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Protecting Threatened Livestock and Seed Strains in the Face of Global Extinctions

September 2007 has a story this morning about a new report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) says that over-reliance on high yield, factory-farming style breeds is causing the extinction of an average of one local breed of animals per month. Meanwhile, in the last 100 years we’ve lost 75 percent of crop diversity.

The breeds of cows, pigs, chickens, goats and sheep that are disappearing are an invaluable source of biodiversity, representing thousands of years of selective breeding for tolerance to disease and harsh local climate conditions. Protecting this kind of local knowledge and community resources is an important part of food sovereignty and an important part of Grassroots program.

Our work with the Peasant Movement of Papaye to repopulate the Haitian Creole pig (which didn’t simply become extinct because people stopped breeding it, it was eradicated to protect the interests of U.S. pork processors), with the Movement of Small Farmers to preserve local seed varieties in Brazil are just two examples.

The aftermath of the eradication of the Creole pig tells another important part of the story. The breeds of livestock that do so well in factory farms don’t do well at all without cement floors, regular veterinary attention and expensive diets (which, further up the food chain, require lots of fertilizer and irrigation and other expensive inputs). When Haitian farmers were given lovely, lean Iowa hogs to replace their hearty Creole pigs, it was a catastrophic failure. The replacement hogs didn’t thrive, and that loss helped fuel deforestation (when people who would have sold a pig for cash now had to sell firewood to make ends meet) and rural-urban migration to starvation-wage jobs in Port-au-Prince sweatshops (when families could no longer make ends meet in their rural communities).

Our solution is to build a green farming system that respects farmers, families and food, that protects wild and crop biodiversity and builds strong rural communities.

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