In southern Zambia, the threat of a deepening international recession has inspired a team of researchers, scientists and farmers to come up with improved livestock to help uplift the livelihoods of small holder farmers. From the town of Choma, VOA Reporter Sanday Chongo Kabange highlights the improvements being made to indigenous Zambian chickens and goats.

The Choma-based Batoka Livestock Development Center is breeding high-producing imported cows and goats to breed with local varieties that are resistant to disease and high temperatures. The foreign goats and cows will come from South Africa and other countries within the Southern Africa Development Community ? SADC. Results from the research will be shared with other countries in the region.

David Mubita is Farm Manager for the Batoka Livestock Development Center, an extension unit of Golden Valley Agriculture Research Trust. The center is supported by the Zambian government and donor agencies like the Swedish Development Agency. 

"The types of goats we keep around are dwarfs," explains Mutiba, "almost the size of cocks. So what we have done is to import some improved goats from down South (South Africa) where they share a similar environment with Zambia. These, called Boer Goats, are much heavier than the local goats.  By bringing these in, the idea is that the males are produced and given to farmers for cross breeding with local goats."

Mutiba says the Batoka Livestock Development Centre plans to sell farmers 300 cross-bred and pregnant heifers. The effort includes mating improved milk producers with tough local cattle that do well in tropical climates. 

Says Mutiba: "Let?s produce the right type of animal (cow) for these small scale farmers. By the right type of animal they [mean cross breeding domestic and foreign cows]:  [the foreign ones] are high producers (of milk) but only under very good conditions and improved management. The local (indigenous) animal is a low producer but survives under harsh conditions (non-tropical). So if you cross the two then you get the productivity of that exotic animal and the hardiness of that indigenous animal? an animal that can produce reasonably well under harsh conditions."

The Center is also working to produce tastier poultry.

"We are trying to develop a local chicken [that are more tender]," says Mutiba. "What makes them (local chickens) so tough is the search for food. So we (want to) give [our local chickens is] an environment where food is provided for them and let?s see what happens." 

Assistant Farm Manager and lead researcher Bernard Muntanga elaborates on what the chickens will be fed.

"[Regarding] the texture of the meat," he says, "we want to make it so soft so that people can enjoy it [without] running to GMO (genetically modified organisms). What we are doing is feeding these (local) chickens on high protein legumes which they are eating to improve their build up."

He says chickens fed on protein-rich legumes grow as fat, and as quickly, as those fed on (GMO) grains.

Other than conducting research on poultry and livestock, the Batoka Livestock Development Centre has partnered with a local anti-AIDS group known as Kara Counseling.Together, they are helping 20 people affected by HIV / AIDS by providing them with chickens produced at the centre that are improved, and easy to care for.

The centre has also availed improved heifers to some widows.The women must agree to pass on young calves to other widows after the cows have given birth.

So far, thousands of Zambian small holder farmers, people living with HIV, widows and orphans have benefited.Officials from the research center say they plan to spread this project to the rest of the country by the end of 2009.