Tradition a path for the future
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CTA. 2005. Tradition a path for the future. Spore 117. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Loss of biodiversity does not just affect plants and wild animals. Livestock are an important genetic resource in the South and there is an urgent need to register and preserve native breeds, in recognition of the patient selection work carried out by far
Loss of domestic animal breeds around the world is continuing at an alarming rate , the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) warned in March 2004. Of the 6,300 breeds registered, 1,350 are threatened with extinction or have already disappeared. FAO is currently compiling a full country-by-country list of breeds, together with their characteristics, and expects it to be ready by 2007. Characterising breeds is an important part of the Global Strategy for the Management of Farm Animal Genetic Resources which FAO was charged with drawing up in 1993. Between now and 2007, just how many domestic breeds will have been definitively erased from the surface of the planet? Global figures for 2001 estimated that 53.5% of chicken and 46.8% of duck breeds were endangered, as well as 26% of pigs and 23.1%, 18.1%, 16.5% and 5% of cattle, sheep, goats and camels, respectively. Food insecurity and poverty Just 14 out of the about 30 domesticated mammalian and bird species provide 90% of human food supply from animals , observes FAO. The intensification of livestock systems, and the replication of these animal farming models in other parts of the world means that there is now a concentration on a limited number of breeds. The result is substantial animal genetic erosion. It is now widely accepted that maintaining animal genetic diversity is crucial if productivity and food security are to be improved. While livestock play a role in the livelihoods of 70% of the world population, loss of biodiversity has particularly serious consequences for the countries of the South. In pastoral zones where livestock rearing is the only option available, the decline of animal breeds and the low productivity levels which result combine to threaten the survival of millions of people. Loss of animal biodiversity affects every continent and every single ACP country no region is spared. In Papua New Guinea, numbers of the Javanese Zebu are rapidly dwindling, even though this is a prolific breed with good resistance to ticks. In the small island states of the Caribbean and the Pacific, local breeds of duck, geese and chickens are at serious risk. Of 25 cattle breeds identified in West Africa in 1992, four (Kuri, Liberia Dwarf Muturu, Ghana Dwarf Muturu, Manjaca) were endangered or facing extinction. There has also been a sharp decline in numbers of Dwarf Shorthorn cattle in Benin, Côte d'Ivoire and Togo, while in Angola, the Damara or Herero cattle breed is in critical danger. In South Africa, 10 cattle breeds, 10 horse breeds, 9 sheep and 3 pig breeds are threatened. The causes of genetic erosion are many and vary not just between continents, but from one region or country to another. Wars, livestock diseases, desertification, global warming and unchecked cross-breeding or a combination of these all play a role. A case in point is the shrinking of the Lake Chad basin. The basin has forced the native Kuri cattle, which were well adapted to an aquatic environment, into uncontrolled cross-breeding with Arab Zebu and M'bororo cattle. Lack of recognition But, according to FAO, the greatest cause of genetic erosion is a failure to appreciate the value of locally adapted breeds . The low meat and milk outputs of tropical cattle breeds has led national and international programmes to seek to improve performances by using more productive animals imported from the North, either for cross-breeding or as pure breeds. Several studies have shown that imported breeds are less adapted to local climatic and management conditions than native breads and have lower resistance to diseases. For example, in Africa, in areas infested by the tsetse fly, smaller livestock breeds such as the Ndama cattle, Djallonké sheep or dwarf goat breeds have a stronger resistance to trypanosomiasis. This observation has led to a change of focus for programmes aimed at conserving and developing local livestock resources, with a shift towards setting greater store by local animal farming systems and traditional knowledge. Whose breeds are they? This awareness has gone hand in hand with a renewed interest in native breeds, now considered to be a reservoir of precious genes. Against a backdrop of genetic engineering, their conservation is seen as a safeguard for example in the event of disease offering protection for the South, but also for the North. That poses the question of who holds the intellectual property rights to these breeds, which are the fruit of centuries of hard work by livestock breeders in the South, who have selected domestic animals according to their needs and their particular environments. The German development agency GTZ warns that various breeds with characteristics that could make them attractive for commercial purposes are currently in the hands of marginalised communities. In both the North and South, there is growing pressure for the introduction of a treaty which would protect animal genetic resources, in the same way that the 2001 International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture provides protection for plants. In that way, the communities involved would reap their share of any commercial rewards that might ensue.
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