# 19 Indigenous Herders and Small Farmers Fight Livestock Extinction

by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

Trade BioRes, September 21, 2007
Title: “Conference Agrees Steps to Safeguard Farm Animal Diversity”
Author: The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development

La Via Campesina, September 11, 2007
Title: “Wilderswil Declaration on Livestock Diversity”
Authors: Representatives of pastoralists, indigenous peoples, and smallholder farmers

Student Researchers: Maureen Santos, Andrew Kochevar, and Stephanie Smith

Faculty Evaluator: Nick Geist, PhD

The industrial model of livestock production is causing the worldwide destruction of animal diversity. At least one indigenous livestock breed becomes extinct each month as a result of overreliance on select breeds imported from the United States and Europe, according to the study, “The State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources,” conducted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Since research for the report began in 1999, 2,000 local breeds have been identified as at risk.

The industrial livestock breeding and production system that is being imposed on the world requires high levels of investment in technology and receives subsidies and other resources that have distorted the market.

Consequences of the livestock industry’s globalization include the threat to sustainable development and global food security, destruction of the livelihoods of over one billion people worldwide, smallholder bankruptcies and suicides, and the extinction of some of the world’s hardiest breeds of animals.

The FAO report, which the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) contributed to, surveyed farm animals in 169 countries, and found that nearly 70 percent of the world’s entire remaining unique livestock are bred in developing countries. The findings were presented to over 300 policy makers, scientists, breeders, and industrialized livestock keepers at the First International Technical Conference on Animal Genetic Resources, held in Interlaken, Switzerland, from September 3 to 7, 2007.

In response to these findings, scientists from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, ILRI’s supporting organization, have called for the rapid establishment of gene banks to conserve the sperm and ovaries of key animals critical for the survival of global animal populations. Over the past six years, ILRI has built a detailed database, called the Domestic Animal Genetic Resoures Information System, containing research-based information on the distribution, characteristics, and statuses of 669 breeds of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens indigenous to Africa and Asia.

Meanwhile, concurrent with the Interlaken summit, around 300 representatives from thirty organizations of pastoralists, indigenous peoples, smallholder farmers, and NGOs from twenty-six countries met in a parallel conference, to establish opposition to globalized industrial livestock production. The Livestock Diversity Forum to Defend Food Sovereignty and Livestock Keepers’ Rights met in Wilderswil, Switzerland, and presented an alternative Declaration on Livestock Diversity on September 6, 2007.

The Wilderswil Declaration maintains that while the FAO report contains good analysis and squarely points to the industrial livestock system as one of the main forces behind destruction of diversity, the FAO Global Plan of Action contains nothing that addresses these causes.

The Declaration states:

It is totally unacceptable that governments agree on a plan that does not challenge the policies that cause the loss of diversity . . .

Defending livestock diversity is not a matter of [privatized] genes but of collective rights.

The social organizations of pastoralists, herders, and farmers have no interest in participating in a plan which does not address the central causes behind the destruction of livestock diversity, but rather provides crutches and weak support for a collapsing global livestock production system. Because the Global Plan of Action does not challenge industrial livestock production, we reinforce our commitment to organize ourselves to save livestock diversity and to counter the negative forces bearing on us.

This peoples’ proposal asserts that it is not possible to conserve animal diversity without protecting and strengthening the local communities that currently maintain and nurture such diversity. These livestock keepers maintain that governments should accept and guarantee collective rights and community control over natural resources, including communal grazing lands and migration routes, water, and livestock breeds.

The Declaration further states:

Local knowledge and biodiversity can only be protected and promoted through collective rights. Collective knowledge is intimately linked to cultural diversity, particular ecosystems, and biodiversity, and cannot be dissociated from any of these other three aspects. Any definition and implementation of the rights of livestock keepers should take this fully into account. It is clear that the rights of livestock keepers are not compatible with intellectual property rights systems [i.e., gene banks] because these systems enable exclusive and private monopoly control. There must be no patents or other forms of intellectual property rights on biodiversity and the knowledge related to it.

The organization maintains that they want livestock keeping that is on a human scale, based on the health and wellbeing of humankind not industrial profit. They point out that the dominant model of production is based on a dangerously narrow genetic base of livestock that is propped up by the widespread use of veterinary drugs. Yet this risky and high-cost system is providing more and more of our food: globally, one third of pigs, one half of eggs, two thirds of milk, and three quarters of the world’s chickens are produced from industrial breeding lines.