Animal genetic resources for food and agriculture (AnGRFA) play a crucial role in human nutrition and animal products provide essential nutrients to humans for growth and reproduction. AnGRFA is now clearly split in two lineages; highly specialized breeds and indigenous/local breeds.
Highly specialized breeds have been selected for certain characteristics. Because of the severe selection for a certain traits, other traits are deleted from the genome. These breeds tend to require high inputs in feed, medicine, shelter etc. Maintaining these breeds is costly because they need high tech and special care. For further understanding, see the link below.
The main purpose of this article is to convey the importance of indigenous livestock breeds, generally called “breeds of the south”. Southern breeds are multipurpose and are crucial not only for food production but need very low inputs and produce food regardless of climate change and drought conditions. Here I present the salient characteristics of the Southern breeds.
Keeping multipurpose livestock is part of a survival strategy which people have developed to cope with variable and extreme climatic and environmental conditions. In some areas, livestock are critical to human survival, since the potential for growing crops is limited or non-existent. Although in extensive agricultural production systems hardiness and adaptability to extreme conditions have priority over productivity, local breeds can have remarkably high production potential. One of the best examples is milk production potential of the camel, which produce milk even in hostile and harsh environments.
Local livestock breeds are hardy and resistant to drought and diseases. Resistance to diseases is very important trait as people are very reluctant to soaring use of medicines in specialized breeds for disease control. Breeders know the importance of relevant breed and can well define special traits of their animal genetic resources. Special traits include disease tolerance, drought resistance, thriftiness, phenotypic markers and compensatory growth etc. Some phenotypic traits are linked with productivity, one of the best example is white color among Kohi breed of dromedary camel in Pakistan producing more milk than the brown one of the same breed.
Well-adapted local breeds that are raised without special feed (concentrate) or preventive health care are increasingly recognized as more productive than imported exotics and “improved breeds”. Local breeds thus form the most suitable foundation for sustainable livestock production in rural areas.
Source of Food and economic security
Maintaining a wide spectrum of local animal breeds is crucial to food security, poverty alleviation and sustainable development. The safeguarding of locally adapted livestock breeds is therefore very much in the interest of developing countries both for present and future food security. Rising incomes lead to rising demand for specialized foods generated by a diversification of animal production systems. They are of social benefit as “insurance” against natural disasters or economic bottlenecks. Local livestock breeds perform as ATM for its keepers. In drought like condition they migrate to other areas and save their livestock and livelihood. There breeds have very good walking ability and conserve a lot of food in good day (good vegetation) in the form of fats and use in rainy days (difficult days)
Cultural and historical identity and indigenous knowledge
Local livestock breeds reflect the cultural and historical identity of the communities that developed them; therefore, conserving these breeds is necessary to maintain cultural identity. Local livestock breeds are embedded in indigenous knowledge (IK). Indigenous knowledge of animal breeding is composed of various concepts and practices used by livestock breeders to influence the genetic composition of their herds. It includes cultural concepts, local preferences for certain adaptive and socio-cultural characteristics, selection for locally desirable qualities, pedigree keeping, special traits etc.
Unfortunately such precious AnGR is under threat
According to the UNFAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization), globally about 1000 of the 6400 recognized breeds have become extinct during the last 100 years. One-third of these died out between 1985 and 2000 (FAO, 2001). The vast majority of the threatened breeds are from the South because of the many reasons; one of the major reasons is the poor and ill characterization and documentation of local breeds. The other reason is political backing for the import of exotic breeds. Also, import of exotic breeds is an easy way to increase production and there is no need of lengthy institutional work and process. Also western governments promote their breeds to support their breeders and give the breeds in the form of aids to developing countries. Such aids are mostly conditional, to promote their genetic resources and make developing countries dependant. Reasons for the high extinction rate are complex and interrelated. Policies and developments that disenfranchise or marginalize ethnic minorities; conflicts and wars; natural disasters, inappropriate development aid focusing on short-term benefits and change in social systems are also responsible for the extinction of breeds.
Local breeds might be more efficient than the high yielding specialized breeds on the basis of inputs. Such breeds are crucial to achieve the MDGs of the UN. The major themes of MDGs include food security, child/women health and poverty reduction. Such themes can be easily covering with the development of indigenous livestock breeds. Because of the poor characterization and documentation of the indigenous livestock breeds, policy makers always chose the easy way of importing high yielding breeds. This phenomenon ever accelerated the process of extinction of local AnGR, especially, cattle, pig and poultry.
It is the need of time to characterize and documents the local AnGR according to the perspectives and breeding goals of the relevant breeders. For this purpose module is produced by the author to correctly characterize and document the local AnGR and help in the mitigation of loss to these precious livestock genetic resources. Society of Animal, Veterinary and Environmental Scientists (SAVES) is working on the correct characterization and documentation of local breeds. Also conservation (through strengthening and promoting the breeding communities) is one of the priority goals for SAVES.
To know and understand that specialized module, author is available at the email below.