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Animal Genetic Resources

Animal genetic resources for food and agriculture are the primary biological capital for livestock development and are vital to food security and sustainable rural development. Many of the world’s rural poor – an estimated 70 percent – keep livestock and rely on them as components of their livelihoods. Domesticated animals also contribute to the ecosystems in which they live, providing services such as seed dispersal and nutrient cycling.

Despite their enormous potential contribution to sustainable development and to reducing hunger and poverty, animal genetic resources for food and agriculture are underutilized and underconserved.  This has resulted in substantial erosion of genetic diversity – a trend that is likely to accelerate with the rapid changes affecting the livestock sector in response to massive increases in demand for livestock products. The erosion of these resources globally, and particularly in many developing countries, has accelerated in recent years as a consequence of the rapid changes affecting livestock production systems (intensification and industrialization) as they respond to surging global demand for animal products. Disease outbreaks, other disasters and emergencies (armed conflicts, droughts, etc.) and the degradation of grazing land are also threats.

The work undertaken by FAO on animal genetic resources for food and agriculture addresses technical, policy and institutional issues, and takes account of interactions with other aspects of natural resource management, production system dynamics and general socio-economic development. However, the main responsibility for implementation lies with national governments.

In 1997, the Commission established the Intergovernmental Technical Working Group on Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Its mandate is to review the situation and issues related to agrobiodiversity of animal genetic resources for food and agriculture and advise and provide recommendations to the Commission on these matters, and consider progress resulting from proposed interventions. The Commission plays a fundamental role in the preparation of the reports on the state of the world’s animal genetic resources for food and agriculture. The Second Report on the State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, published in 2015, draws on 129 country reports. The second report is an update of the first report based on 169 country reports and identifies the most significant changes that occurred between 2007, when the latter was published, and 2014. The preparation of the first report assisted in the identification of the priorities reflected in the Global Plan of Action for Animal Genetic Resources adopted in 2007. The Global Plan contains strategic priorities for the sustainable use, development and conservation of animal genetic resources, as well as provisions related to financing and implementation.

The Commission oversees, monitors and evaluates the implementation of the Global Plan of Action. A set of technical and policy guidelines has been developed to assist countries in the national implementation of the Global Plan of Action for Animal Genetic Resources. 

The Commission also supports and guides the Domestic Animal Diversity Information System (DAD-IS) as the international clearing-house mechanism for animal genetic resources, which allows countries to regularly update their national data, including information on animal genetic resources both in situ and ex situ, and to provide information on breed classifications. The data in DAD-IS on breed population sizes and conservation programmes are used to monitor Indicators 2.5.1 and 2.5.1 of the Sustainable Development Goals.