CGRFADecember 2014: In preparation for its fifteenth session, to be held from 19-23 January 2015, at FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy, the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) has recently published Background Study Paper 66 titled, ‘Ecosystem Services Provided by Livestock Species and Breeds, with Special Consideration to the Contributions of Small-Scale Livestock Keepers and Pastoralists.’

Authored by Irene Hoffmann, Tatiana From and David Boerma, the study was developed on the basis of a global and a European survey on ecosystem services provided by livestock species and breeds in grazing systems; County Reports for ‘The second report on the State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture;’ an extensive literature review; and an assessment of breed types by livestock production systems.

The study found a strong link between the presence of small-scale livestock keepers and pastoralists, the prevalence of indigenous breeds and the provision of supporting, regulating and cultural services. These links are found in mixed farming systems, and especially in extensive livestock keeping in drylands and mountainous regions. The large areas covered by these production systems, the importance of grasslands to biodiversity and the link between livestock grazing and nature conservation affirms the role of small-scale livestock keepers and pastoralists as guardians of biodiversity beyond the management of their breeds. The strong link between ecosystem services and these populations is rooted in their distinct cultural features and livelihood systems. Although communities can differ significantly in this regard, their cultures tend to embody a much higher appreciation of ecosystem services other than provisioning ones, compared to modern (urban) lifestyles, according to the study. Simultaneously, their intergenerational knowledge systems allow them to understand and monitor ecological processes and changes in relation to their own management choices.

The study and its related global survey identified the following constraints to the provision of ecosystem services by livestock species and breeds: lack of sufficient income from livestock production; lack of supporting policies, rules and financial incentives; and lack of recognition of services other than provisioning services. Additional factors included cultural changes, environmental factors (e.g. climate change), considerable knowledge and research gaps, especially at the level of breeds, and institutional, political and operational aspects (e.g. participation in decision-making, infrastructure and tenure). [Publication: Ecosystem Services Provided by Livestock Species and Breeds, with Special Consideration to the Contributions of Small-Scale Livestock Keepers and Pastoralists]