Accepted paper:

Characterisation of what? A closer look at the assumptions behind the characterisation of pastoralists' livestock as 'low-performance' breeds


Saverio Kratli (IUAES Commission on Nomadic Peoples)
Brigitte Kaufmann (University of Kassel)

Paper short abstract:

Scientific breed characterisation embodies assumptions about forms of animal production. The study of successful pastoral systems shows that they produce by following a fundamentally different approach to the use of animals and environment. Is characterisation of pastoral breeds missing its target?

Paper long abstract:

Local breeds, especially livestock raised in pastoral systems, are commonly characterised as 'low-performance' breeds. This characterisation goes hand in hand with popular narratives of pastoral systems as poorly productive and indeed barely able to sustain themselves. When such narratives are placed under scrutiny, they clash with a growing body of information on the often very significant contribution pastoral systems make to their respective national economies. Similarly, the study of breeding and production strategies in pastoral systems has drawn attention to the central role that human-animal-environment interaction plays in production and to the economic opportunities of harnessing rather than avoiding environmental variability. This calls for a reconsideration of the universality of current scientific standards used in breed characterisation. This paper uses case studies from two pastoral systems, Rendille camel keepers in Kenya and WoDaabe cattle keepers in Niger to challenge the assumptions behind the standard methods of breed characterisation, by showing why meaningful characterisation of local breeds needs to take into account the relationship between livestock breeding populations and the particularity of their systems of production. In discussing standards of breed characterisation and the operational notion of 'animal genetic resources' in light of current understanding of pastoral production systems the paper also contributes to the debate on the conservation of domestic animal diversity.

panel MMM12
Lost in mutation: pastoral development rhetoric of the third millennium (IUAES Commission on Nomadic Peoples)