Livestock breeding strategies discussed

The discussion of livestock breeding continues apace on DAD-Net, touched off by a comment on a Science paper (picked up by the BBC among others) on African livestock genomics.1 It’s a very rich exchange, but unfortunately I can’t find a way of linking to contributions online: it seems to be entirely based on email, with no central, public archiving like with Yahoo or Google Groups. Anyway, I just want to pick out one thing. Philippe Leperre, a vet based in Laos, has this to say:

I am one of the very many specialist that advocate for selection/improvement of the local breed rather than mostly useless, haphazard, costly and non sustainable import of bulls and semen from “developed” countries. I think we are a majority in that respect, but what can we do when the local ministries and the donors prefer to buy from big foreign multinationals rather than from the (poor or at least poorer) local producers?

Now, I have two questions about this statement. To livestock breeders I’d like to ask whether they agree that there is a majority among them which advocates selection/improvement of local breeds. And to plant breeders I’d like to ask what percentage of their community would advocate such a strategy. Because it doesn’t seem to me to be anything like a majority.2 But maybe I’m wrong.

  1. DAD-Net is a very active information forum on animal genetic resources facilitated by FAO, to which we have alluded in the past. I wish we had something as vibrant in plant genetic resources conservation. Although of course on the plant breeding side we do now have the Plant Breeding Forum. []
  2. Although as luck would have it there’s an example just out. []

4 Replies to “Livestock breeding strategies discussed”

  1. Luigi,

    Your questions are perfectly relevant.

    The piece you quoted has the distinguishing features of a political or ideological statement.

    I am not aware that “ big foreign multinationals” (I quote from the piece) are in the business of selling bulls and semen from “developed” (the quotation marks are from the piece…) countries.

    Any specialist without blinkers would not “advocate” on the basis of personal weltanschauung, but work from facts and science in each individual case.

    Such a specialist, rather than ending up expressing bitter helplessness, would be able to make a case, where relevant, for selection within and improvement of a local breed, at least with the local ministries of agriculture which, I would surmise, also comprise specialists within their ranks.

  2. Andre,

    Of course the piece quoted has the earmarks of being a political statement, because agriculture, particularly sustainable agriculture is a political statement, especially when it pertains to third world countries and agricultural methods which have sustained humanity for 10,000 plus years being surplanted by modern “green revolution” fantasies of cows that that lactate rainbow colored milk or chickens that lay golden eggs. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

    As a plant breeder and as an animal (turkey, guinea, chicken) breeder with lots of hands on experience I point to a few facts here.

    Indeed, there are huge corporations in the business of selling bulls and semen internationally, there are in fact catalogs of these animals and semen which they push just as hard as any transnational seed pimp, mostly on farmers who don’t know any better and take the fanciful descriptions and pictures to be true improvements over localized endemic populations.

    Working within local populations in fringe territories such as sub-suharan Africa is the only logical conclusion. For example, in Texas it would make no sense to import Scottish Highlad cattle which are completely unadapted to the local conditions. Instead focusing in on the five or six bio-regionally adapted varieties as well as those in surrounding or similar bio-regions and merging them into a cohesive “landrace” as is often true of African varieties will instead produce livestock of the uptmost waranted and wanted characteristics, particularly for non-factory type self sustainable farming.

    What Africa is fighting is this push for nearly homogenous populations of “acceptable to Americans and Europeans” type cattle. The problem is 10,000 years of breeding and selection has produced a wide genetic base, a genepool or landrace type, with vast horizontal resistance/tolerance to diseases and issues in their particular bio-region which no amount of laboratory or statistical “Westernized” breeding can improve upon without some serious reevaluation of just what “cattle” for any bio-region should be composed of, even then, the genepool would likely be so widdled down and riddled by line breeding that the evolution of any singular disease organism could render the project a complete failure. Resistances/tolerances that will not and can not be found in the imported cattle.

    A valuable lesson is found within the heirloom seed movement. Heirloom seeds and particularly regionally adapted seed varities are wonderful, better than most hybrids, when grown in their proper locales, the area where they have been adapted, but take a high desert corn into the deep south and see how far that gets you.

    This is not arguing completely against using outside genetic resources mind you, as a plant and animal breeder I would be lying if I said I only used/grow Boone County white corn (which originated in Indiana) or Bourban Red Turkeys (originally from Kentucky), in fact I have used germplasm from all over the world to help further strengthen my stocks (where there is a gap in a seed list, say a missing locally adapted watermelon) over the years. The issue is relying only on one of these non locally adapted types is a set up for failure.

    The type of firms and people who push for the acceptance of westernized “green revolution” idealizations in this world are the type of people who will create the road to quickest ruin in terms of agricultures effect on environment and human population. Interfering in local food sheds is the same to me as interfering with keystone species, take away or delete any stone in a practice as old and sustainable as these and the whole house slowly but surely crumbles due to damage sustained at it’s base structure. Yes, those type of people are the enemy, and it is political.

    Hope this clears up some of the issues.

  3. Laboratory experients will have to march against the political gradient towards finding relevance in National policies. In Nigeria, Agriculture (as well as Animal Improvement) is more political than Science so I think it appropriate for African Scientists to factor politics into the neccesity equation otherwise many of their researches will swell policy dustbins.
    Deppartment of Animal Science, U. I. Ibadan

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