Loss of domestic animal breeds alarming
Value of many animal genetic resources poorly understood - on-farm management and conservation suggested
31 March 2004, Rome -- Loss of domestic animal breeds around the world is continuing at an alarming rate, FAO warned today.
The trend of animal genetic erosion, outlined by the FAO World Watch List in 2000, is continuing, the UN agency said.
According to the World Watch List, out of the around 6300 breeds registered by FAO, 1350 are threatened by extinction or are already extinct.
A preliminary assessment of new data received from more than 80 country reports shows now that the number of breeds threatened by extinction is further increasing.
FAO expects more than 140 country reports to be submitted by June 2004. Final results will be published in FAO's first Report on the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources, to be issued in 2006.
Around 130 national coordinators on animal genetic resources will meet in Rome (31 March-2 April) to discuss national and regional action plans and to debate a global strategy for the better management of farm animal genetic resources.
Valuable gene pool
"Genetic diversity is an insurance against future threats such as famine, drought and epidemics," said Irene Hoffmann, Chief of the Animal Production Service.
"The existing animal gene pool may contain valuable but unknown resources that could be very useful for future food security and agricultural development. Maintaining animal genetic diversity allows farmers to select stocks or develop new breeds in response to environmental change, diseases and changing consumer demands," she said.
Just 14 out of the about 30 domesticated mammalian and bird species provide 90 percent of human food supply from animals.
"Yet, the value of the vast majority of animal genetic resources is poorly understood. Agriculture has concentrated in the past only on a very small number of breeds worldwide. Neglecting the utilization and conservation of this biological treasure has led to substantive animal genetic erosion. The development and conservation of valuable breeds must be improved," Hoffmann said.
What causes genetic erosion
Threats to genetic diversity include wars, pests and diseases, global warming, urbanization, intensification of agriculture and global marketing of exotic breeding material.
But by far the greatest cause of genetic erosion is failure to appreciate the value of locally adapted breeds. In many countries, farmers rely on a very limited number of modern breeds that are most suited for intensive agriculture systems.
"Many developing countries still consider breeds from industrialized countries to be more productive, although they have difficulties in coping with the often harsh environment," Hoffmann said.
FAO favours genetic improvement of local breeds, including the utilization and sustainable intensification of the local gene pool.
"Developing animal genetic resources on-farm in their production environment is the most effective approach to maintain genetic diversity," Hoffmann said.
Animal breeds at risk
Zebu and Criollo cattle in Latin America, for example, have more milk fat than European breeds, but they continue to be crossbred with imported breeds. Some Criollo breeds are threatened by extinction.
In Brazil, only twelve out of thirty two native pig breeds are left, and they are all under threat.
The Kuri cattle are a local breed of lake Chad. Narrowing of the lake is destroying the natural environment of this breed. Desertification pushes nomad breeders towards the banks of the lake in search of new pastures. Contact with Arab and M'Bororo zebu breeds leads to uncontrolled crossbreeding. The remaining pure-bred Kuri cattle should be identified and used as a nucleus for conservation, according to FAO.
Domestic animal diversity is unique and cannot be replaced. "Loss of diversity is forever," Hoffmann said.
Information Officer, FAO
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