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Establishing the contribution of genetic resources to domestic animal diversity
Animal genetic resources medal
Eradicating the tropical bont tick from the Caribbean
Small animals
New world screwworm
Tsetse control and land use in West Africa

Animal Production and Health Division
Division de la production et de la santé animales
Dirección de Producción y Sanidad Animal

Establishing the contribution of genetic resources to domestic animal diversity

The breed populations or genetic resources of each domestic animal species together comprise the diversity of the species. How much does each breed contribute to the total diversity within a species? And how large is the pool of diversity for each species? These are important questions in establishing a global strategy for the conservation of domestic animal diversity. Can current technology be used to answer these questions for each-species at the global level?

The FAO Animal Genetic Resources Group recently asked a number of international experts to examine these questions and, if such a global programme was considered feasible, to recommend a strategy to cover all domestic animal species. The expert group is now finalizing its report, which, once printed, will be distributed to all interested organizations. Briefly, the group has resolved that such a global project is technically and operationally feasible for each of the 30 or so species used for the production of food and agriculture. Subsamples of the breeds of a species should first be made, utilizing large selected sets of microsatellite markers and genetic-distancing procedures. Such a project would need to be carefully designed, properly supported and globally coordinated. The development and coordination of the necessary field activities will form part of the operations of the Animal Genetic Resources Group's recently expanded role.

The results of the project will assist the many non-governmental and governmental parties at the local, national and international levels to be more effective across the range of necessary conservation initiatives The approach will also form an important facet of a global action plan for conserving domestic animal diversity as required by Agenda 21 under the yet-to-be-ratified Biodiversity Convention.

Apparently the approach proposed by the expert group to answer these questions for the domestic animal species is unique among the efforts to conserve biodiversity. It will likely be followed up and used to better characterize other components of global biodiversity. It also provides an early practical use for the advanced microsatellite biotechnology.

Animal genetic resources medal

FAO, supported by its member countries, is responding to prevent further erosion of the essential global resource of animal genetic diversity by devoting one of its 12 Special Action Programmes to animal genetic resources and to the maintenance and effective utilization of domestic animal diversity. Even more, FAO will shortly launch a new world centre for domestic animal diversity to increase global recognition of conservation activities and to carry out their coordination.

To mark this event, a medal was created by the Italian artist Loredana Pancotto, depicting on the obverse FAO's symbol five ears of wheat- and on the reverse the animal genetic resources theme - a pyramid of domestic animals that have assisted humankind with food, aid and labour since primitive times. More information about this medal can be obtained from the FAO Money and Medals Programme at FAO Headquarters, Rome, Italy.

Eradicating the tropical bont tick from the Caribbean

The tropical bont tick, Amblyomma variegatum, is a large and brightly coloured parasite that infests domestic animals. Although its preferred host is domestic cattle, it also infests sheep, goats, horses and dogs. It has been collected from wild animals as well, especially large mammals, and immature ticks feed on smaller animals such as lizards and birds, including the cattle egret. In some areas the tick has been known to infest humans, causing intense irritation and inflammation of the skin.

The tropical bont tick currently infests 14 Caribbean islands and more than a dozen others are at high risk of infestation. Eventually, the tick could spread throughout the Caribbean and continue on to mainland areas of South, Central and North America.

The tick carries heart-water disease and can cause acute dermatophilosis and fatal livestock diseases, as well as a reduction in meat and milk production. Urgent international action is needed to mount a united and synchronized effort to eradicate the tick from the Caribbean.

In 1986, a study group funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and FAO formulated a feasibility proposal for this purpose. The following year, a detailed report was presented to a technical workshop organized by the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) and a draft project was worked out. FAO then consolidated the draft project documents into a programme for the eradication of A. variegatum from the Caribbean.

Funding for the programme is still being sought by CARICOM and FAO for CARICOM member countries (nine islands) and by France for its territories (five islands). The total cost is estimated to be about US$29 million - a small price to pay for the elimination of a costly pest from the entire Western Hemisphere.

National projects are currently planned for Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the five French islands of Guadeloupe, La Désirade, Marie Galante, Saint Martin (France and the Netherlands) and Martinique.

A regional project to support the different national projects will be responsible for coordination, purchase of materials and supplies, advice on legislation, extension and propaganda materials, applied research, technical backstopping, including veterinary support, training and surveillance, and the maintenance of progress records.

Small animals

Small-animal raising can represent a very lucrative activity, both for rural smallholders and for urban farmers. It may offer good job opportunities for the more vulnerable social strata such as women, children and disabled persons, provide an interesting cash income and improve the daily diet considerably.

According to the different areas in the world, various species can be considered to achieve these objectives, some of them very well-known since historic times.

Rabbit raising is particularly flourishing in all Mediterranean countries and traditional production systems are extremely well adapted to dry, hot climates in semiarid countries.

Guinea pig meat has been an appreciated delicacy among the Andean people of South America since the Inca civilization, and in the Llanos region of Venezuela and Colombia, so many capybaras - the world's largest rodents - are hunted every year that it would be useful to save them from extinction by setting up domestic raising systems. There is such a demand for the meat of cane rats in West African countries that facilities for raising them were set up a few years ago with moderate success.

