Previous PageTable of ContentsNext Page


The Role of Breed Societies and Breed Conservation
Non-Governmental Organizations in Community-Based
Management of Farm Animal Genetic Resources

Keith Ramsay, Charl Hunlun and Antoinette Kotze
National Department for Agriculture, Private Bag X 138, Pretoria, South Africa
(E-mail: keithr@nda.agric.za)


Introduction

Farm animals have played an important role in the history and development of South Africa and will continue to do so as most of the land available for agriculture can only support some form of animal production. The country has a wide variety of animals - from high-producing breeds of cattle, sheep, pigs and horses, adapted to modern production systems - to a number of indigenous breeds that have supported communities in the traditional/communal areas for many years. South African animal agriculture is, however, facing new challenges. Urban encroachment and a growing demand for animal products are placing increasing pressure on reduced resources and the country can no longer afford the luxury of less-efficient production. Lasting food security will only be possible if all sectors move towards more effective and sustainable management of farm animal genetic resources. This includes the resources in the traditional/communal farming sector.

Farmers and stock owners in this sector are often seen as "resource-poor". Most of them lack, or have limited access to, some basic resource in the production chain - be it land, capital, information, technology or institutional support.

In the past, reasons for keeping animals, along with the intricacies of communal land tenure and traditional herd structures were seen as barriers hampering progress. Many efforts were made to "improve" animals that were better suited to the total production environment than exotic alternatives, which were often introduced at the expense of local breeds. Failure to understand and appreciate the complexity of livestock ownership and to incorporate traditional knowledge and experience into most of the improvement projects initiated in the traditional/communal sector almost led to the disappearance of a number of economically important breeds and those involved in the promotion of sustainable farm systems in developing areas are now faced with the task of reversing years of negative extension.

The current challenge is to convince stock owners that the animals, which were often seen as inferior, are, in fact, a valuable resource. Information on value-added traits, products and markets is needed to enable stock owners to make a choice based on sound economic principles. To be effective, however, this information must flow to all levels and appropriate and affordable genetic material must be easy to access.

A concerted effort is also needed to rationalize the paradigm of livestock/breed improvement as the magic solution. The best animal recording and improvement schemes imaginable will come to nothing without a sound foundation of veldt and animal husbandry. Despite this, however, it is the rural/communal sector that has the biggest potential to increase production and to conserve South Africa’s indigenous farm animal genetic resources through sustainable use. This, however, requires a well-coordinated effort to identify and quantify the available resources, and to move stock owners in this sector towards commercialization.

It is here that breed conservation non-governmental organizations (NGOs), animal breeders’ societies and clubs can and should play a key role. South African breed societies are recognized by the Livestock Improvement Act, 1977 (Act No. 25 of 1977) and are effectively responsible for the collective interests of their members. This includes promotion and improvement.

The mere existence of stud breeders is an indication that there is a viable market for breeding animals with a certain degree of purity and prepotency for identified traits. Cost-effective production and the improvement of related genetic components in commercial herds is therefore - to a large extent - dependent on the genetic improvement of the relevant traits in the stud herds providing breeding material to this sector (Hunlun, 1999).

At present, the traditional/communal sector may be less dependent on stud herds for genetic material, but there is an underlying interdependence when it comes to many of the indigenous breeds. At a symposium to celebrate the 50th year of South Africa (SA) Stud Book, Rhys Evans and Evans (1971) listed criteria for assessing the role that stud animals have played in the livestock industry. These were expressed as the following questions:

How successful have stud breeders been in persuading commercial cattlemen to utilize the advantages inherent in pure-bred registered cattle?

Have breeds with the basic characteristics necessary to fulfil the specific requirements of various different types of commercial producers been available?

Have stud breeders been successful in adapting the various exotic breeds to South African conditions?

Have stud breeders been prepared for changes in demand by first predicting such changes and second, modifying their breeding policies in time and thus being able to meet new demands?

Hofmeyr (1971), speaking at the same symposium, expressed concern about the fact that breed promotion programmes generally showed a lamentable lack of objective evaluation of breed merit and therefore failed to indicate the breeds’ true potential within the framework of the national livestock policy.

Has the situation changed over the past 30 years? And have the relevant breed societies had any effect on decisions taken by stock owners in communal areas? South Africa has used an NGO to assist with the conservation of farm animal genetic resources (AnGR) for the past six years. This NGO was modelled on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) in the United Kingdom and on Rare Breeds International (RBI).

RBST and RBI structures and objectives were adapted for local use, without compromising the basic principle of conservation through sustainable use.

The Farm Animal Conservation Trust (FACT) may promote the conservation of some breeds that are often more prolific in the communal sector. But has FACT had an impact, and can this NGO influence stock owners in this sector?

