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Press Release 98/50 

FAO LAUNCHES NEW SYSTEM TO HELP UTILIZE AND CONSERVE THREATENED FARM ANIMAL BREEDS


Rome, September 7 - With the erosion of animal genetic resources continuing around the world, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today launched a new on-line and off-line computer-based system to help countries sustainably use and develop their irreplaceable domestic animal species and breeds.

"A major milestone has been reached in the implementation of the Global Strategy for the Management of Farm Animal Genetic Resources with the launch of the second stage of FAO's Domestic Animal Diversity Information System (DAD-IS)," said Keith Hammond, Senior Officer in FAO's Animal Genetic Resources Group.

The new stage of DAD-IS is a multi-language system, available on-line over the Internet and off-line on a CD-ROM. It operates as a clearing-house mechanism for the global strategy, providing a vital link among farmers, scientists and policy-makers. It will enable them to exchange views, information and experiences, and thus help countries develop strong networks to design and implement cost-effective action plans for managing the genetic resources of all domestic farm species and breeds.

"Animal genetic resources are being eroded in both developed and developing countries. The latest information we have indicates that 30 percent of the world's domestic animal breeds are at risk of extinction," according to Hammond.

FAO estimates that directly and indirectly, domestic animals supply around 30 percent of total human requirements for food and agriculture and about two billion people depend at least partly on them for their livelihoods.

DAD-IS includes a databank that currently contains facts and figures on 5 300 breeds developed by farmers and animal-breeders of 180 countries over the past 12 000 years from just 35 species. Users can obtain information on breed features, population size, location, production and performance characteristics, as well as details of adaptive qualities and preliminary information describing the production environments in which these breeds are developing.

"Most adapted animal genetic resources are not being developed to meet the food and agriculture imperatives. Increasing the performance of the majority of the world's livestock, located in the developing world, through genetics, will sustainably increase food security and reduce foreign exchange costs," Hammond said. "The challenge to achieve food security for all is greater now than it has ever been before, with one out of six people in the world currently underfed."

Domestic animals provide meat, milk products, eggs, fibre, fertilizer for crops, manure for fuel and draught power. They reduce farmers' exposure to risk, generate employment throughout the year and, as in the case of the yak, have made it possible for human communities to inhabit harsh areas where crop production is virtually impossible.

A major threat to the diversity of local breeds in developing countries has been the indiscriminate introduction of exotic breeds that do well in developed countries, but require a large and continuous supply of expensive inputs of feeding and health control, and are not bred for long life, so important for the medium and low input production systems. Frequently these exotic breeds have not reproduced or survived as well in developing countries as locally adapted breeds, which also tend to retain significant genetic diversity that enables them to adapt over time to changing environmental conditions.

Examples of breeds currently at risk include:

* The Arvana-Kazakh dromedary of Kazakhstan is a breed that has been selected for its high milk yield. It is well adapted to a harsh, continental desert climate, lack of water and poor feed supply while producing milk that is very nourishing. Currently there are less than 1 000 surviving animals.

* The indigenous pig of Mozambique, with preliminary indications that this breed contains genetic resistance to the highly contageous viral disease African Swine Fever. (note: no information yet in Databank).

* The Yakut cattle indigenous to Siberia can tolerate temperatures as low as -60C. They can survive under poor feed conditions, yet yield concentrated milk with a high fat content, and are resistant to diseases such as tuberculosis, leucosis and brucellosis. Only some 900 animals remain in Siberia today.

* In India, 50 percent of indigenous goats face the threat of extinction and an estimated 80 percent of all poultry being produced is from exotic breeds.

* China has the vast majority of the world's pig breeds, but these were being very rapidly replaced by exotic breeds with very different feed requirements, reproduction rates and meat qualities; efforts are now beginning to conserve this important reservoir of genetic material.

Many animal genetic resources in developed country regions are also at risk. For example, the latest edition of the World Watch List for Domestic Animal Diversity shows that more than 20 percent of the livestock breeds of Europe are at risk of loss and are not being supported by any maintenance activity at all.

"The loss of animal breeds means that communities will be less able to respond to change. They will have a reduced capability to breed animals for characteristics such as resistance to disease, and have fewer options to respond to changes in consumer preferences," Keith Hammond warns. "But perhaps the greatest impact of the loss of animal genetic resources and failure to further develop adapted types is that it reduces overall global food security."

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For further information contact:

John Riddle
FAO Information Officer
Tel. 39 06 5705 3259
Fax 39 06 5705-3699
e-mail: john.riddle@fao.org

 


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