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The genetically diverse and "exquisitely well adapted" traits of Africa's livestock should be better harnessed to meet the continent's needs.

Seventy per cent of Africa's rural poor keep livestock and 200 million people depend on the animals for their livelihoods.

African livestock breeds have successfully survived, and adapted to, an extraordinary range of diseases and climate changes. But they are currently being displaced by "exotic" breeds imported from the developed world.

This trend — reflecting a drive to increase short-term productivity — seriously threatens long-term sustainability. As the uniquely adapted indigenous breeds are replaced by these ill-adapted ones, the genetic diversity of the livestock population is reduced. Such a decrease will limit farmers' ability to selectively breed their animals to increase future productivity.

To combat this, genomic and geo-environmental data must be combined to better understand African livestock adaptations, and resulting information used to guide choices about breeding programmes to improve productivity and development sustainably.

This will involve scanning the genomes of a number of animals living in different habitats, to assess all of the variation seen around an individual trait. Researchers can then identify specific regions of the genome linked to productivity traits, such as milk production.

Such an approach will require increased funding and multidisciplinary research, but it will also offer great benefits in tailoring indigenous African livestock to both the current and future needs of African societies.

Link to full article in Science