The animal Article of the month for February is entitled ‘Review: Sustainability of crossbreeding in developing countries; definitely not like crossing a meadow…

The agricultural sector plays an important economic role in many developing countries, meaning that smallholder farmers must be at the center of the growth process in order to reduce poverty.

The enhancement of livestock production contributes to the growth of the agricultural sector, and can be achieved, in part, by improving the productivity of individual animals. However, there are large differences in the maximum productivity between local livestock breeds from developing countries and ‘exotic’ breeds from developed ones, and environment and production systems also differ greatly.

In production systems driven by demand, the inputs that allow animals to express their full genetic potential are limited only by financial decisions.
In contrast, many developing countries have not been able to implement structured or formal genetic evaluation, due to multiple factors: poor infrastructure; insufficient capacity for performance and pedigree recording; lack of long-term commitment to research and investment; and low farmer participation. Therefore, genetic improvement programmes for local breeds have in most cases not been implemented in these countries.
Crossbreeding with exotic breeds has hence been viewed as a logical and seductive solution to quickly improve the performance of local livestock populations, and multiple initiatives have been undertaken since the end of the 19th century to replace or hybridize local populations in developing countries with exotic breeds, with highly variable levels of success.

The extent of crossbreeding undertaken has ranged from non-existent to widespread depending on the region, species and production system. However, if adequate infrastructure, organization, support and participation are not secured in the long term, the outcome of crossbreeding projects is likely to be unmanaged introgression, threatening local genetic resources without necessarily improving production to the expected levels.
As local livestock breeds show particular capacity for the provision of multiple services (traction for instance) that extend beyond production of meat, milk or eggs, the erosion of local genetic resources is particularly problematic for the provision of those services.

Based on our analysis, the sustainability of crossbreeding programmes seems to depend on three interdependent factors:

• The genetically improved livestock must have the opportunity to express their genetic potential. These animals are generally more demanding in terms of inputs (feed and veterinary care) and more sensitive to environment constraints (e.g. extreme temperatures and humidity, disease and parasites).
• Long-term access to required genetic material (i.e. reproducers or semen) must be ensured.
• At least a minimal efficiency of the market chain is required, as market drivers are usually necessary to provide incentives for breeders to increase the quality or quantity of their production, as well to ensure access to external inputs required for the improved genotypes.

Based on these points, crossbreeding with exotic breeds is not recommended in extensive, resource driven production systems, which are usually unable to provide the necessary inputs. However, under favorable conditions (i.e. demand-driven production systems), well-managed crossbreeding schemes can be considered an effective strategy to reduce poverty among smallholders, and can help trigger innovation and development at the farm level.

This article is freely available for one month

Authors: G. Leroy, R. Baumung, P. Boettcher, B. Scherf and I. Hoffmann

The animal Article of the Month is selected by the Editor-in-Chief and is freely available for one month

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