‘The International Livestock Research Institute is calling for immediate, practical steps to preserve developing countries’ dwindling animal genetic diversity.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization says almost 10 percent of the world’s livestock breeds have become extinct in the last six years.
Twenty percent of the 7,616 breeds documented in the FAO’s Global Databank for Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture are considered to be at risk of extinction.
‘Breeds of humpless longhorn and shorthorn cattle existed in West and Central Africa for thousands of years, evolving ways to survive many diseases, withstand harsh climates of heat and drought and were capable of long treks to watering holes. However, these hardy animals are at risk of being lost despite the heritage of their genetic diversity.
‘“We have seen in the shorthorn humpless breeds indiscriminate slaughter and an inattention to careful breeding that has put them on a path to extinction,” said Abdou Fall, leader of the research institute’s [ILRI’s] livestock diversity project for West Africa.
‘The same crisis faces Uganda’s hardy Ankole cattle that have largely been displaced by Holstein-Friesian crosses in a quest for animals that produce higher volumes of meat and milk. However, the Ankole cattle can survive where the European imports cannot. A few years ago during an extensive drought in Uganda, farmers who had kept their indigenous cattle were able to walk them long distances to water sources, while many of those who had traded their Ankole cattle for imported breeds lost entire herds.
‘The lesson is clear: these uniquely adapted local livestock breeds will be lost unless they are conserved and used, while imported breeds will have trouble surviving in foreign landscapes, a changing climate and emerging diseases to which they have no immunity.
‘It also means that any opportunity to escape poverty will be further out of reach for 70 percent of the rural poor in developing countries who rely on livestock.
‘“We need to study the genetics of the animals,” said Steve Kemp, a geneticist at the institute’s Nairobi laboratories. “That has never been done systematically in situ across this extraordinary diversity of African livestock.”
‘Kemp said nothing will be left to study unless it’s done fast.
‘The UN Environment Program (UNEP) and the Global Environment Facility warned this summer that the alarming loss of indigenous livestock has been largely due to the substitution and/or crossbreeding of local breeds with a limited number of exotic commercial breeds.
‘Most of these local species exist in pastoral herds on small farms in developing countries where they have received insufficient research and largely been ignored. As a result, their benefits and strengths as livestock breeds for development have been untapped. The institute has launched a five-year Farm Animal Genetic Resources Project to conserve indigenous farm breeds in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. . . .
‘The project focuses on chickens, goats and pigs, which play a vital role in poor farming communities where women and children depend on them as food and income.
‘UNEP said the four countries selected for the project “possess a rich and widely representative diversity of farm animal genetic resources.” Genetic research has determined that southern and southeastern Asia are the centres of origin for many domestic breeds. Pakistan is a historic centre for goat production while countries in southeastern Asia are centres for chicken production. Areas in the region were historically focused on pig domestication. Sri Lanka has for centuries been a centre for livestock trade and Bangladesh has been part of the historical trading route. As a result, the entire continental region represents a diverse gene pool where wild relatives of domestic species still exist. . . .
‘Kemp said there is a need to understand the function of livestock from disease resistance to their role in the marketplace. The timing has never been more urgent, he added.
Read the whole article at the Western Producer (Canada): Rare livestock breeds in crisis, 25 November 2010.