A ‘livestock meltdown’ is occurring as hardy African, Asian and Latin American farm animals face extinction

Scientists Call for Rapid Establishment of Livestock Genebanks To Conserve Indigenous Breeds
 

With the world’s first global inventory of farm animals showing many breeds of African, Asian, and Latin American livestock at risk of extinction, scientists from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) today called for the rapid establishment of genebanks to conserve the sperm and ovaries of key animals critical for the global population’s future survival.

An over-reliance on just a few breeds of a handful of farm animal species, such as high-milk-yielding Holstein-Friesian cows, egg-laying White Leghorn chickens, and fast-growing Large White pigs, is causing the loss of an average of one livestock breed every month according to a recently released report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The black-and-white Holstein-Friesian dairy cow, for example, is now found in 128 countries and in all regions of the world. An astonishing 90 percent of cattle in industrialized countries come from only six very tightly defined breeds.

The report, “The State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources,” compiled by FAO, with contributions by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and other research groups, surveyed farm animals in 169 countries. Nearly 70 percent of the entire world’s remaining unique livestock breeds are found in developing countries, according to the report, which was presented to over 300 policy makers, scientists, breeders, and livestock keepers at the First International Technical Conference on Animal Genetic Resources, held in Interlaken, Switzerland, from 3-7 September 2007.

“Valuable breeds are disappearing at an alarming rate,” said Carlos Seré, Director General of ILRI. “In many cases we will not even know the true value of an existing breed until it’s already gone. This is why we need to act now to conserve what’s left by putting them in genebanks.”

In a keynote speech at the scientific forum on the opening day of the Interlaken conference, Seré called for the rapid establishment of genebanks in Africa as one of four practical steps to better characterize, use, and conserve the genetic basis of farm animals for the livestock production systems around the world.

“This is a major step in the right direction,” said Seré. “The international community is beginning to appreciate the seriousness of this loss of livestock genetic diversity. FAO is leading inter-governmental processes to better manage these resources. These negotiations will take time to bear fruit. Meanwhile, some activities can be started now to help save breeds that are most at risk.”

ILRI, whose mission is poverty reduction through livestock research for development, helps countries and regions save their specially adapted breeds for future food security, environmental sustainability, and human development.

Industrialized countries built their economies significantly through livestock production and there is no indication that developing countries will be any different. Worldwide today, one billion people are involved in animal farming and 70 percent of the rural poor depend on livestock as an important part of their livelihoods. “For the foreseeable future,” says Seré, “farm animals will continue to create means for hundreds of millions of people to escape absolute poverty.”

In recent years, many of the world’s smallholder farmers abandoned their traditional animals in favor of higher yielding stock imported from Europe and the US. For example, in northern Vietnam, local breeds comprised 72 percent of the sow population in 1994, and within eight years, this had dropped to just 26 percent. Of the country’s fourteen local pig breeds, five are now vulnerable, two are in critical state, and three are facing extinction.

Scientists predict that Uganda’s indigenous Ankole cattle—famous for their graceful and gigantic horns—could face extinction within 50 years because they are being rapidly supplanted by Holstein-Friesians, which produce much more milk. During a recent drought, some farmers that had kept their hardy Ankole were able to walk them long distances to water sources while those who had traded the Ankole for imported breeds lost their entire herds.

Seré notes that exotic animal breeds offer short-term benefits to their owners because they promise high volumes of meat, milk, or eggs, but he warned that they also pose a high risk because many of these breeds cannot cope with unpredictable fluctuations in the environment or disease outbreaks when introduced into more demanding environments in the developing world.

Cryo-banking Sperm and Eggs
Scientists and conservationists alike agree that we can’t save all livestock populations. But ILRI has helped lay the groundwork for prioritizing livestock conservation efforts in developing regions. Over the past six years, it has built a detailed database, called the Domestic Animal Genetic Resources Information System (DAGRIS), containing research-based information on the distribution, characteristics, and status of 669 breeds of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens indigenous to Africa and Asia.

Seré proposes acceleration of four practical steps to better manage farm animal genetic resources.

