Experts Warn of "Meltdown" in Poor Country Livestock
Author: Robert Evans
In a report to a conference in the Swiss town of Interlaken,
the experts said tough and adaptable animals were being ousted
by others from richer countries that were more productive in the
short-term but posed a longer-term risk for farm output.
"There is a livestock meltdown under way across Africa, Asia
and Latin America. Valuable breeds are disappearing at an
alarming rate," Carlos Sere of the International Livestock
Research Institute (ILRI) told the week-long gathering.
"In many cases we will not even know the true value of an
existing breed until it has already gone," declared Sere,
Director-General of the Nairobi-based body which focuses on
livestock research for development.
The report, from the United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organisation (FAO), found that smallholders in poorer nations
were abandoning their traditional animals in favour of
higher-yield stock imported from Europe and the United States.
This growing reliance on a handful of farm animal species is
causing the loss on average of one livestock breed every month
in developing economies, the report said.
Holstein-Friesian cows with high milk yields, fast
egg-laying White Leghorn chickens and quick-growing Large White
pigs -- all from the industrialised and more temperate countries
of the North -- were pushing out native species in the South.
In northern Vietnam, local breeds made up 72 percent of the
sow pig population in 1994 but eight years later the proportion
had dropped to 26 percent. Of the 15 local pig breeds, 10 now
faced possible extinction, according to the report.
ILRI's Sere told the conference -- attended by 300
policy-makers, scientists, breeders and farmers from around the
globe -- that the highly-bred varieties from the North offered
short-term benefits with high volumes of meat, milk or eggs.
But over the longer term, they posed a serious risk because
many could not cope with unpredictable environmental change or
outbreaks of indigenous disease when introduced to the more
demanding conditions of the South.
Many experts were predicting that Uganda's indigenous Ankole
cattle, famous for their graceful and gigantic horns, could be
extinct within 20 years because they are being rapidly
supplanted by Holstein-Friesians.
However, during a recent drought, farmers who had kept their
tough Ankole were able to walk them long distances to water
sources while those who had switched to the imported breeds lost
their entire herds, Sere said.
Across the world, according to the FAO, one billion people
-- nearly one sixth of the global population -- are involved to
some degree in animal farming, and 70 percent of the rural poor
depend on livestock for much of their income.
"For the foreseeable future," Sere told the gathering -- the
First International Technical Conference on Animal Genetic
Resources -- "farm animals will continue to create means for
hundreds of millions of people to escape absolute poverty."
He noted that gene banks had been set up in Europe and the
United States as well as in China, India and parts of Latin
America. But their absence in Africa was a serious problem
because it was a region with the richest remaining diversity.
Another way to tackle the issue, Sere said, was the
application through international cooperation of "landscape
genomics" -- mapping techniques which help predict which breeds
are best suited to different environments around the globe.