The exchange of livestock breeds and genes between North and South
Evelyn Mathias and Paul Mundy

League for Pastoral Peoples and Endogenous Livestock Development, 2005

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  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Why and how do livestock genes flow?
  • 3 Gene flows from South to North
  • 4 Gene flows to the South
  • 5 Driving forces of gene flows to the South
  • 6 Impact of global gene flows in the South
  • 7 Factors shaping the future
  • 8 Comparing Northbound and Southbound gene flows
  • 9 Conclusions and recommendations


This report focuses on the exchanges of livestock and poultry breeds and their genetic materials between developed countries (“the North”), especially Germany, and the developing world (“the South”). Particular focus is given to smallholder keepers in the South because they have been crucial to breed development in non-temperate climatic zones, and millions of them depend on livestock for their livelihoods.

Data were collected through literature and internet searches, the analysis of statistical information, and informal interviews.

In the last 100 years, gene flows from South to North have been dwarfed by flows in the opposite direction, from North to South. Large numbers of animals, semen, embryos and eggs are shipped to developing countries, and Northern breeds (particularly of pigs, poultry and dairy cattle) have become firmly established in various countries. Despite this, the impact on the South has been limited, and any benefits of Northern breeds have mostly bypassed pastoralists and poor livestock keepers.

The North has often subsidized livestock exports, while the South has furthered the import of exotic genetic materials, for example by offering livestock keepers credit, services, and subsidized feed. Southern governments tend to favour livestock industrialization at the expense of smallholder producers.

Experience in the North shows that it does not take a large amount of genetic materials to establish a successful breed in a new country if there is a functioning infrastructure in place. Additional factors that determine the outcome of a breeding programme include how it is planned and implemented; whether a breed is suited for the new environment and fits in with the goals and strategies of the producers; and whether a country offers institutional and legal support to its producers.

International agreements regulating agricultural trade are likely to enhance the intensification of livestock production and increase gene flows to the South. Breeding decisions are increasingly taken out of the hands of farmers and herders. While relatively few Southern breeds have so far disappeared, these trends are likely to push more to the brink of extinction.

Southern breeds are a valuable pool of genetic diversity. Pastoralists and small-scale livestock keepers are crucial for the maintenance of these breeds. Southern governments need to recognize their contribution to breed development and secure their access to grazing and water, services and education. Governments must also ensure that the access and exchange of genetic materials are not restricted by patents on animals or genes, and do not grant patents that infringe on indigenous knowledge.

Download full text 549 kb, 89 pages