1.) A first strategy is to encourage farmers to keep genetic diversity “on the hoof,” which means maintaining a variety of indigenous breeds on farms. In his speech, Seré called for the use of market-incentives and good public policy that make it in the farmer’s self-interest to maintain diversity.
2.) Another way to encourage “keeping it on the hoof,” Seré said, is by allowing greater mobility of livestock breeds across national borders. When it comes to livestock, farmers have to “move it or lose it,” he said. Wider distribution of breeds and access to them makes it less likely that particular breeds and populations will be wiped out by fluctuations in the market, civil strife, natural disasters, or disease outbreaks.
3.) The third approach that Seré is championing is a longer term one with great future potential for resource-poor farmers. It goes by the name of “landscape genomics” and it combines advanced genomic and geographical mapping techniques to predict which breeds are best suited to which environments and circumstances around the world.
4.) But for landscape genomics—or any of the other approaches—to work, of course, scientists will need a wide variety of livestock genetic diversity to work with. For this reason, the fourth approach Seré is advocating is long-term insurance to “put some in the bank,” by establishing genebanks to store semen, eggs, and embryos of farm animals. 

“In the US, Europe, China, India, and South America, there are well-established genebanks actively preserving regional livestock diversity,” said Seré. “Sadly, Africa has been left wanting and that absence is sorely felt right now because this is one of the regions with the richest remaining diversity and is likely to be a hotspot of breed losses in this century.”

But setting up genebanks is a first important step towards a long-term insurance policy for livestock. Seré noted that genebanks by themselves are not the only answer to conservation, particularly if they end up becoming “stamp collections” that are never used.

“Individual countries are already conserving their unique animal genetic resources. The international community needs to step forward in support,” said Seré. “We support FAO’s call to action and the CGIAR stands ready to assist the international community in putting these words into action.” 

Related information: 

 What Makes Livestock Conservation So Different from Plant Conservation?

 

 

North-to-South Livestock Gene Flows Crowd out Local Breeds

 

 

Livestock breeds face ‘meltdown’ (BBC News)

 

Visit the online press room for further information and a series of short films and high-quality images of the third world’s unique farm animal breeds.

Protecting breeds for people

Animal Genetic Resources Are a Key Tool for Coping with Change in the Livestock Sector
 

Livestock are ubiquitous in the developing world. The ‘big five’—cattle, sheep, goats, poultry and pigs—as well as 9 other popular farm animals and 26 or so more specialized species are raised by more than half a billion people either on pastoral rangelands by nomadic herders, or on mixed farms by smallholders who raise crops along with livestock, or in peri-urban areas by people who raise a few animals in their backyards. All of these small-scale livestock enterprises matter to developing-country governments because livestock account for some 30 per cent of their agricultural gross domestic product, a figure expected to rise to 40 per cent by the year 2030.

The diverse livestock production systems, like most crop production systems, are changing in response to globalization, urbanization, environmental degradation, climate change and science and technology. But the fastest changes are occurring within the livestock systems. That’s because the developing world’s rising human populations and household incomes are causing demand for milk, meat, eggs and other livestock foods to soar. As one would expect, livestock markets are growing and changing to serve that growing demand. What’s less appreciated are the changes being wrought by many of the billion-plus small-scale livestock keepers and sellers of the developing world who are changing the way they do business to help meet that growing demand.

The rate of change within the livestock sector is so rapid that many local populations of livestock developed by small-scale farmers over millennia no longer have time to evolve adaptations to their new circumstances or the new needs of their owners. They are simply dying out, and at unprecedented and accelerating rates. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that on average a breed disappears every month and that 20 per cent of our uniquely adapted breeds of domestic animals are at risk of extinction.

Over the last 150 years, farmers in industrialized countries supplanted their indigenous farm animals with a few high-producing breeds of a few species (chickens, pigs, cattle) suited to highly intensified production systems. The result is that 70 per cent of the world’s known livestock genetic diversity now resides on small farms and in remote regions of developing countries. With all the challenges facing developing countries and their one billion people living on less than a dollar a day, the question arises as to what immediate practical and cost-effective steps could be taken to preserve the wealth of their livestock genetic diversity.

From a research viewpoint, it’s clear that if we’re going to manage the world’s remaining livestock genetic resources well, we’ll have to characterize the remaining populations to decide which are worth saving and why, we’ll have to find ways of broadening use of those populations deemed useful, and we’ll have to conserve the most important livestock genetic diversity for possible future use—by poor and rich farmers alike.

