As long as the term exists, “livestock development” has been practically synonymous with “breed improvement”. Animal husbandry and livestock departments are pervaded by the notion that local breeds are unproductive and need to be upgraded by means of cross-breeding with exotic high performance breeds. Artificial insemination and embryo-transfer to speed up this process has been the mantra, sometimes even combined with outright prohibition of locally adapted breeds. Although this approach has rarely been successful and has had detrimental impacts on livestock diversity, its basic rationale has never been explicitly doubted.
Participants of a conference entitled “Native Animals for the Future of Mankind” that was held in Kerala (India) on 6th and 7th July finally spelt out their fundamental disagreement. After listening to the evidence of various experts and scientists, they issued a strongly worded statement, the Bharananganam Declaration in which they appeal to the government to discontinue its policies of promoting cross-breeding and instead focus on community-based development of local breeds.
The Conference was organised by the Vechur Conservation Trust, a small but incredibly active group of animal scientists around Prof. Sosamma Iype that singlehandedly rescued the Vechur cattle breed, a dwarf animal that was persecuted some decades ago with forceful castration of all male animals by the government. The breed had become virtually extinct, but Prof. Sosamma’s team managed to scout out a handful of remaining specimens and has nursed the population back to over a thousand animals. There is now a long waiting list for the Vechur cattle – which are perfectly adapted to the current crowded situation in Kerala and ideally suited for providing manure and recycling nutrients in organic agriculture and horticulture. Yesterday’s outcast is on the way to being recognised as a national treasure – possible only because a few people were brave and dedicated enough to swim against the mainstream and took their own initiative!