Strengthening sustainable use of small ruminant genetic resources in the drylands in the WANA region.
Genetic diversity in livestock is currently measured in terms of the number of breeds. Breeds have been developed within production systems, which are shaped by the natural resource base and social and economic factors. Thus, changes in the production environment will induce changes in the use of breeds. Small ruminants are a major component of the farming system and an important source of income and dietary protein in West Asia and North Africa (WANA). The WANA region is one of the main centers of domestication for sheep and goats, and is home to 75 sheep and about 32 goat breeds. These breeds are adapted to the climatic extremes of the region, from deserts to humid coastal areas. Many are highly tolerant to heat and cold stress and low quality feeds (converting unusable range resources into animal protein). However, their production levels are low when compared to exotic breeds and their products may not meet emerging consumer demands related to food quality and safety. To ensure sustainable use of livestock diversity, it is essential to improve the productivity of local breeds and the quality of their products responding to the market demands, while retaining their adaptive attributes. To achieve this goal we propose a conceptual framework with three interlinked elements: (1) Analysis of market constraints and opportunities; understanding the effect of market trends on the utilization of species and/or breeds; (2) Characterization of breeds, their production system, and the quality of their products; and (3) Designing community-based, decentralised breeding schemes where farmers are fully involved in defining breeding goals and designing and implementing selection strategies. Conditions in WANA today are similar to those predicted for other regions in the future, as a result of climate change (drier, hotter, erratic rainfall, growing water scarcity). Maintaining and developing the region's rich small ruminant diversity will, therefore, not only improve the livelihoods of millions of rural households, but also provide genetic resources that could help other regions cope with climate change.