Preserving rare breeds at the grassroots level

Because there is only modest interest by most national governments in the preservation of rare farm animal breeds, much of this work is done by non-governmental organizations. These are often operated on shoestring budgets and frequently require some pretty imaginative financial acrobatics to exist. Below is a list of some of these organizations. I realize it is likely to be incomplete — lists like this always are — but I hope it’s at least a fair representation of the types of organizations that are involved in this effort. Some are simply umbrella organizations of breeders of specific breeds, while others have actual facilities that produce animals. Some focus on one breed, while others have a barnyard full of different critters.

I can personally attest to the effectiveness of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, having been a member a while back, but I don’t really want to provide any specific endorsements here. If you think rare breed preservation is a worthwhile endeavor (and who wouldn’t), check out these websites, and  if you find an organization that appeals to you, join and support it. If, on the other hand, I have omitted your favorite organization, just post a comment with a link and I will publish a more complete list in the future.

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More on cowpea breeding

Hot on the heels of a recent nibble on breeding cowpeas for Striga resistance comes a paper in GRACE on the diversity being exploited by cowpea breeding programmes in the US and Africa. It turns out that these programmes are using non-overlapping sets of genetic material and that therefore

US and Asian breeding programs could increase genetic variability in their programs substantially by incorporating germplasm from West Africa, while national programs in West Africa should consider introgression of Asian germplasm and germplasm from other parts of Africa into their programs to ensure long-term gains from selection.

That’s what we mean when we talk about global interdependence in plant genetic resources, I guess. And that’s why the International Treaty was negotiated: to facilitate the exchanges of germplasm necessary to broaden plant breeding programmes worldwide.

More doom and gloom for agricultural research

I was encouraged to read a couple of interesting news stories on SciDevNet highlighting useful efforts to improve scientific capacity in developing countries, only to be disheartened by another article identifying important gaps and weaknesses in many Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) in this very area. PRSPs are the multi-year plans that developing countries now have to draw up and adopt as a pre-condition of support from funding agencies such as the World Bank. Not good news for agricultural research and researchers in these countries.

The article highlights a warning for the world’s poorest nations to place more emphasis on using scientific knowledge and technological innovation if they wish to escape growing unemployment and poverty. The warning is contained in a major report — “The Least Developed Countries Report 2007: Knowledge, Technology Learning and Innovation for Development” — published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The PRSPs seek to reduce poverty through sustained economic growth, but fail to give importance to the role of scientific and technological change in achieving sustainable development. No wonder national budgets and donor aid for science, technology and innovation in general, and for agricultural research and extension and capacity-building in particular, are dwindling. While there are no easy solutions to this complex problem, the report does highlight strategies for donors and LDCs that can improve capacity for science, technology and innovation,

from encouraging “technological learning” in both “farms and firms”, to making better use of international legislation on intellectual property rights, and encouraging donors to increase support for what it describes as “knowledge aid”.

However, while it is important to make such high-minded pronouncements, let us not forget that individual scientists carrying out research in LCDs have much to offer on a day-to-day basis in terms of enhancing national scientific capacity. Such capacity-enhancing activities might involve providing training and mentoring to young scientists, helping young scientists and scientific groups to form networks, ensuring young local scientists are acknowledged and included as co-authors on scientific publications, and so forth. I am sure there are other, more innovative approaches to capacity-enhancing that have been used by scientists working in the field of agricultural biodiveristy. If so, I would love to learn about them.