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This article was published in Rare Breeds NewZ, November 2003

Rare Breeds International

      Conservation, put another way, is mainly the saving of genetic resources. Most people support conservation and profoundly hope that as many remnants of our environment as possible will be preserved and retained for the future. Few of those people, however, realize that conservation not only happens in the wild spaces, but it is also becoming increasingly important in our urban and rural areas. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, are now going to the extent of paying farmers not to develop their lands, but to retain and manage them in a state that encourages a wide complexity of habitats and inhabitants to co-exist in a manner that provides for a long term permanent relationship.

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      A large percentage of our environment now comes under this rural category, and there the conservation of genetic resources suddenly has a huge new meaning. The conservation of livestock species and the associated lifestyle and infrastructure that goes with it, has been in the past a "Mills and Boon" second cousin to the preservation of wild spaces. Now, however, there is an increasing recognition of the vital links that they hold to a large and essential component, not only of our past heritage, but also of our future.

      Individuals in many countries throughout the world have recognized this need, and there is now a large number of Societies or similar organizations who monitor and encourage the preservation of these resources. These groups do a huge amount of work and are the heartbeat of what is in fact a global Rare Breeds Conservation movement, and their work is supported by an international organization known a Rare Breeds International or RBI.

      RBI was established as the umbrella organization for such a movement, and to co-ordinate it globally. It is a non-governmental organization whose mission is to prevent the loss of diversity in global farm animal genetic resources, and is the only international non-governmental organization with such a mandate. It has links and works in partnership with groups such as FAO [Food and Agricultural Organization of United Nations], UNEP [United Nations Environmental Programme] and EAAP [European Association for Animal Production], and undertakes projects which focus on topics addressed directly by governments or intergovernmental agencies. Its secretariat is maintained by the EAAP in Rome. It meets regularly and has a global conference every three years, with the next one scheduled for South Africa, and then Vietnam in 2007.

      Many people are members of both RBI and their own country's conservation organizations. RBI is managed by a Board of Directors, nine of whom are elected, all from different countries, and three others are co-opted. Professor Hugh Blair from New Zealand, the first chairman of the Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand, is a past chairman of RBI, and so although we are a long way from its European hub, we are still very much part of the international scene and with a positive role to play. At a recent meeting in Rome, Michael Willis from Christchurch, a current member of the National Committee of the New Zealand Society, was elected as a Director, and has a project to develop RBI's presence in Australasia, the Pacific and surrounding countries.

November 2003
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