FAO :: Newsroom :: Focus on the issues :: 2004 :: The future of agric… :: Loss of domestic an…
Loss of domestic animal breeds alarming
Value of many animal genetic resources poorly understood. On-farm management and conservation needed.
According to FAO, the loss of domestic animal breeds around the world is occurring at an alarming rate.

An FAO study in 2000 found that out of the around 6 300 breeds registered by the Organization, 1 350 are threatened by extinction or already are extinct.

Now, a preliminary assessment of new data received from more than 80 country reports shows that the number of breeds threatened by extinction is further increasing. The data is being collected for FAO's pending update of its Report on the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources, to be published in 2006.

Valuable gene pool

"Genetic diversity is an insurance against future threats such as famine, drought and epidemics," says Irene Hoffmann, Chief of FAO's Animal Production Service.

"The existing animal gene pool may contain valuable but unknown resources that could be very useful for future food security and agricultural development. Maintaining animal genetic diversity allows farmers to select stocks or develop new breeds in response to environmental change, diseases and changing consumer demands," she said.

Just 14 out of the roughly 30 domesticated mammal and bird species provide around 90 percent of human food supply from animals, FAO research shows.

What causes genetic erosion

Threats to genetic diversity include wars, pests and diseases, global warming, urbanization, intensification of agriculture and global marketing of exotic breeding material.

But by far the greatest cause of genetic erosion is failure to appreciate the value of locally adapted breeds. In many countries, farmers rely on a very limited number of modern breeds that are most suited for intensive agriculture systems.

"Many developing countries still consider breeds from industrialized countries to be more productive, although they have difficulties in coping with the often harsh environment," Ms Hoffmann says.

FAO favours genetic improvement of local breeds, including the utilization and sustainable intensification of the local gene pool.

"Developing animal genetic resources on-farm in their production environment is the most effective approach to maintain genetic diversity," explains Hoffmann.

FAO/Focus on biodiversity

Read more…

The future of agriculture depends on biodiversity

Erosion of plant genetic diversity

Building an international system to safeguard agricultural biodiversity

Loss of domestic animal breeds alarming

Traditional knowledge, often the key to unlocking benefits of biodiversity, under threat

Working to protect biological diversity

Further reading

FAO/4784/T. Sennett

Just 14 out of the roughly 30 domesticated mammal and bird species provide around 90% of human food supplies from animals.

FAO/5928/M. Boulton

By far the greatest cause of genetic erosion is failure to appreciate the value of locally adapted animal breeds.

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