Evolution Of The Global Strategy

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The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) mandate, which is regularly reviewed by its 174 member governments, covers (1) collating, analyzing, and reporting information; (2) providing technical assistance, with emphasis on the developing world; and (3) providing a forum for intergovernmental discussion and policy development. The member governments have resolved that FAO should lead, coordinate, facilitate and report on the Strategy for the Management of Farm Animal Genetic Resources (hereafter termed the Strategy). The term management incorporates the spectrum from surveying and characterizing, through to the development, use, maintenance, and access to these resources. Member governments have accepted a framework for the Strategy, and implementation involving donors and other stakeholders has commenced. The implementation of the Strategy involving all stakeholders is known as the Initiative for Domestic Animal Diversity.

Since the early 1980s, FAO has provided technical assistance to member countries in identifying and assessing their farm animal genetic resources, and in conservation and utilization activities. These activities, however, tended to be breed and country specific and on a scale which bore little relation to the magnitude of the problem. The organization did contribute to the development of practical methodologies for characterization and maintenance of animal genetic resources, and to a growing awareness of the urgency and importance of addressing the problem of biodiversity erosion on an international scale. While interventions ultimately must be at the country level, farming systems and domestic animal breeds, and the threats to their diversity and interest in accessing them, often cross national boundaries. Further, an international approach to the management of this natural capital also offers many opportunities for economies, for understanding and sharing the task, and for the development and application of methodologies.

Major developments, such as the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in June 1992, the signing of Agenda 21, and ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in December 1993, reinforced the need for the Strategy and served to shape the Strategy further. The Commission on Sustainable Development mandated to review implementation of Agenda 21, and the Conference of the Parties (COP) negotiating and implementing the articles of the CBD will also influence the development of the Strategy.

In November 1996, parties to the Rome Declaration on World Food Security recognized the need for sustainable food security and, to achieve this, for urgent action on erosion of biological diversity, pledging to implement the World Food Summit Plan of Action as their response. Also in November, the third meeting of COP considered the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Agricultural Biological Diversity as a major agenda item and decided in relation to AnGR that the Conference:

20. Appreciates the importance of the country-based Global Strategy for the Management of Farm Animal Genetic Resources under the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and strongly supports its further development, (UNEP/CBD/COP/3/l.12)


Achieving "Food for All" will require sustainable intensification of agriculture in many production environments. The genetic makeup of an animal is the key to how it will respond to different aspects of the total production environment, particularly those aspects related to the uses demanded of the animal, to climate, feed and water, exposure to disease, and to type of husbandry. This tenet must be accepted to achieve and maintain sustainable farming systems, to realize production and productivity increases, to manipulate product quality, and to minimize risk of production losses over time. By definition, sustainability is specific to the production environment. Further, there is and will remain a diverse range of production environments globally.

Animals have been domesticated for thousands of years and have migrated over time as human communities occupied new areas. Once settled in a new environment, little further movement occurred but the local animal populations were changed over time by the selection pressures exerted by the local environment, including the imposition of human needs. The end result is that the gene pool of each farm animal species has been redistributed such that about half the quantitative genetic differ ences are unique to any one breed while the other half is common to all breed resources. It is these quantitative genetic complexes associated with adaptation and performance that are central to food and agriculture production from animals. Sustainable use of this between- and within-breed genetic diversity must be specific to the production system.

While genetic diversity underpins current production, both in terms of the average level and consistency of production from season to season, diversity also provides the basis for achieving the necessary improvements in production, productivity, and product quality. Activities directed at such sustainable intensification of livestock production should utilize genetic resources which are already adapted to the particular farming system production environments. This is because genetic adaptation takes generations to develop, so that use of resource material which is already adapted offers greater immediate and longer-term potential for achieving real and sustainable gains in system performance. The challenge is to develop practical and affordable means of realizing this goal in responding to the Commitments of the World Food Summit Plan of Action (Rome Declaration).

