Ilse Köhler-Rollefson and Constance McCorkle
Domestic animal diversity (DAD) is rightly labelled one of the most threatened aspects of biodiversity by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN entity charged with global oversight of DAD documentation and conservation. Much of today’s remaining diversity in domestic animal breeds survives in traditional farming and herding communities in the South, where it was generated by local/indigenous knowledge and social organization. Yet FAO and other international organizations have made little effort to integrate such knowledge and practice into their global strategies for understanding and maintaining DAD. Their rationale for saving local/indigenous breeds from impending extinction seems to lie mainly in these animals’ possession of valuable genetic material that may be of potential benefit to the North or to humanity at large. (Ironically, many indigenous breeds are now at risk due to cross-breeding policies previously promoted by the same formal-sector institutions now seeking to save them. ) Scant attention has been paid to the fact that endangered breeds are frequently associated with marginalized social groups whose economic and cultural survival depends directly upon these animals - and who thus have an even stronger and more immediate interest in their conservation.
Agro-biodiversity is composed of crop and livestock diversity at the levels of genes, species and habitats. In general parlance, however, farm-animal diversity refers to the recognized breeds of ruminants, swine, equines and poultry that humans have developed across the millennia from less than a score of wild animal species. This DAD is now at grave risk. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, only some 5,000 breeds or strains of all species of farm-animal domesticates still exist, from among untold thousands developed historically. Europe alone has lost nearly half the breeds of farm animals found there at the beginning of the twentieth century. Worldwide, about a third of the remaining 5,000 are in danger of extinction, with breeds disappearing at the rate of more than one per week (Scherf 1996).
In the North, most livestock is raised under intensive or even industrialized production systems that make for impressive outputs of meat, milk, eggs and fibre. These outputs have been achieved by using such high-tech reproductive