From a political viewpoint, we’ll need new and appropriate institutional and policy frameworks, as well as lots of policy discussions, to find ways to strengthen national and international programs that support the conservation of livestock biodiversity.

While the political issues are being discussed at length at national and inter-governmental fora, four practical things can be started immediately to ensure that the world’s remaining livestock biodiversity is conserved for future generations.

(1) Keep it on the hoof.
Give local farmers and communities incentives for maintaining local livestock breeds by, for example, improving access by poor farmers and herders to markets, perhaps including niche markets, where they can sell their traditional livestock products.
 
 (2) Move it or lose it.
Encourage safe movements of livestock populations within and between countries, regions and continents to widen global access, use and conservation of farm animal genetic resources.
 
(3) Match breeds with environments.
Optimize livestock production by expertly matching livestock genotypes with farmer ambitions, fast-changing environments and specific natural resources, production systems and socio-economic circumstances.

 (4) Put some in the bank.
Freeze semen, embryos and tissues of local breeds and store them indefinitely to protect indigenous livestock germplasm against extinction due to the on-going declines in livestock diversity and to serve as long-term insurance against catastrophic losses due to wars, droughts, famines and other future shocks.

How science can help
It’s clear that most of the developing world’s indigenous livestock populations will not be able to adapt in time to their rapidly changing environments and circumstances; we’ll need new strategies and interventions to improve our conservation and husbandry of these resources. It’s also clear that advances in several scientific fields promise to give rise to those innovations.

On-going breakthroughs in livestock reproductive technologies and functional genomics, for example, as well as in the information fields of bioinformatics and spatial analysis, are being systematically marshaled for the first time to address this challenge.. And policy and agricultural systems analysts are today articulating more judicious thinking about the production and funding of global public goods.

Finally, whereas societies and countries tend to differ in their short-term interests in livestock production, their long-term interests—such as learning how to cope with unforeseen changes in livestock production systems and their environments—tend to converge. This creates real opportunities for international scientific, environmental and aid agencies to work with developing countries in collective action to conserve the world’s remaining livestock genetic diversity.

Visit the online press room for further information and a series of short films and high-quality images of the third world’s unique farm animal breeds.

Livestock biosciences for poverty alleviation: One more arrow in the quiver!

Proceedings of the 4th All Africa Conference on Animal Agriculture ‘The role of biotechnology in animal agriculture to address poverty in Africa’, now available for download

The theme of the 4th All Africa Conference on Animal Agriculture was ‘The role of biotechnology in animal agriculture to address poverty in Africa: Opportunities and challenges’. The conference, which was held in Arusha, Tanzania, in September 2005, was organized by the All Africa Society for Animal Production (AASAP) in association with the Tanzania Society for Animal Production (TSAP), and partnership with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). The recently released proceedings contain over 50 papers by leading experts in biotechnology covering animal health, genetic diversity and improvement and animal feeds and nutrition. The technologies reported ranged from the rather conventional approaches to the more advanced molecular techniques.

ILRI’s director general, Carlos Seré, and ILRI’s director of biotechnology, Ed Rege, presented a paper on Agricultural biotechnology for poverty alleviation at the first plenary session. The paper highlights opportunities for livestock biotechnologies in the areas of animal health through new/improved vaccines and diagnostics, genetic improvement of livestock, conservation of indigenous breeds and genetic diversity, and improving the nutritional quality of feeds. They argue animal agriculture will continue to be of considerable importance for poverty alleviation in Africa for some time to come, and that appropriate applications of biosciences can increase the pace of Africa’s agricultural and economic development.

‘Economic development in Africa will, of necessity, have to be initially linked to agriculture (broadly defined to include crop, livestock, forestry and fish). Staple crops and livestock are most likely to promote economic growth in the continent. To date, public sector investment in biotechnology in Africa has led to few products.

‘However, similar to what is happening in Asia and Latin America, there is a great opportunity for Africa to mobilize science to create wealth for its people and achieve higher economic growth.

