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Livestock genetic resources of and for the poor: Where ILRI research stands

For the November 2011 ‘liveSTOCK Exchange’ event at ILRI, Okeyo Mwai, livestock geneticist, reflects on ILRI’s research over the past decade on the animal genetic resources of the developing world and future directions.

Watch the 2-minute interview with Okeyo Mwai.

What we achieved in the last decade
With the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and many other partners, local as well as international, we achieved:

> Greater public understanding of the value of Africa’s indigenous livestock genetic resources through assessments and articulations of their global ‘meltdown’ in recent decades and the causes for this.

> Greater understanding by policymakers that the best way to conserve this important ‘barnyard diversity’ is to make greater use of native breeds, populations and genes on farms—and that implies providing the farmers both with the animal stock and with incentives for maintaining them.

> Greater scientific understanding of the rich storehouse of genetic potential that has evolved in indigenous livestock that may be used to help people cope with a more extreme and unpredictable climate in future.

What we learned in the last decade
> International agreements on actions urgently needed to conserve and improve the animal genetic resources of the developing world don’t necessarily translate into funding to get the job done.

> High-level declarations and agreements do not translate easily into national and regional programs, and the latter often diverge in their perspectives and approaches.

What were the challenges?
> Encouraging developing countries to embrace smart ways of bio/gene banking selected populations of their indigenous livestock.

> Helping national and regional organizations to make more and better use of current science and good practice in the conservation and use of their livestock genetic resources.

> Obtaining sufficient funds to conduct livestock breeding research with real impacts in developing countries.

What were some outcomes?
> ILRI’s significant scientific presence and messages, keynote paper given by Carlos Seré, and strong media outreach at an FAO conference on animal genetic resources in Interlaken, Switzerland, in 2007.

> ILRI’s high-profile John Vercoe Conference on Animal Breeding for Poverty Alleviation in 2007.

> ILRI’s significant contributions to a 2011 Special Issue on Animal Genetic Resources in Livestock Science.

> Livestock breeding strategies added to ILRI research agenda.

> In vitro reproductive technology platforms developed and protocols adapted; successful production of in vitro calves.

Current situation
> Need to continue pushing for better and more integrated and comprehensive phenotyping and data collection on breed performance, genomics and bioinformatics using innovative IT applications and geographic information systems.

> Need to invest more in quantitative-genomic expertise and to focus on designing productive research-to-development projects and building capacity of developing countries to do this work.

Future directions
> In the face of rapidly disappearing livestock breeds and genes in developing countries, build a phenotypic and genomic livestock database and well-documented bio/gene banks for use by scientists in future, who one day may be able to replicate breeds that have disappeared.

> Embrace emerging sciences such as livestock genomics and bioinformatics and comparative reproductive technologies as integral and significant parts of ILRI’s research program and become the partner of choice and a reference institution in the area of animal genetic resources.

Contributed by Okeyo Mwai, Team Leader in ILRI’s Biotechnology Theme.

On 9 and 10 November 2011, the ILRI Board of Trustees hosted a 2-day ‘liveSTOCK Exchange’ to discuss and reflect on livestock research for development. The event synthesized sector and ILRI learning and helped frame future livestock research for development directions.

The liveSTOCK Exchange also marked the leadership and contributions of Dr. Carlos Seré as ILRI Director General. See all posts in this series / Sign up for email alerts

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