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More progress needed to maintain indigenous livestock diversity, UN food agency says

Photo: FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri
FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri
Photo: FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri

More progress needed to maintain indigenous livestock diversity, UN food agency says

With more than one in five indigenous livestock breeds at risk of extinction, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today welcomed progress in many countries aimed at maintaining livestock diversity, but warned that more needs to be done to save what amounts to a critical resource for food production.

In a news release, FAO noted that 80 national Governments are highlighting their actions in reports presented to the Intergovernmental Technical Working Group on Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which is meeting from today until Friday in Rome, and is being attended by representatives of almost 100 countries.

In the reports, FAO said, the Governments recount their progress in implementing the Global Plan of Action for Animal Genetic Resources, which, adopted in 2007 by delegates of 109 countries, marked the first internationally-agreed framework aimed at supporting the sustainable use, development and conservation of the world’s livestock biodiversity.

“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 the Chief of FAO's Animal Genetic Resources Branch, Irene Hoffmann.

But progress has been more marked in developed countries with many countries in Africa, the Near East and Latin America and the Caribbean “still lagging behind,” according to the FAO news release, noting the “substantial gap… needs to be urgently addressed.”

“In Africa and Latin America, pockets of national success are reported in almost all the priority areas of the Global Plan of Action,” FAO highlighted, in contrast with countries submitting reports from Asia, which, FAO added, were “relatively well advanced in establishing conservation schemes for their threatened breeds.”

“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 Ms. Hoffmann.

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,” FAO stated.

Indigenous breeds are important in agriculture because they are adapted to often harsh local conditions, contain unique genetic material important for breeding programmes and are often a livelihood bastion for poor households because they are easier to keep than exotic breeds, according to the UN food agency. “In a world threatened by climate change, breeds that are resistant to drought, extreme heat or tropical diseases are of major potential importance,” it added.

Of areas where action is “lagging,” FAO said that 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.” The UN agency said Africa’s diverse tropical and subtropical environments make that continent “another important hotspot of diversity.”

In addition, FAO said that true state of livestock diversity is difficult to estimate because breed population figures are often unreported or out of date. But it added that the latest available figures show that about 22 percent of the world's livestock breeds remain at risk of extinction.