Since the domestication process in the Neolithic Age, livestock has spread all over the world as a result of human migration or interchanges among neighbouring human populations.
As they reached different places they slowly adapted to the specific environmental conditions of the area and to the ‘cultural’ preferences of their new herdsmen, giving rise to the livestock’s genetic diversity.
In the old days, domestic animals were multifunctional, they were used for draught work, clothes, manure, fuel and food.
It was not until the 18th century when these differences between animals within the same species acquired a name and were called ‘breeds’.
After the industrial revolution, the traditional use of domestic animals for draught work, clothes and manure was slowly but steadily substituted by industrial products. With the increasing demand for protein of animal origin, breeds were intensively selected for food purposes and the development of specialised dairy and beef breeds began.
This process started at different periods depending upon the country and region. Intensively selected breeds and their high-input high-output production systems have been very successful and widely disseminated, displacing many native breeds, which had not undergone any selection process.
Luckily, many of the native breeds have survived in areas where high input-high output systems were not established for economic, cultural or environmental reasons. Native or local breeds are nowadays usually characterised by their limited geographical distribution.
The Sanga group of cattle are some of the best-known indigenous breeds in sub-Saharan Africa.
Sanga are an intermediate type, probably formed by hybridising the indigenous ‘humpless’ cattle with Zebu cattle. However, archaeological evidence indicates these types of cattle were domesticated independently in Africa, and bloodlines of taurine and zebu cattle were introduced only within the last few hundred years.
In sub-saharan Africa, pure Sanga cattle include the Afrikaner, Nguni, Drakensberger, Ankole and the Fulani cattle. The Bonsmara, and Boran are among the crossed Sanga cattle.
The most secure conservation strategy is to promote measures that make breeds ‘self-sustaining’, i.e. breeds that can be maintained without the need for external economic support. We should aim for breeds and farming systems capable of maintaining the vigour and the potential to fulfil all conservation aims, including maintenance of genetic variability and, the specific cultural, social, economic and environmental values. From a genetic point of view, the importance of the conservation of between and within breed genetic diversity is widely recognised. Therefore, there is a need to fully integrate proper management of genetic variation in breeding or development programmes for local breeds.
Successful breed strategies or policies have to take into account different factors, which could have a positive or negative impact on breed survival. It is clear that the different regions of Namibia face similar issues or problems, associated with the sustainable use of local or regional breeds and with the role these breeds play in rural development and the socio-economic development of agricultural communities.
Different - complementary and integrated - strategies are needed to conserve local cattle breeds and develop and promote their use. In the development of breed strategies, a combination of production, market and non-market values should guarantee sufficient profitability of the breed.
Many local breeds are already kept for ‘multi-functional’ reasons; many other breeds could also benefit more from such a strategy. Furthermore, several closely related breeds exist in neighbouring regions or other countries and enhanced co-operation across countries could help conserve such breeds or breed groups.
Therefore, conservation and management of local cattle breeds have trans-national or cross-border dimensions. By sharing experience and knowledge, further co-operation will result in more effective and cost-efficient programmes towards sustainable use and conservation of local breeds in Namibia.
Just my two cents.