‘If a new technology is useful and the price is right, the spread is almost unstoppable. Clearly, biotechnology is not a substitute for other technologies, but is an additional arsenal which should be used as and when appropriate to increase the pace of agricultural development. It is simply another arrow in the quiver!’

Copies of this new publication will be made available at the Africa Agricultural Science Week and the 4th Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) General Assembly in Johannesburg on 10– 16 June 2007.

Download the book: http://mahider.ilri.org/bitstream/10568/2275/1/Role%20of%20biotechnology.pdf

John Vercoe Conference: Animal breeding for poverty alleviation

The John Vercoe Conference and seventh Peter Doherty Distinguished Lecture will take place at ILRI headquarters in Nairobi 8-9 November 2007.
 


The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) Board of Trustees is pleased to announce the John Vercoe Conference and the seventh Peter Doherty Distinguished Lecture. The conference theme is ‘Animal breeding for poverty alleviation – harnessing new science for greater impact’.

The John Vercoe Conference will be inaugurated by the Kenyan Minister of Science and Technology, Hon. Noah Wekesa and thereafter, followed by the presentation of a keynote paper by Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Further topics include:

  • Case studies of breeding programs within developing countries (Christie Peacock, Farm Africa, UK)
  • Breeding program design issues for small-holders (Ed Rege, ILRI)
  • New opportunities for reproductive technologies in developing countries (Johan van Arendonk, Wageningen University, Netherlands)
  • New DNA-based technologies and their prospects for developing countries (Julius van der Werf, University of New England, Australia / Brian Kinghorn)
  • How animal breeding relates to other interventions to reduce poverty (Ade Freeman, ILRI)

The conference will be held at ILRI headquarters in Nairobi on 8-9 November 2007. For further information and to register for the conference, go to the John Vercoe Conference website at: http://www.ilri.org/johnvercoeconference
 

New tools to improve utilisation of farm animal genetic resources in developing countries

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has recently launched important new information and training resources designed to improve utilisation of the full spectrum of animal genetic resources available in developing countries.


 improve utilisation of farm animal genetic resources
DAGRIS project team leader Tadelle Dessie among cattle in the Ghibe Valley of southwestern Ethiopia.

Throughout the developing world, rapidly increasing populations and changing lifestyles will continue to cause massive increases in demand for foods of animal origin. Key to meeting that demand – and to preventing widespread hunger and malnutrition – are the unique genetic resources found in thousands of locally adapted indigenous breeds of livestock. However, lack of accessible information on these breeds and a shortage of teachers and researchers specialising in animal genetic resources are currently major constraints. The result: in developing countries very few people are appropriately trained in animal breeding and genetics and many genetic conservation and livestock improvement programmes are unsuccessful; globally, a third of the world’s 5,000 breeds of livestock are at high risk of extinction and more than 700 have already been lost.
 
The Domestic Animal Genetic Resources Information System (DAGRIS) is a database which aims to assemble and make readily available in the public domain information – drawn from both formal publications as well as the ‘grey’ literature – on the origin, distribution, diversity, use and status of local breeds. Starting with African breeds of cattle, sheep and goats and recently adding pigs and chicken from Africa and Asia, it hopes to eventually expand its coverage to include geese, ducks and turkeys and also Latin America and the Caribbean. To further enhance capacity at the national level, ‘Country DAGRIS’ will also be established with local partners supported by ILRI to better meet their specific research and development needs. DAGRIS is available both on-line and via CD-ROM, and will be regularly updated as more information becomes available. Click here for a two page brief on DAGRIS.

The Animal Genetics Training Resource (AGTR) is a unique, ‘one-stop’, user-friendly, interactive, multimedia resource, targeted at both researchers and scientists teaching and supervising graduate and post-graduate students in animal breeding and genetics. It consists of core modules, case studies from developing countries, exercises, tools, a library and has links to many other information sources on and related to animal genetic resources, including DAGRIS. It covers established as well as rapidly developing areas, such as gene-based technologies and their application in livestock breeding programmes. Today’s university students are tomorrow’s researchers, lecturers, animal breeders and policy makers: by increasing the capacity of their teachers, AGTR aims to better equip them to rise to the challenge of effectively utilising indigenous animal genetic resources to achieve sustainable food and nutritional security.

For more information visit dagris.ilri.cgiar.org  and agtr.ilri.cgiar.org.

