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  • 'Hardy' livestock on the decline in developing world

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Livestock breeds adapted to harsh environments in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America are under threat of extinction, say scientists and livestock breeders.

Scientists from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) launched a report — 'The State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources' — today (3 September) at a conference on animal genetic resources in Interlaken, Switzerland.

The report surveyed farm animals in 169 countries, finding that nearly 70 per cent of the world's remaining unique livestock breeds are found in developing countries. Such rare breeds are essential to supplying livestock for harsh environments, says the report.

According to Carlos Sere, the director general of ILRI, the new research shows that over-reliance on just a few breeds of livestock is causing the loss of an average of one breed every month.

The report notes that breeds such as high-yielding Holstein-Friesian cows and White Leghorn chickens have been used in preference of rare breeds.

Sere says, "Populations of Maasai Sheep, Sheko cattle in Ethiopia and the Ugandan Ankole cattle are going down every day. We need urgent action to conserve these breeds that are resistant to many diseases and pests."

Sere says funds are needed to establish genebanks of eggs, semen and embryos to support the conservation of rare breeds.

He also recommends the cross border movement of local breeds to countries with few resources to develop genebanks.

"There should be a south to south partnership in the movement of genetic materials so that hardy livestock breeds can register their presence in many areas," said Sere. "If a particular country loses its original breed, it can always reach out for other countries to help restock them."

Ed Rege, a researcher at ILRI, told SciDev.Net that the situation is urgent.

He said conservation efforts could benefit from the institute's genetic database, the Domestic Animal Genetic Information system, an internet portal with data on the distribution, characteristics and status of 669 breeds of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens indigenous to Africa and Asia.

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