Animal crackers

Us plant people went through this over ten years ago, but the animal genetic resources crowd are gearing up for their First International Technical Conference on Animal Genetic Resources, which will be held in Interlaken (Switzerland) in September 2007. FAO is behind it, as it was with plants. As part of the preparations, a workshop was just held, entitled The Future of Animal Genetic Resources: Under Corporate Control or in the Hands of Farmers and Pastoralists? Lots of papers in pdf here.

Delicious profits from organic rice and spice

Another hymn to organic farming, with its emphasis on biodiversity and the services it provides, graces the pages of The Jakarta Post. There’s a lot of familiar stuff in the piece, and a couple of real eye openers, like this:

“It’s extraordinary, but many farmers today do not realize that the vegetables they grow produce seed. That they can harvest and grow seed from their vegetable crops. They are so used to having to buy seed for growing, it’s as though that’s all they know.”

I knew this was true for many people in the “North” but I had no idea it was also true for small farmers in Indonesia. The article contains lots of sound suggestions for increasing on-farm diversity, even without going the whole hog of organic certification.

Banking British rare breeds

The London Times reports a new effort to preserve British livestock breeds. Sperm and egg banks will be created to preserve roughly 100 of Britain’s 130 or so rare breeds of cattle, sheep, horses, goats, poultry and pigs. A database will record the location of rare breeds so that in the event of a disease outbreak, like the foot and mouth epidemic of 2001 in which four threatened sheep lost more than a third of their numbers each, steps can be taken to preserve rare breeds.

“The move is not only about the historic importance of keeping traditional breeds with their genetic diversity, but also because of the enormous contribution these animals make to the national economy,” says the article.

Altering the almighty alpaca

There’s an alpaca improvement project based at the Munay Paq’ocha laboratory (“beautiful alpaca” in Quechua) in a place called Macusani in the highlands of southern Peru where they measure follicle density, fibre diameter and elasticity and use the data to choose the best parents for their breeding programme. The BBC is there. See also this piece on the use of microchips to track the alpaca herd.

Domestication my ass

Why was the Somali wild ass domesticated and not, say, the zebra? It’s a cantankerous animal at best. Washington University archaeologist Fiona Marshall is travelling the world looking at bones and wild populations, but she is also studying the behaviour of the St Louis Zoo’s five wild asses with Zoo researcher Cheryl Asa to seek “clues as to how they were turned into donkeys,” according to this article.