Challenges to generate adaptable technologies and to build up strategic alliances for small ruminants research in low input systems: case of Tunisia
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. In Tunisia and in most countries of the West Asia and North Africa (WANA) region, research in small ruminants is historically well embedded in the national agricultural research system. It faces challenges of generating cost-effective and transferrable technologies for the benefit of low input production systems. These systems are managed by small holders with very fragile technical and economic assets. This research inherited a biological material that is characterized by breeds and local populations with a limited potential to reproduce, to grow or to yield milk. Furthermore, future research programs need to incorporate other emerging challenges such as global warming, sustained increase of primary feed ingredients, shifts in the consumer demand for a safer quality of products and a less seasonal availability of products in the market. Researchers should also bear in mind that in a post-revolutionary context, sheep sector should contribute for a higher employability of the rural young population. Amongst WANA countries, research in small ruminants in Tunisia has a number of success stories and in some cases their transferability to the producing communities is yet hampered by unsupportive policies. Not being exhaustive, technologies related to quantitative genetic characterization of growth traits, understanding of environmental factors affecting reproductive patterns as well as integration of unconventional feed resources in diets and their interactions with products quantity, quality, reproduction and animal health are relevant beyond the Tunisian context and may be shared by WANA research teams. Future research programs need to be structured around a national coordinating body with a main mandate to accurately define research priorities and needs. Other national aims should target outscaling transfer of confirmed technologies, upgrading the research capacity of teams and labs and increasing research productivity and efficiency through integration of biotechnologies and molecular genetic tools. To achieve these objectives, research in small ruminants must rely on strategic alliances. Firstly, there should be recognition of the role of professional organizations and local communities in the process of defining research needs and priorities. Secondly, the logistic support of international institutions should continue and increase. Thirdly, there is a need to boost access of young researchers to training opportunities outside Tunisia and to facilitate exchanges with the international scientific community through a more intensive participation and attendance in meetings and congresses.
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