Livestock and Biodiversity: The Case of Cattle in Africa
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Africa is home to diverse and genetically unique ruminant livestock and wildlife species. The continent, however, faces huge food security challenges, partly due to low productivity of the livestock. As a centre of cattle domestication, Africa hosts genetically unique cattle, being products of generations of co-evolution with diverse people, each selecting for different attributes under different production systems and environments. Over millennia, this diversity of purpose has led to rich and unparalleled blends of indigenous and exotic cattle. Different parasites and pathogens, whose vigour has been buoyed by variable but generally favourable tropical conditions, have coevolved and served as critical drivers, making African cattle some of the world’s most scientifically interesting and valuable populations. This diversity is being lost at an alarmingly rate, and insitu conservation will not significantly save it These cattle can potentially provide adequate food and income to their keepers. First their genetic and phenotypic diversity should be understood, and then carefully tailored to specific production systems to improve their productivity. To realistically conserve these cattle, for which no conservation plans currently exist, available modern bio- and information technologies are needed to assemble and analyse complex sets of information on them. As the climate and pathogens all change, by smartly conserving (ex-situ) those at risk the genetic attributes critical for the world’s future food security challenges would be saved. This paper discusses the diversity of the African cattle and the need for their system-wide characterisation in order to allow their keepers to cope with the changing system, and minimise the loss of these unique genotypes.