The maintenance of genetic diversity also forms an essential hedge against future threats to world food security, especially those posed by diseases, climate change, and other modifications to the production environment. The rapid modernization of agriculture, which has been so important in enabling the world to feed its expanding population during this century, has promoted as the solution the development and more or less universal adoption of high-intensity livestock production systems. These systems have been based on a very few species and breeds that have been developed to respond to intensive care, treatment, and feeding. Although less resilient to harsh conditions, these developed breeds are displacing and contributing to the progressive elimination of breeds which have been adapted over time to lower inputs and often harsh environments. Although this widespread displacement is the greatest cause of genetic erosion, there are several factors which place breeds at risk of loss and threaten domestic animal diversity. These factors are listed in Table 1.

Table 1 List of Causes for Risk of Loss or Extinction of Breeds



Aid Lack of incentive to develop and use breeds, giving preference to those few developed for use in high-input, high-output relatively benign environments Product Undue emphasis placed on a specific product or trait leading to the rapid dissemination of one breed of animal to exclusion and loss of others Crossbreeding Indiscriminate crossbreeding which can quickly lead to the loss of original breeds

Storage Failure of the cryopreservation equipment and inadequate supply of liquid nitrogen to store samples of semen, ova, or embryos; or inadequate maintenance of animal populations for breeds not currently in use Technology Introduction of new machinery to replace animal draught and transport resulting in permanent change of farming system Biotechnology Poorly interpreted international genetic evaluation; artificial insemination and embryo transfer leading to rapid replacement of indigenous breeds Violence Wars and other forms of sociopolitical instability

Disaster Natural disasters such as floods, drought, or famine

Paradoxically, then, the very success of modern animal-breeding programs is the principal factor redirecting effort from adapted and local breed use and development, eroding the breadth of genetic material available for future breeding work.

A series of expert consultations supported by FAO and the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) have identified and described the major issues underlying the rationale for the Strategy,

1. Demand for animal products in most developing countries is increasing more rapidly than for plant products; the main effect of this will be intensification of the range of periurban and mixed farming production systems. This must be sustainable intensification. It will also require that the large pastoral areas, to which local species and breeds are well adapted, are kept in production under sustainable systems.

2. Increasing sophistication of developed country consumers is moving demand away from uniform animal products to more varied products but with consistency of each variant also being increasingly demanded. Animal welfare and human health concerns are also being increasingly highlighted. Consumers are paying premium prices for foods which are grown under lower-intensity systems and which meet current lifestyle nutritional needs. These trends will continue to generate stronger market incentives for the use of more-diverse genetic resources and consequently for the maintenance of some additional farm animal biodiversity.

These observations reinforce the view that the most cost-effective way to maintain animal breeds is the development of production and marketing policies that make it financially attractive for farmers to maintain and improve local breeds. Sound genetic resource utilization policy will be particularly important for the animal species because of the high unit cost of individual animals and the often long generation interval of species.

Preliminary survey results show that most countries possess a number of the 5000 or so remaining breeds of farm livestock, with the majority of these breeds occurring only in developing countries. Most of these animal genetic resources are owned by small farmers, emphasizing the importance of private good to the sound management of these resources. The World Watch List for Domestic Animal Diversity (FAO/UNEP, 1995) lists 3882 breeds for 25 domestic species in over 180 countries. Globally, 30% of breeds are classified as endangered and criticial based on population size (Table 2). FAO defines "endangered" as populations having <1000 breeding females and <20 breeding males, and critical as populations having <100 breeding females and <5 breeding males. Of the breeds listed under these two categories, 36% are managed either through a conservation program or maintained by an institute. Presumably, the risk of loss of these breeds actively managed or maintained is far lower than breed populations outside such management programs. Of the total number of breeds with population data identified globally (2924), 19% are categorized as endangered or critical and lack a breed conservation management program. As such, there is a very high risk of loss of these animal genetic resources. Where pricing systems and allocation of benefits are inadequate, public funding will be required for effective management of these resources.

The development of competitive, sustainable production systems does not warrant the use of all existing breeds for a particular period of time. Consequently,

Table 2 Breeds of Domestic Animals at High Riska by Species

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