Recently I had the pleasure and privilege to participate in, and co-moderate, with my old friend Dr. Jacob Wanyama a workshop entitled “Making Access and Benefit-Sharing work for Africa’s Animal Genetic Resources”. It was organized by the African Union’s Interregional Bureau of Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) in Kenya and attended by about 40 participants drawn from three different groups: National Coordinators for Animal Genetic Resources, National Focal Points for Access and Benefit-Sharing (ABS) and leaders of breeders’ organizations.
The purpose of the workshop was to develop a roadmap for establishing Biocultural Community Protocols for six African transboundary breeds, Red Maasai sheep, Dorper sheep, Muturu cattle, Azawak cattle, Kuri cattle, and the D’Man sheep.
An important part of the workshop was to inform about the rationale for Livestock Keepers’ Rights, a concept developed by civil society in the run up to the First International Conference on Animal Genetic Resources held in Interlaken in 2007, more than 10 years ago.
The second major aim was to learn how to develop Community Protocols, also known as Biocultural Protocols (BCPs). Community Protocols are a tool enshrined in the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to ensure that benefits from genetic resources trickle down to the communities who have created and steward them. They are supposed to reflect and put on record the perceptions, traditional knowlede and preferences of the community in its own words. Therefore they are entirely different from the “breed descriptors” that AnGR experts are familiar with. To get this deviation from the “scientific” approach across is not that easy, but I was extremely gratified when a lady herder from Tchad expressed her takeaway as “Community protocols are about putting the soul back into livestock”. I think that was beautifully put!
The table below spells out some of the differences between a Community Protocol and a Breed Descriptor.
Difference between Community Protocol and Breed Descriptor
What is documented ?
A biodiverse production system, including people/culture, livestock, environment
Focus is on
Physical and production characteristics
Traditional knowledge about breeding and biological diversity of feed/forage and medicinal plants
Type of documentation
Measurements of body parts and production outputs, usually under controlled (research institute or government farm) conditions
Perceptions about special characteristics of the breed, its value compared to other breeds, folklore, local stories
Community, possibly facilitated by NGO
To obtain scientific description and record of a country’s animal genetic resources
To claim community ownership over a breed and identify/put on record the pressures on a breed and the prerequisites for its conservation and continued sustainable use.
Relevance to Access and Benefit-Sharing
Description of threats and opportunities
Information about conservation needs
Keeping livestock these days is a challenging task that requires passion in order to hang on to it instead of looking for an alternative livelihood. That was again beautifully illustrated on the last day of the workshop when we went on a fieldtrip to visit a Maasai lady keeping a flock of several hundred almost totally pure Red Maasai sheep. She shared her trials and tribulations with us. Her biggest problem was theft: sometimes gangs would drive up in SUVs and stuff as many sheep as they could into them. Another threat was from leopards who would sometimes go on a rampage among the flock. But throughout the dialogue with her what really shone through was her love and passion for her animals. Each of them had a name. Like all good pastoralists she knew exactly how each animal was related to any other in the flock. This was incomprehensible to some of the scientists who urged her to keep written records.
All in all, it is encouraging that AU-IBAR has adopted the BCP idea. So glad that Africa is taking the global lead in this! But Argentina is also gearing up, as you will see in an upcoming interview with Dra Maria Rosa Lanari who is the agrobiodiversity coordinator of INTA, Argentina’s agricultural research institute.
A picture says more than a thousand words……as I have been raving so much about the benefits (and beauty) of livestock keeping as practiced by Rajasthan’s Raika pastoralists, I’ll just share some images from our last visit to our dang, the group of mobile shepherds that we are following in regular intervals throughout the year.
Today is World Food Day, a time to remember the enormous role of livestock keepers in food production! Not just in terms of quantity, but also in terms of quality, as we are trying to highlight in our Ark of Livestock Biodiversity project. And a role that could be vastly increased and improved if “small-scale livestock keepers” (a somewhat unwieldy term that includes pastoralists, family farms, and smallholders) woud be given the policy support that they deserve.
Unfortunately, research and subsidies continue to be directed towards supporting high-input and industrial livestock production – a scenario that undermines livestock biodiversity, livelihoods, sustainability and – in the final reckoning – even food security, as more and more grain and soybeans are fed to livestock.
How to change this situation? Well, of course consumers have a major role to play by choosing products that come from extensively raised “pasture fed” animals. But it is also the livestock keepers themselves that must get organised and make their voices heard. One of the reasons for their neglect by policy makers is also that pastoralists and other small-scale livestock keepers are dispersed, busy with their animals, and have no institutional representation.
However, at the recent – actually still on-going -11th meeting of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Hyderabad, they made an impressive show of strength, demanding their grazing rights in the forest. This fills us with much hope for the future!
