Introduction

Domestic animals meet 30 to 40% of human needs for food and agriculture. Over 1.96 billion people derive some livelihood from farm animals, and, for 12% of the world population, domestic animals are the only assurance of food security. By the year 2030, world food production must increase by more than 75% in order simply to maintain current levels of food availability. Animal production must increase by at least this amount.

Domestic animal genetic resources (AnGR) underpin food security, yet irreplaceable resources are disappearing at an alarming rate: about 30% of the estimated

5000 breeds, comprising some 40 species of livestock, are at risk of extinction. About 80% of these indigenous breeds at risk occur only in developing countries and few-to-no conservation programs are in place. The fact that agriculture production depends on so few AnGR magnifies the importance of genetic diversity represented by those remaining — diversity that provides farmers with the raw material to develop livestock to be more productive; more able to resist diseases or better adapted to adverse conditions defined by available feeds, climate, and many other stresses; and more able to respond to the changing needs of modern communities.

AnGR is a key sector of agrobiodiversity. Biodiversity enables the sustainable development of agriculture. By definition, sustainability is production environment specific, and there is and will remain a diverse range of production environments globally. Indigenous breeds are adapted to the low-input to medium-input production systems which account for about three quarters of production in the developing world. However, encouraged by promises of high production, farmers are turning to imported exotic breeds developed for high-input, comparatively benign agroeco-systems. This displacement of locally adapted genetic resources often results in reduced productivity and sustainability and higher risk because the exotic breeds cannot tolerate the climatic, disease, and feed constraints and the frequent seasonal swings in these components. Erosion of adapted genetics threatens not only food security and the ability to maintain sustainable agriculture throughout all production environments but also the cultural value of these indigenous resources.

The best livestock development strategy for sustainable food and agriculture production and rural development is to improve or enhance breeds adapted to specific production environments.

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