Africa / Animal Breeding / Biodiversity / ILRI / Indigenous Breeds

African livestock diversity is ‘logical starting point’ for future food supplies

Cattle BackOlivier Hanotte, a former livestock geneticist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), with whom he collaborates today, has the following to say in a recent blog post about the value of Africa’s native livestock.

‘[Africa’s] indigenous livestock are not only adapted to diverse African agro-ecological production systems – they are also unique and responsive genotypes shaped by the needs of African farmers.

‘. . . African cattle represent the logical starting point for improving of the productivity of the livestock sector on the continent. In the same way that the diversity of locally adapted European breeds was the source of highly productive milk and beef breeds of the northern hemisphere, African livestock diversity represents a valuable genetic resources waiting to be tapped.

‘There is, however, an increasing perception that the solution behind productivity improvement of the livestock sector in sub-Saharan Africa is through crossbreeding of local breeds with exotic ones; for example through the importation of semen and production of crossbreeds. The solution is attractive as it may combine the advantages of both worlds, local adaptation with high productivity.

‘But the solution is also a short-sighted one that relies on the availability of the pure, locally adapted genotypes, which may rapidly disappear if they are not conserved, or we may see their genetic make-up increasingly diluted.

‘. . . African chicken, cattle, goat and sheep represent an unique genetic resource for improvement of productivity; after all they have produced, survived and fed millions of people across history.

‘. . . African livestock need and deserve much more in the way of long term research investments.

‘ . . . European-African crossbreeding can be utilised for short-term delivery but only if this is undertaken in parallel with well-thought-out breeding improvement programmes.

‘. . . We are racing against time. African livestock diversity is shrinking. The world needs to wake up now and support the development of in vitro African livestock biobanks before it is too late . . . .’

About Olivier Hanotte
Olivier Hanotte, a molecular geneticist from Belgium, joined the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in 1995 after a post-doc at the University of Leicester, UK, in the field of livestock and wildlife genetic diversity, and led the Improving Animal Genetics Resource Characterization project. In January 2009 he joined the University of Nottingham as Professor of Population and Conservations Genetics. He is member of the editorial board of Animal Genetics and The Journal of Animal Breeding and Genetics.

More . . . (Food Security Blog, African livestock for Africa, 26 July 2010)

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