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Safeguarding farm animal genetic resources for food security

India: locally adapted animal genetic resources are vital to food production systems in developing countries
FAO/19512/G. Bizzarri

For the first time, at their eighth session in April 1999, FAO's Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) discussed concrete action on animal genetic resources for food and agriculture around the world.

Playing a vital role in global food security, livestock contribute between 30 and 40 percent of the total value of food and agriculture. Livestock provide the animal products that we eat, draught power for transport, cultivation, irrigation and harvesting, fibres for clothing and other uses, and manure for fertilizer and fuel. Small farmers in developing countries also use livestock for risk management and the animals contribute to the spread of employment throughout the year.

The Commission recognized that food production systems in many parts of the world rely substantially on the use of locally adapted animal genetic resources in both the short and the longer term. (Go to The value of indigenous animal breeds)

Like plant genetic resources, the majority of farm animal genetic resources currently occur only in developing countries, but more than 90 percent of the world's locally adapted breeds are not being further developed to respond to the needs of food security. Worse still, some 30 percent of remaining animal genetic resources are now at high risk of loss, and unlike plant genetic resources, almost none of these are being conserved in a managed way.

In response to the potentially disastrous situation, the Commission emphasized the need for further developing the Global Strategy for the Management of Farm Animal Genetic Resources and also gave the go-ahead for a major new initiative in the field of animal genetic resource characterization, sustainable use and development, and conservation - a report on the State of the World's Farm Animal Genetic Resources.

"The purpose of the report is to collect information from all countries on the state of understanding, use, development and conservation of animal genetic resources; of country interdependencies for animal genetic resources and of the state of countries' capacities to effectively manage this invaluable natural capital," said FAO's Senior Officer for Animal Genetic Resources, Keith Hammond. "This information will lay the foundations for the development of sound and cost-effective plans of action, and the work will serve to promote increased awareness."

FAO is to start preparatory work immediately, drafting guidelines for country participation. The task is expected to take three to four years to complete and cost about US$ 4 million.

The Domestic Animal Diversity Information System (DAD-IS) - the information and communication system designed as part of the Global Strategy for the Management of Farm Animal Genetic Resources - will be used. DAD-IS is fully functional in English, French and Spanish, with a half-system in Chinese already in use and a demo in Arabic (Go to Chinese web site tracks domestic animal diversity). The system will be further developed to enable countries to use it for their reports.

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1 June 1999

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