The objective of this study was to review the current and potential impact of breed societies, breeders’ clubs and a local breed conservation NGO (FACT) on rural stock owners in traditional/communal areas - as far as information, availability of breeding stock, access to markets and possible influence on the choice of breed are concerned. The relevance of questions raised by Rhys Evans and Evans 30 years ago was also taken into consideration. SA Stud Book, as the representative of the collective interests of almost 60 breeders’ societies, was also included in the review.

Methodological approach

The following criteria were used to evaluate the current activities of relevant breed societies, direct entry clubs, SA Stud Book and FACT, and to discuss ways in which these organizations could be more effective in promoting and supporting the management of AnGR in the traditional/communal sector:

User-friendly information, extension and training;

Organized animal identification, evaluation and within-breed improvement;

Access to suitably improved genetic material;

Development of products and markets;

Broadened access to local, regional and global markets;

Effective veldt management and animal husbandry.

The breeds identified for the study included the more common landrace breeds as well as some locally adapted exotic breeds that have been used for more specific purposes (milk, wool, mohair), or that have become relatively popular in this sector. All the breeds have either breed societies or are direct entry breeds with support services and clubs.

Table 1. Breeds used for the purposes of the study

Breed

Classification

Status

Afrikaner

Indigenous (land)

Breed society

Bonsmara

Locally developed (land)

Breed society

Brahman

Adapted exotic (comp)

Breed society

Drakensberger

Locally developed (land)

Breed society

Jersey

Adapted exotic

Breed society

SA Holstein

Adapted exotic

Breed society

Simmentaler

Adapted exotic

Breed society

SA Merino

Adapted exotic

Breed society

Dohne Merino

Locally developed (land)

Breed society

Dorper

Locally developed (land)

Breed society

Persian

Indigenous (land)

Breed society

Pedi

Indigenous (land)

Club

Damara

Indigenous (land)

Breed society

Angora goat

Adapted exotic

Breed society

Savannah goat

Indigenous (land)

Direct entry (club)

Boer goat

Indigenous

Breed society/direct entry

Analysis

Breed societies and clubs

A total of 61 breed societies are responsible for the collective interests of members and the marketing of certified genetic material. In addition, there are 48 direct entry breeds. These are breeds where no formal society exists and where the SA Stud Book serves such breeders without the involvement of a breeders’ society. In some cases, breeder clubs fulfil part of this function, particularly when it comes to promotion and marketing.

Table 2. Breeds, societies and direct entry breeds in South Africa

Species

Breeds

Societies

Direct entry

Cattle

42

25

17

Dog

2

2

0

Goat

11

3

6

Horse

28

17

11

Ostrich

1

1

0

Pig

5

1

0

Sheep

26

12

14

Total

115

61

48

Source: SA Stud Book

Global awareness of the real value and genetic diversity of adapted minimum care breeds for sustainable animal agriculture off natural vegetation has led to the emergence of local, regional and global markets for such animals. This, in turn, has added impetus to conservation initiatives that are based on sustainable use and added value. To date, however, the pedigree livestock and larger commercial producer sector have benefited the most. Rural stock owners have not always had access to user-friendly information or markets and are therefore often unaware of the value of their animals, or where they could be sold.

Most breed societies are also more concerned about marketing genetic material and seldom have an "after sales service" beyond the commercial farmer sector.

Some landrace breed societies have fairly narrow gene pools as a result of limited resources as far as registered animals are concerned and as a result of tendencies to select for "fancy points" and to sell animals within the stud breeder community, often at prices that are restrictive to commercial producers and stock owners in the communal/traditional sector.

In many cases, communal/traditional stock owners have unrelated animals. These animals have the potential to contribute to much-needed genetic biodiversity in the commercial and stud-breeding sector, and these resources and their owners should be incorporated into mutually beneficial breeding and improvement programmes.

Breed societies that would benefit from such actions could, in turn, assist with information and training on critical inputs such as effective identification, basic recording and sound veldt and animal husbandry. In this way, the stud breeder and related institutions would become an integral part of the total industry and would, in turn, contribute to the improved management of AnGR in the traditional/communal sector.

The Nguni cattle breeders’ society played a major role in the conservation of the breed through the process of commercialization. Most of the foundation stock came from government breeding stations in some of the developing areas of the country and the higher prices paid at sales did influence a few communities to concentrate on pure Ngunis. Some, in fact, sold animals to stud breeders and a few local breeding projects were established. There was, however, only limited continuity with a resultant loss of interest over time.

Communities with pure animals could and should reorganize themselves to form breeder clubs, with direct and mutually beneficial links with the Nguni cattle breed society.

