The term farm animal genetic resources (AnGR) is used to include all animal species, breeds and strains (and their wild relatives) that are of economic, scientific and cultural interest to humankind in terms of food and agricultural production for the present or in the future. These are derived from the 40 species of animals that have been domesticated during the past 10,000 to 12,000 years, but major chunk comes from only 14 species which contribute directly or indirectly to agricultural production. Domestic animal genetic resources supply some 30% of total human requirements for food and agricultural production. They are particularly vital to subsistence and economic development in developing countries as they continually provide essential food products, draught power and manure for crop production and generate income as well as employment for most of the rural poor.
Livestock also produce non-food items such as hides, skins, wool, traction power and fuel (from dung) in some communities. In addition livestock are a major source of revenue and export earnings for many farmers. Livestock can also contribute towards environmental sustainability in well-balanced mixed farming systems. This may be through provision of draught power, and manure and urine as fertilizer. Subsistent farming communities depend directly upon genetic, species and ecosystem biodiversity for their livelihoods. Complex, diverse and risk-prone peasant livelihood systems need animal genetic resources that are flexible and resilient for climate change, resistant to local diseases and diverse.
Information on the extent of existing genetic diversity, characteristics and use of indigenous farm animal genetic resources in India and other developing countries is the basis for their present as well as future sustainable utilization. In India, neglect and lack of accurate information on the diversity and status of the existing farm animal genetic resources are believed to exacerbate the alarming rate of irreversible loss of genetic diversity. Such losses reduce opportunities to improve food security, alleviate poverty and attain sustainable agricultural practices. The situation is alarming indeed because 16% of the finite set of 7,000 unique breeds has been lost since the beginning of the 19th century, and a further 32% (22% of mammals and 48% of avian species) are at risk of becoming extinct. Yet the rate of extinction, currently at two breeds per week, is expected to accelerate.
In recent years, changes in economic climate have promoted the use of breeds suited to intensive production systems, which has led to a few breeds becoming widespread while the breeds that they have replaced have decline in population size. In some cases native populations have been crossbred with imported stock in upgrading programmes. However, the dramatic decline in livestock inventories and the economic conditions clearly indicate that there is pressure to increase profitability of livestock farming by replacing less productive breeds with more productive ones. Especially high-input/high-output breeds like the Holstein have already and still are gaining importance in many states. To make the current and future progressive improvement of domestic animals populations successful in intensive and extensive circumstances, the genetic variation within domesticated species must be maintained.