During the last decade, the Animal Production and Health Division of FAO has strongly supported and implemented rabbit projects in Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mexico, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe and Zaire. FAO has also published two booklets and three manuals on rabbit raising and a guide to rabbit cooking, all of which are available in several languages.

FAO's Animal Production Service has recently initiated a guinea pig-raising project in Ecuador, and various comprehensive articles and reviews have been prepared on cane rats, capybaras, guinea pigs and rabbits, some of which have been published in World Animal Review.

Snail farming should also be included in small-animal raising since it has become a very lucrative business in different parts of the world. In Mediterranean countries the most important species raised are Helix Aspera and Pomatia. In Africa and eastern Asia, Achatina and Archachatina are used for this purpose.

A project under FAO's Technical Cooperation Programme is currently being implemented in Benin to train 60 farmers (30 percent of whom are women) in snail farming. As well, FAO has published two booklets on snail farming and the Animal Production Service publishes a semestrial Bulletin of Information on Microlivestock in collaboration with the Institut de Medecine Tropicale Prince Leopold, Antwerp, Belgium, and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, Wageningen, the Netherlands.

New world screwworm

North Africa. Following on reports published in World Animal Review No. 74-75, FAO's Animal Health Service is pleased to announce that a preventive phase is in progress to consolidate the eradication of the New World screwwomm (NWS) from Libya that took place in June ]992. This includes the preparation of a regional legal agreement between the countries concerned in North Africa, which will define the collaborative action to be taken to combat any future exotic animal disease that may threaten these countries. Legal experts with technical specialization in this field have visited Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Niger, the Sudan and Tunisia in order to determine mutually acceptable terms for the agreement.

Latin America and the Caribbean. Ten NWS surveillance missions have been undertaken in the endemic countries in Latin America and the Caribbean basin and a report on the situation in these regions is under preparation.

In addition, technical cooperation agreements for improving control eradication technologies have been concluded between FAO and research institutes. They include the development of a computerized Animal Disease Mapping (ANDIMAP) system, which will soon be available to support epidemiological studies.

Mexico. The eradication of the NWS from Mexico began in 1972, and by July 1990 the country was technically considered to be free of the pest. This was confirmed by an official declaration in February 1991. In January 1992, however, a post-eradication outbreak occurred, activating an intensive surveillance, control and eradication campaign, which was terminated in September 1992. During the period of the outbreak, 60 cases of screwworm myiasis were diagnosed and confirmed.

In May 1993, a second outbreak was reported and confirmed in the northeastern area of the country, 500 km south of the United States border. Immediate action was taken by the governments of Mexico and the United States to suppress and control this outbreak.

Epidemiological studies on the causes of these two outbreaks have not been completed, but there are indications that they may be associated with the movements of animals coming from endemic areas in the Central American region.

Tsetse control and land use in West Africa

The collaborative effort of researchers, field workers and FAO's Animal Health Service on the analysis of geo-referenced data sets on African animal trypanosomiasis is beginning to reveal the impact of the explosive human population growth in West Africa on the tsetse fly, land use and livestock. These studies have been focused on Nigeria, where an analysis of the above may provide timely predictions for neighbouring countries where demographic pressures are still increasing.

In Nigeria, human population growth has resulted in a gradual and progressive expansion of cultivation that reached 31 percent of the total land area in 1990. About one-third of this increase has occurred over the past 25 years, largely at the cost of forest and woodland. The implication is that some 100 000 km² of tsetse habitat has been destroyed, thereby reducing considerably the risk of trypanosomiasis. Tsetse control carried out in the late 1960s and 1970s, as well as the continuous harvesting of fuelwood, had the same effect. However, 48 percent of the land still constitutes tsetse-infested forest and woodland (Source: Nigerian Livestock Resources, Resource Inventory and Management Ltd. Jersey, UK, 1992).

The reduced disease risk in most of the northern half of the country has facilitated inward migration by pastoralists and their stock. The subsequent impact on land utilization has been profound. Since there has been no significant increase in cattle numbers and with the dispersal of animals over a wider area, stock levels have declined. Generally, the utilization of the resource base has improved, with reduced stress on the dry lands and more efficient use of crop residues and agricultural byproducts, complemented by the increased availability of animal draught power and manure to fertilize cropland. Gradually, a more balanced land use pattern has evolved.

These positive effects, however, are being offset by continued and increasing demographic pressures. Despite possessing about half of the livestock resources of the entire West African subregion, Nigeria faces an enormous and ever-widening gap between the supply of and demand for livestock products. For example, the availability of milk has dropped to a record low level of less than two litres per person per year. The balanced integration of the crop and livestock sectors will not be practically realized.

There are a number of options that can significantly increase livestock productivity, provided a holistic approach is adopted. For example, the influence of trypanosomiasis should be taken into account when reviewing the shortage of grazing. Most of the subhumid zone is still tsetse-infested and considerable areas are avoided because of the disease risk to cattle. Both from an agro-ecological and a socio-economic viewpoint, the tsetse constraint should be addressed, selectively, in priority areas. This applies in particular to the relatively isolated infestations of riverine tsetse that persist in otherwise agriculturally productive land.

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