Friday, July 23, 2010

From Long-Horns to Short-Horns, a Threat to Africa’s Livestock Diversity

In West and Central Africa there are breeds known as humpless longhorn and shorthorn cattle that have been in the region for thousands of years. During this time they have evolved ways to survive many diseases, including trypanosomiasis, which each year kills an estimated three to seven million cattle.

Moreover, these hardy animals have the ability to withstand harsh climates. Despite their drawbacks—the shorthorn and longhorn breeds are not as productive as their European counterparts—their loss would be a major blow to the future of African livestock productivity. But they are among a wide variety of indigenous African livestock whose valuable genetic diversity is at risk of being lost.

“We have seen in the short-horn humpless breeds native to West and Central African indiscriminate slaughter and an inattention to careful breeding that has put them on a path to extinction,” said said Abdou Fall, leader of the livestock diversity project for West Africa at the International Livestock Research Institute.

Fall and other ILRI experts were at FARA’s 5th Annual Science Week where they were participating in discussions focused on the risks and opportunities relevant to Africa’s agricultural biodiversity.

“We must at the very least preserve these breeds either on the farm or in livestock genebanks because their genetic traits could be decisive in the fight against trypanosomiasis, while their hardiness could be enormously valuable to farmers trying to adapt to climate change,” he said.

Other African cattle breeds at risk include the Kuri cattle of southern Chad and northeastern Nigeria. The large bulbous-horned Kuri, in addition to being unfazed by insect bites, are excellent swimmers, having evolved in the Lake Chad region, and are ideally suited to wet conditions in very hot climates.

“What we see too often is an effort to improve livestock productivity on African farms by supplanting indigenous breeds with imported animals that over the long-term will prove a poor match for local conditions and require a level of attention that is simply too costly for most smallholder farmers,” said Carlos Seré, ILRI’s Director General. “What marginalized livestock-keeping communities need are investments in genetics and genomics that allow them to boost productivity with their African animals, which are best suited to their environments.”

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