Sustainable use of animal genetic resources for agriculture and food production is proposed as the best strategy for maintaining their diversity. Achievement of sustainable use would continue to support livelihoods and minimize the long-term risk for survival of animal populations. The concept of sustainable use has economic, environmental and socio-cultural dimensions. Sustainable use of animal genetic resources also contributes to food security, rural development, increasing employment opportunities and improving standards of living of keepers of breeds. Supporting the rearing of breeds through better infrastructure, services, animal health care, marketing opportunities and other interventions would make a significant contribution to the sustainable use of animal genetic resources.
Sustainable use envisages the use and improvement of breeds that possess high levels of adaptive fitness to the prevailing environment. It also encompasses the deployment of sound genetic principles for sustainable development of the breeds and the sustainable intensification of the production systems themselves. Sustainable use and genetic improvement rely on access to a wide pool of genetic resources.
Genetic improvement programmes need to be considered in terms of national agriculture and livestock development objectives, suitability to local conditions and livelihood security as well as environmental sustainability. Genetic improvement can involve choice of appropriate breeds, choice of a suitable pure breeding or crossbreeding system and application of within-breed genetic improvement. The choice of appropriate breeds and crossbreeding systems in developed countries has been a major contributor to the large increases in productivity, and has benefited greatly from the fact that developed country animal genetic resources are well characterized and relatively freely exchanged. Where proper steps have been followed by careful assessment of demand, execution, delivery, impact and cost-benefit analyses, successful within-breed improvement has been realized within indigenous populations in developing countries. Breeding objectives and programmes for subsistence oriented and pastoralist systems are likely to be entirely different from conventional programmes. Crossbreeding has been most successful where it is followed by a rigorous selection programme involving livestock owners' participation and substantial public sector investment in the form of technical support. In any genetic improvement programme, inbreeding needs to be monitored and controlled.
Within-breed genetic improvement is normal practice in the developed world, and has become a highly technical enterprise, involving a range of reproduction, recording, computing and genomic technologies. Emerging genomic technologies promise the ability to identify better, use and improve developing world animal genetic resources in the foreseeable future. Useful systems can, however, be established without the need for application of advanced technology or processes.