Muscat: Local animal breeds in Oman, such as the Dhofari sheep and dairy cows, are being pushed to the verge of extinction because of unplanned cross breeding (genetic pollution), said experts.
Many local farmers and shepherds tend to cross breed cows, sheep and goats with European and Asian breeds to produce cattle, which can produce more milk and meat, Osman Mahgoub Gaafar, a professor at the Sultan Qaboos University’s (SQU) College of Agriculture and Marine Sciences, said.
He was talking to the Times of Oman on the sidelines of a regional conference for animal genetic resources conservation, in Muscat, recently.
“Such practices have resulted in the extinction of Oman’s original breeds, which are genetically better equipped and have stronger immunity against diseases and harsh climate.
“Obviously, shepherds seek the most efficient way to get money,” he said.
“However, although they may appear to have low production ability, compared with exotic and high yielding breeds, they have proved to be sturdy and have adapted to challenging harsh local climatic conditions, as well as prevailing diseases and parasitic infestations,” the professor noted.
Gaffar pointed out that local animal species had been subjected to a process of a generations-long selection for survival of the fittest, rather than for production traits.
“Worldwide, many local breeds are on the verge of extinction. However, although some local animal breeds are seen around, their genetic makeup has been manipulated and polluted by crossing with exotic breeds through natural breeding or artificial insemination,” he said, adding that all these factors indicated that urgent work must be carried out to identify, evaluate and conserve local genetic resources.
This first-of-its-kind conference, mainly focused on conservation of genetic resources of domestic animals for food and agriculture, hosted renowned scientists from various parts of the world and the region, as well as local concerned bodies and policy makers.
According to Gaafar, the major objective of the conference was to discuss issues pertinent to animal genetic resources conservation and their relevance to the world, the region and to Oman.
“The world is going through critical times with serious challenges. These challenges range from dramatic climatic changes to strenuous economic conditions, as well as diminishing natural resources,” he said.
The issue of genetic resources and their conservation is of great importance today as these are fundamental for achieving food security and the sustainability of resources.
“Maintenance of genetic biodiversity is essential for conserving and improving of native animal populations,” he stressed.
Oman has been in the forefront of efforts to protect local genetic resources. On the national level, this is reflected in the solid work done by some ministries, such as the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and Environment and Climatic Affairs, as well as the Diwan Royal Court. A historic landmark in this regard was the establishment of Oman Animal and Plant Genetic Resources Centre (OAPGRC) at The Research Council upon a Royal Order.
SQU has also been carrying out high quality research in the area of genetic resources conservation in several colleges and departments.
Dr Nadya Al Saadi, executive director at OAPGRC, expressed her concerns, saying, “Our animal genetic diversity is under threat. The reported rate of breed extinctions is of deep concern, but it is even more worrying that unrecorded animal genetic resources are being lost before their characteristics can be studied and their potential evaluated.”
She cited the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s estimates, according to which, approximately 805 million of the world’s 7.3 billion population or 1 in 9, suffers from chronic undernourishment between 2012 and 2014. And almost all these hungry people live in developing countries. “At the current rate of population growth, the consumption of food and agriculture products during the second decade of the 21st century will be equivalent to that of the last 10,000 years,” she added.
One of the activities identified in achieving this goal is to “maintain genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants, farmed and domesticated animals and their related wild species, including through soundly managed and diversified seed and plant banks at national, regional and international levels, and ensure access to fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge as internationally agreed by 2020.”
“Animal genetic resources have been contributing to food and agriculture for more than 12,000 years, providing meat, milk products, eggs, fibre, fertilizer for crops, manure for fuel etc. They are a part of our common heritage and culture and far too valuable to neglect,” Al Saadi concluded.