Drought-resistant ankole cattle are being displaced from African farms by the northern hemisphere’s holstein-friesian dairy cows, which produce much more milk.
We are close to witnessing another major drawback of introducing invasive species. This time, the native livestock species are slipping towards extinction since most have been replaced with commercial breeds worldwide. Their loss would mean the loss of genetic resources that help animals overcome disease and drought, particularly in the developing world. It would also eventually lead to losses in food resources the world over.
The fact of the matter is that these native species are better adapted to face extremes of climate in their specific regions, which commercial breeds will find difficult to cope with. Considering the unpredictable weather of the future, which might result in severe droughts, these commercial species might not be that hardy, eventually causing much loss to the farmers.
They sometimes are also not able to survive disease outbreaks when introduced into more demanding environments in the developing world. Red Maasai sheep, for example, are naturally resistant to intestinal parasites, and Uganda’s indigenous Ankole cattle are particularly drought-hardy.
However, smallholder farmers are opting for commercial breeds instead of traditional animals mainly for short-term benefits of higher yield of milk, meat or eggs. An over-reliance on just a few breeds of a handful of farm animal species, such as high-milk-yielding Holstein-Friesian cows, egg-laying White Leghorn chickens, and fast-growing Large White pigs, is causing the loss of an average of one livestock breed every month according to a recently released report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Across the world, according to the FAO, one billion people — nearly one sixth of the global population — are involved to some degree in animal farming, and 70 percent of the rural poor depend on livestock for much of their income.
It is essential to promote biodiversity among livestock breeds especially since the industrialization of the agricultural sector over the decades is threatening the valuable gene pool of animals and cultural variety.
When drought-tolerance strains are already in the indigenous cattle, they surely should be preserved. This is the only way for the survival of millions of farmers, breeders and nomads worldwide. A global long-term strategy to ensure the survival of the world’s livestock breeds still needs to be worked upon.
While we might not be able to protect all the species, but by following the ILRI directive many can be saved.
The ILRI researchers made four recommendations to ensure the long-term survival of livestock diversity:
Establish genebanks in Africa to store semen, eggs and embryos.
Allow great mobility of breeds across national borders.
Encourage farmers to maintain a variety of indigenous livestock.
Use advanced genomic and geographical mapping to match breeds to suitable environments.