize animal wellness; and (3) support women farmers in producing artisanal goat products. This sustainable farming system will allow private partners to develop solid partnerships with transhumant farmers and invest in the agro-farming industry, which supports the livelihood of this very vulnerable community of goat farmers. Collaboration with the public sector, via LARI, will allow the project to reach a larger population of transhumant farmers and provide better chances for sustainable operations.

January- March 2022 project updates

During the last quarter of 2021, the PI and her team continued extension outreach to 20 farmers, who were provided assessments of their flock’s overall health and management. The project team gave advice on proper sanitization of their stables and the suitability of their current parasite treatments. The next phase will include flock assessments and outreach to farmers from North Lebanon/Akkar region, Metn, and Kesrouan, as well as continuation of the outreach to Bekaa farmers.

Training of the graduate students in Bekaa and the undergraduate student at NDU is now complete, and the team is planning the next round of sample collection and analysis. Samer El Murr finished his thesis defense successfully and was hired as a research field agent for the screening and identification of parasite eggs in Bekaa. Two graduate students from NDU-FNAS are still establishing methods for DNA extraction and real-time PCR for the later SNP chip analysis. One Master’s student's thesis was completed in the fall of 2021 in collaboration with the Lebanese University, and two more are planned for September 2022, while three Master’s students in agricultural engineering at Saint Joseph University are expected to graduate by June 2022.

A practical guide to the parasite eggs identified in Lebanon in the Bekaa Region is still being developed and will be ready in time for the upcoming conference to disseminate project results at Notre Dame University-Louaize, which will take place on May 12, 2022. This conference is part of the PEER project objectives to involve stakeholders and keep them informed on the research progress. According to Dr. Aad, parasites in goats have never been assessed in Lebanon, and therefore, this conference aims to introduce stakeholders to the dangers of parasites, their impact on goat production, and management adjustments needed to minimize their negative impact. Representatives from the ministries, universities, research institutions, and various leagues involved in goat production have been invited to NDU to learn from international experts and to be updated on the latest findings of this PEER project. The conference will be followed by two workshops to train farmers and inform them about the dangers of parasites, warning signs to look out for, and their treatment timing.

In June 2022, Dr. Aad is planning to visit the United States, during which she plans to conduct genomic experiments with her U.S. partner and attend the 2022 Annual Conference of the American Society for Animal Science and the Canadian Society for Animal Science (ASAS-CSAS) in Oklahoma City. As part of the visit, Pauline plans to present her project results to USAID and NAS staff in Washington DC. Dr. Aad anticipates submitting her first publication shortly after the U.S. trip ends.
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´╗┐Recruited flocks for the study and PEER team (photo credit: P. Aad) 
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