The Afrikaner breed is still fairly prevalent in some areas under communal land tenure. Breed society involvement or stewardship could lead to a much-needed increase in numbers of pure Afrikaners - to the benefit of both the communal and stud cattle sectors.

The Dorper sheep society has an outreach programme at club level. Clubs are usually organized at provincial or regional level and are able to facilitate more effective communication with owners of Dorpers in nearby developing areas.

Table 3. Details and current status of some breed societies in South Africa

Breed society/club

Formally established/incorporated

Current status

Information

Members

Animals

Afrikaner

June 1912

J, P, PA, S, E

105

19 149

Friesland (SA Holstein)

21 October 1912

J, P, PA, S, E

650

110 000

Drakensberger

1946

N, P, PA, S

120

*

Bonsmara

1964

J, P, PA, E

342

98 627

Nguni

1985

J, P, PA, E

174

19 149

Merino sheep


J, P, PA, S, E

520

150 000

Dohne Merino sheep

1960

J, P, PA, S, E



Dorper sheep

19 July 1950

J, P, PA, S, E

564

160 105

Damara sheep

28 April 1992

J, P, PA, S, E

15

2 111

Persian sheep


N, P, PA, S



Angora goat

1894

N, PA, S

125

215 000

Boer goat

1959

J, P, PA, S, E

**15/300

**3 689/*

Savannah goat


N, PA



Brahman

11 June 1957

J, P, PA, S, E

527

51 000

J - journal; P - pamphlets; PA - popular articles; S - shows; E - exhibitions; N - newsletter. *Accurate statistics not available. **Registered with SA Stud Book.

Information from Bonsma, 1971; SA Stud Book, 2001; Breed Societies, 2001

The Merino Society is part of a joint programme with the ARC Range and Forage Institute, the National Wool Growers Association, the Eastern Cape Province Department of Agriculture and a community in the Peddie district to improve wool marketing in the area and to breed improved fine wool animals using a combination of selected local ewes and stud rams. This could be used as a model for other communities with wool sheep.

South Africa Stud Book

The South Africa (SA) Stud Book is an association of almost 60 livestock and animal breeders’ societies and their members. In terms of its constitution, the aims of the SA Stud Book are, amongst other things, to:

Encourage and promote the breeding, conservation and genetic improvement of the production potential of animals under its jurisdiction;

Keep records of the pedigrees, production and performance of animals and issue certificates of registration and recording for such animals;

Safeguard and advance the collective interests of stud breeders and their breeders’ societies and act as a mouthpiece for the stud-breeding industry;

Represent the collective interest of animal breeders and their societies on various national and international bodies and forums;

Render technical and advisory services to breeders’ societies, their members and participants in the Integrated Registration and Genetic Information System (INTERGIS);

Promote the export of animals with pedigrees registered or recorded with the association, and of semen, ova or embryos from animals thus registered or recorded.

In recognition of the situation of emergent livestock producers SA Stud Book has, for some years now, offered an aid package to emergent livestock breeders who wish to make use of the facilities and services of the organization. To date, there has been very little interest, but SA Stud Book has been involved in the activities of other organizations involved in the communal and/or traditional sector in an attempt to publicize the aid package.

The Farm Animal Conservation Trust (FACT)

FACT is an active partner in a national initiative to create awareness and markets and to add value to endangered and indigenous breeds. This partnership includes the National Department of Agriculture, the Agricultural Research Council, the National Cultural History Museum and some universities. FACT activities include the preparation and distribution of farmer-friendly information on lesser-known and endangered farm animals and facilitating conservation through the sustainable use of these breeds in commercial farming systems.

All the available literature, including archaeo-zoological, historical, popular and scientific publications on the origin and development of early-domesticated breeds has been collected, catalogued and stored at the Irene Animal Improvement Institute. This data has been used to produce a number of posters and pamphlets on the breeds in question. These are now regularly used at shows and exhibitions to create an awareness of the importance of South Africa’s early-domesticated farm animals.

FACT has also published a booklet on South Africa’s landrace breeds as part of an initiative to conserve through commercial use. Information on production environments was included to help match animals with effective farming systems. It also serves as a useful reference on value- adding traits that are often overlooked and that could give the breeds in question a competitive edge. The hope is that this will also contribute to the emergence of commercial breeders of landraces in the resource-poor sector and to the long-term stability of breeds.

FACT held a first show and sale of breeds during 1999. This was based on the RBST show-and-sale concept and is aimed at public awareness, the further distribution of genetic material and broadening the emerging-farmer sector’s access to markets for their indigenous breeds. It is hoped that this will become an annual event and the possibility of two sales - one to serve the predominantly cattle-oriented north and one to serve the mixed small-stock cattle areas in the south of the country - is currently being investigated.