There is no shortage of global initiatives in the livestock sector. There is of course the Global Agenda of Action towards sustainable livestock sector development – we wrote about it previously. But there is also the Global Alliance for a safer, fairer and more sustainable livestock sector that apparently was launched during a meeting at ILRI in March. Notable is the overlap in the big organisations that are involved: FAO, ILRI, and Worldbank. Others in the Global Alliance are IFAD, OIE (World Organisation of Animal Health), the African Union’s Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. One wonders about the reasons behind these coalitions. And we also wonder why livestock keepers are not (yet) officially recognised or mentioned as a stakeholder group in these processes which include governments, research institutions, private sector and NGOs, but no representatives of the 600-800 million poor livetsock keepers in the world. The LIFE Network is of course working and advocating to change this and presented a statement to this effect in the 23rd meeting of the Commission on Agriculture, a body that is composed of government representatives, and that was asked to gives its backing to the GAA and its secretariat being hosted by FAO for the time being. The statement was also on behalf of CELEP, the Coalition of European Lobbies for East African Pastoralism. We are sure that this was taken note of and will continue to pursue the issue. In the next few weeks this blog will provide some more background information about “small-scale livestock keepers” and why they are so important to listen to. Watch out for the next post!
I’ve spent the last few days here in lovely spring-time Washington D.C. attending a meeting by “stakeholders” in the livestock sector – which has a $ 1.4 trillion asset value and employs 1.3 billion people worldwide, according to Mark Rosegrant from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). He also presented a calculation showing that a 50% reduction in the per capita comsumption of livestock products in developed countries could move 60 million people out of hunger. Another fascinating talk was by Andy Jarvis from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) who emphasized that livestock need not be a problem in terms of green house gases but also has enormous mitigation potential if sylvi-cultural approaches were used more widely.
Much concern at the meeting was about disinterest among major donors in livestock projects, although the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is planning to muscle in, in a big way, in the coming years.
Sorely absent from the discussion was the voice of the “poor livestock keepers” themselves who are supposed to be in the centre of all the activities. So many benefits could accrue if they could also have an opportunity to share their thoughts. In fact, none of the many initiatives in the livestock sector can genuinely claim to be “multi-stakeholder” until this changes. Well, I hope that this somewhat neo-colonial attitude will turn around in the near future.
Well, due to travel and slow internet connection in Rajasthan its been a while, but at least there has been some progress and follow-up with respect to the issues raised in the last post. In the meantime, my colleague Evelyn Mathias has completed a study about the impact of the Livestock Revolution on farmers – which gives ample food for thought. The results are preliminary and need to be discussed with economists, but they are on-line now as a discussion paper “Livestock out of balance. From asset to liability in the course of the Livestock Revolution.” on the LPP website. One of Evelyn’s conclusions is that the enormous competition for ever cheaper livestock products is creating incentives for “unethical behaviour”, such as the use of banned antibiotics and many environmental sins.
Well, I will be attending the 13th Inter-Agency Donors Group Meeting, this time organised by the Worldbank in Washington DC, over the next couple of days. One of the priority themes is “equity” and I am really curious what the results of the discussions will be!
On the way to the Global Livestock Sustainability Conference in Thailand, I picked up a copy of the book “The Mystery of capital” by Peruvian economist, Hernando de Soto. In it he describes how the concept of capital (which meant cattle or livestock in Medieval Latin) was derived from livestock – a movable, low-maintenance asset that is self reproducing. His description is dead-on, and pastoralists certainly have capitalized on the savings and asset function of their livestock. I have often observed that they dont need credit since they can always generate cash by selling a few animals. However, in the course of the Livestock Revolution, livestock seems to turn into a source of liabililtes: significant investments are required in order to enter the industrial mode of production. Farmers are required to take up loans for erecting the housing for the animals. Since they have no control over either input or product prices, they tend to end up heavily indebted with no opportunity the debt cycle. This is described for Thailand by Isabelle Delforge in her study of pig and poultry contract farming, as well as by various sources for the United States. It wold seem that this situation very much affects the “sustainability fo the livestock sector”, since it locks farmers/livestock keepers into a straight jacket that prevents them from adapting to changing economic situations.
The FAO is worried about the global sustainability of the livestock sector – which it should be. It is preparing to launch a “Global Agenda of Action in support of responsible livestock sector development. The focus appears to be on “resource efficiency” and environmental aspects. However such an approach would neglect equally important angles of livestock, such as social implications and livelihood issues, as well as the animal welfare perspective. We urgently need a holistic approach that scrutinizes the direction that livestock development has taken in the last few decades. The effects of the Livestock Revolution in the countries where it has hit the hardest, such as China and Brasil, are now becoming apparent – they include loss of rural livelihoods and outmigration to the cities.
In order to make the livestock sector sustainable, we need a radical rethink and thrive for decentralisation instead of further concentration and ever bigger livestock holdings. We need Livestock Keepers’ Rights instead of a further expansion of the Livestock Revolution. I have expanded a bit on that in a recent article published in Ecology and Farming.