Climate Change

26% of local livestock breeds face the risk of extinction

African wild ass and the wild Bactrian camel most endangered

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Saturday 23 February 2019

According to the latest report released by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), as of March 2018, 7,745 livestock breeds out of the 8,803 were found to be local breeds and 26 per cent of these are at the risk of extinction.

The report, titled ‘The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture 2019’, says that roughly 100 livestock breeds went extinct between 2000 and 2014.

Most at risk

The African wild ass and the wild Bactrian camel, both of which are classified as Critically Endangered as per IUCN red list, were found to be the most at risk. The wild water buffalo and the Banteng have also been listed as endangered; while the Indian bison, Wild yak, Mouflon, Wild goat and Swan goose have been listed as vulnerable.

A higher proportion of livestock wild relative species are threatened in comparision to other mammalian and bird species. In fact, 83 per cent of the wild cattle native to North America, Eurasia and Africa are listed as threatened in the report.

Why are they threatened — profit at the cost of native breeds

According to FAO, indiscriminate cross-breeding is considered to be the main cause for genetic erosion. Increasing use of non-native breeds,  weak governance of the livestock sector, decline of traditional livestock production systems and neglect of breeds that are considered ‘not competitive enough’ were some of threat to livestock genetic diversity.

Livestock industries prefer only a handful of breeds for production and supply. As a result, farmers tend to either cross-breed or replace their livestock with a small number of industrial breeds.

Coping with climate change

Extreme weather events are making life hard for these breeds as well as the pastoral communities that depend on them for livelihood. The report highlights how genetic diversity can help cope with the challenge of climate change.

It gives the example of Criollo livestock breeds that have a combination of characteristics not found in any other breeds, including high fertility rates, longevity, resistance to parasites and diseases, and good grazing abilities — including the ability to make use of poor quality pasture.

Similarly, in Sudan, some of the farmers replaced cattle and sheep with dromedaries and goats, as the latter species are better suited to a drought prone environment.

What’s in it for India?

In India, the Rashtriya Gokul Mission (RGM)  is meant for conserving indigenous breeds of cattle through selective breeding, especially for the genetic upgrade of 11.3 crore low-milk yielding non-descript bovines. However, the RGM funds have not been suitably utilised at all.

The scheme is now in its last year. The FAO report serves a wake-up call to get serious about the conservation of indigenous cattle breeds.

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