Table 4. FACT activities, 1995 to 2000

Activity

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

Agricultural shows

2

2

4

4

5

3

Symposiums

1

2

1

1

1

1

Farm festivals/exhibitions

3

5

8

6

4

4

Source: Ramsay & Kotze, 2000

Availability of information and technical services and assistance

At present, much of the available information is fragmented and often difficult to access for the rural emergent farmer/stock owner. In addition, access to appropriate technology and to markets further complicates matters. Information on often less suitable breeds is more freely available in the popular agricultural media.

Some breed societies have donated genetic material to the emergent-farmer sector, but few have yet become involved in the communal sector. Actions in this sector need to be integrated or holistic, taking into consideration the complexity of stock ownership, communal land tenure and the need for basic inputs such as animal identification, recording and improved veldt and animal husbandry.

The Brahman cattle breeders’ society is currently busy with an integrated project to assist emergent farmer groups in the North West Province with both genetic material (semen) and advice on improved management and marketing.

Such actions could benefit relevant communities in the traditional/communal sector, provided that there is a degree of responsibility to ensure that an integrated approach is adopted, and that attention is given to local breeds and not to breeds that require production and husbandry inputs that would stretch the natural resources and that are generally beyond the management capabilities of the people.

In principle, the Brahman initiative could serve as a model for other breed societies.

To be effective, however, such models would need strategically placed centres where integrated services could be rendered. This would require a commitment to closer cooperation from the relevant provincial Departments of Agriculture and other role players such as breed societies and donor organizations that may be interested in the concept.

Conclusions

Most of the traditional/communal areas have adapted/indigenous animals in quantities and purity that could lead to owner-driven initiatives with sufficient financial incentives to promote the concept of conservation through sustainable use. These resources often have a high degree of genetic biodiversity and are, as such, of considerable value to the relevant breed societies in the stud-breeding sector. Stock owners in the traditional/communal sector are, however, largely unaware of the value of their own animals and have limited access to information and markets.

There is sufficient information to enable farmers and stock owners to match animals with local environmental conditions and own management inputs, but it is often fragmented and difficult to access. The available information and supportive services and technology need to be converted into a form that is both user-friendly and easy to access at all levels. In addition, more attention needs to be given to research into value-added traits and the development of cottage industries capable of processing hides and skins for leather, fibre for clothing and meat and milk for food industries. Labelling such products could further enhance value and could even lead to potential lucrative contracts with foreign investors.

Breed societies can - and should - become more involved with stock owners in the communal areas, particularly as far as basic management inputs such as identification and recording are concerned. Alternative forms of membership should also be considered - possibly a club category that would enable communities to join and benefit from society - together with stud book services without the expense of individual membership. The SA Stud Book, as the collective representative of most breed societies in South Africa, should become more actively involved in initiatives and should promote the existing outreach programme more effectively. FACT has been fairly effective in creating an awareness of the value of South Africa’s indigenous and locally developed breeds, some of which can be classified as endangered.

A combination of live exhibits, posters and leaflet information that can be set up at strategic events has been effective in generating interest in the breeds and has led to the emergence of satellite breeding and conservation units. However, the most important thing is to remain focused on conservation through sustainable use and to encourage farmers to use the breeds in question as a viable alternative.

References

Bonsma, F.N. 1971. Review of the development of the SA Stud Book Association and affiliated breed societies. SA Stud Book Association Jubilee Edition. Bloemfontein, Dreyer Printers and Publishers.

Hofmeyr, J.H. 1971. Future role and task of stud breeding and the stud-breeding organization in South Africa. SA Stud Book Association Jubilee Edition. Bloemfontein, Dreyer Printers and Publishers.

Hunlun, C. 1999. The link between SA Stud Book, the pedigree livestock industry and resource-poor agriculture. In Proc. Annual Meeting of the Developing Animal Agriculture Interest Group of the SA Society for Animal Science. Mmabatho, October.

Ramsay, K.A. & Kotze, A. 2000. The role of non-governmental organizations in the conservation of farm animal genetic resources: a review of the South African Farm Animal Conservation Trust as a possible model. Proc. 5th Global Conference on Conservation of Animal Genetic Resources. Brasilia, November.

Rhys Evans, J. & Evans, A. 1971. Critical appraisal of the role of Stud Book in the promotion of commercial animal production in South Africa. SA Stud Book Association Jubilee Edition. Bloemfontein, Dreyer Printers and Publishers.

SA Stud Book and Livestock Improvement Association. 2001. Statistics on membership and animal numbers of incorporated breed societies.


Previous PageTop of PageNext Page