FAO reports progress in stopping decline of livestock genetic diversity

By A. G. Kawamura

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

ROME, Oct. 24, 2012 -­ While many countries are taking action to halt the erosion of livestock genetic resources, a substantial gap remains that needs to be urgently addressed, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

Representatives from almost 100 countries are attending the Intergovernmental Technical Working Group on Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture from Oct. 24-26 to review the implementation of the Global Plan of Action for Animal Genetic Resources. The Plan was adopted in 2007 with the objective of improving the management of the world's livestock biodiversity.

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Reports from 80 countries on the progress made in implementing the Global Plan of Action for Animal Genetic Resources were presented today at an international conference. According to FAO, they show that governments are beginning to put programs into place to reverse the decline in the numbers of indigenous livestock breeds.

"The encouraging news is that on average the countries that submitted reports have begun to implement about half the actions agreed under the Global Plan of Action ranging from conservation schemes to surveys of livestock numbers, to the development of policies and legal frameworks addressing livestock biodiversity," said Irene Hoffmann, Chief of FAO's Animal Genetic Resources Branch.

However, FAO noted progress is more substantial in developed countries, while many countries in Africa, the Near East and Latin America and the Caribbean are still lagging behind.

The Near East is regarded as one of the cradles of livestock diversity, where several species, including cattle, sheep, goats and dromedary camels, were first domesticated. Africa, with its diverse tropical and subtropical environments, is another important hotspot of diversity.

The FAO announcement explained that indigenous breeds are important in agriculture because they are adapted to often harsh local conditions, contain unique genetic material important for breeding programs and are often a livelihood bastion for poor households because they are easier to keep than exotic breeds. In a world threatened by climate change, breeds that are resistant to drought, extreme heat or tropical diseases are of major potential importance.

According to the latest available figures, about 22 percent of the world's livestock breeds are still classified as being at risk of extinction, although breed population figures are often unreported or out of date, making the true state of livestock diversity difficult to estimate, noted FAO.

Despite the generally limited amount of progress made in developing regions, the country reports indicate that some examples of more active implementation can be found in every region of the world.

Reporting countries from Asia are relatively well advanced in establishing conservation schemes for their threatened breeds. In Africa and Latin America, pockets of national success are reported in almost all the priority areas of the Global Plan of Action.

"There are about 45 countries that are preparing, or have already prepared, national strategies and action plans for their animal genetic resources, and about half of these are developing countries," said Hoffmann.


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