Biosciences for development

Today the spotlight is on European partners in livestock biosciences for development.
European donors and research institutions working in partnership with ILRI and other CGIAR Centres to speed up agricultural development in poor countries will be highlighted at a breakfast meeting at the 2005 World Bank Sustainable Development European Forum entitled ‘Managing Ecosystems and Social Vulnerabilities in the 21st Century: Towards a More Secure World’, to be held in Paris on 14-15 June 2005. The Forum provides an opportunity to update European bilateral donors on the strategy and work program for the World Bank’s Environmentally & Socially Sustainable Vice Presidency. A significant portion of the agenda is reserved for in-depth, issues-based break-out sessions.

Examples of ILRI projects with European partners are summarized below.

Saving Africa’s unique indigenous cattle breeds critical to its poorest people
In 1998, with funding from Ireland Aid and other European donors, the Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) teamed up with Trinity College, Dublin, to analyse the genetic diversity of indigenous African cattle populations. This project completed molecular diversity datasets from the two centres, unravelled the genetic make-up of African cattle and identified priority cattle breeds for conservation or utilization for the benefit of the farmer communities. The project also helped nations develop strategies for conserving these animals and broadening their use. The project supported evidence that the African continent was a likely center of origin of cattle pastoralism. The latter award-winning research, published in the leading research journal Science, raised awareness of the genetic wealth of Africa’s indigenous cattle populations. African countries are now taking steps to conserve, characterize and make better use of them.

A public-private partnership for technological innovation against a lethal African cattle disease
The East Coast fever vaccine project is an initiative funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) to design and disseminate a bio-engineered vaccine against a parasite that kills cattle across eastern, central, and southern Africa. A complex set of partnerships between public and private sectors across several continents, including the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Kenya, the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, in Belgium, and the University of Oxford, UK, has played an important role in moving the science forward. The multinational veterinary pharmaceutical company Merial, headquartered in France, is helping to produce the vaccine for trial and will be responsible for the delivery of the vaccine among poor countries. A high degree of complementarity exists between the major partners. ILRI has reached an advanced state of research on the protozoan parasite that causes East Coast fever, bovine immunology and the economic impacts of the disease. Merial produces the vaccine candidates and has been working with Oxford on novel delivery system with potential spin-offs for other human and veterinary vaccines. The project is an example of conceiving and funding a ‘system of innovation’ within the CGIAR, one which cuts across research institutions in new ways, building capacity across the widest possible spread of partners, including NARS.

Conserving a unique genetic resource and way of life among Ankole pastoralists in East Africa
In late 2003, with funding from Austria, scientists from the Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the BOKU University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, in Austria, launched a project to identify indigenous selection criteria and genetic diversity in African longhorn Ankole cattle. The results of this project will improve and sustain the livelihoods of poor Ankole cattle keepers in the four East African countries where these unique cattle are found: Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania. Specifically, the project is facilitating community-based delivery of technical interventions that are genetically improving this breed to meet the needs of their pastoral owners. In the process, the project will help the pastoral communities sustain their environment and culture as well as the genetic diversity of their breed. Indigenous knowledge of animal husbandry and breeding are being captured, as well as selection criteria used by the pastoralists to assess intangible values of their unique Ankole genetic resources.

Development of a second-generation anti-tick vaccine
In late 2004, the Swiss Centre for International Agriculture (ZIL) began funding a project conducted jointly by the Swiss Tropical Institute (Basel), Pevion Biotech (Bern), and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI, Nairobi), to develop an anti-tick vaccine to control ticks and tick-borne diseases of tropical cattle. Current tick-control methods rely on regular treatments of animals with acaracides, which kill the ticks. Development of an anti-tick vaccine is one of the most promising alternatives to chemical control, being much safer for the environment and human health. The only commercial vaccine against ticks currently on the market, based on a hidden tick-gut antigenic molecule, requires a series of inoculations to boost the vaccine’s effectiveness. This project is developing a novel antigen-delivery system for use in cattle using virosomes. The aim is to improve the efficiency, handling, user friendliness and cost of the existing vaccine for smallholder farmers. The technology platform developed for the new vaccine may be applied in future against a range of livestock diseases.