Averting "Livestock Meltdown": Biodiversity Key To Global Food Security

Ugandan ankole cows

In a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report released earlier this week at a conference held in Interlaken, Switzerland, agricultural scientists warned that more robust and better-adapted local livestock breeds in developing countries were losing out to imported animals from industrialized nations. The report suggests that there could be serious effects on future food security worldwide, while also emphasizing the need to determine ways to slow what one researcher is calling a "livestock meltdown".

In its assessment of farm animals in 169 countries, the report found that 90 percent of cattle in the developed world originate from six tightly defined breeds — like the famous Holstein-Friesian dairy cow. Researchers such as Carlos Seré, director of the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), urged for the establishment of regional gene banks to preserve livestock biodiversity.

"[Already] in the US, Europe, China, India, and South America, there are well-established genebanks actively preserving regional livestock diversity," Seré said. "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."

The report's findings show that the developing world's farmers are now turning to higher-yield animals from the U.S. and Europe — those ever-familiar Holstein cows for higher milk yields, White Leghorn chickens for quicker egg-laying, Large White pigs for bigger growth — all resulting in the average loss of one indigenous breed every month.

The report emphasized that while these imported breeds of industrialized countries give a higher yield of volume in milk, eggs and meat in the short term, they pose a higher risk in the long term as they are not well-adapted to increasingly unpredictable changes in climate, not to mention outbreaks of indigenous illnesses.

In addition to gene banks as a means to preserve global livestock biodiversity, an international effort could also begin to collaboratively map the "landscape genomics" of which breeds are best-adapted to different environments around the world.

In total, the FAO estimates that there are about one billion people involved somehow in animal farming. Around 70 percent of the world's rural poor have much of their livelihoods hinging on their livestock. Seré rightly notes: "For the foreseeable future, farm animals will continue to create means for hundreds of millions of people to escape absolute poverty."
Via::Planet Ark, BigNewsNetwork.com,

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