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What’s the status of the Nordic farm animal breeds compared to those in other European countries? Does grazing animals always promote biodiversity - and why are the Icelandic breeds often less vulnerable than other native breeds in the Nordic? The participants of the NordGen Farm Animals Conference know – after two days packed with lectures, networking, and the marking of 40 years of Nordic collaboration within farm animal genetic resources.

Large snowflakes slowly fell from a grey sky outside the windows as experts, farmers, researchers, and state officials gathered in central Uppsala to discuss the state of the Nordic farm animal breeds. The statistics are as gloomy as the sky, with only 13% of the native farm animal breeds having a viable population – much reflecting the global loss of biodiversity.

“Some of the numbers are depressing, but you can’t achieve any change if you just give up and focus on what’s negative. What we need now is innovation, hard and dedicated work – but above all collaboration. Collaboration across country borders and collaboration between small-scale and large-scale food producers but also collaboration between different sectors in the society and a realization that our farm animals are precious resources, vital for food sufficiency and resilience in challenging times”, says Lise Lykke Steffensen, Executive Director of NordGen.

About 70 participants attended the conference physically and just as many registered for the online streaming. The program included both Nordic and international speakers, among them Roswitha Baumung from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“FAO gather statistics from the entire world on the status of different farm animal breeds. What we can see is that the Nordic countries are generally very good at reporting - you know much about your local breeds. Unfortunately, many of them are at risk. But having the data also means that you have the possibility to achieve change – and this conference is a fantastic opportunity for you to learn from each other on this matter”, she says.

Iceland stand out among the Nordic countries when it comes to the status of the native farm animal breeds. The Icelandic horse is a global export success, and the Icelandic sheep has a viable population of many thousand individuals.

“In Iceland we have an import ban on farm animals. This has led to most of our native breeds having viable populations as they are the only choice for the farmer. However, as the Icelandic cattle provide less yield than commercial cattle breeds, one could say that the Icelandic farmer is the one paying for the conservation of our native breeds. But on the other hand, if the ban would be lifted it is very likely that the Icelandic cattle would be replaced by more high-yielding breeds and perhaps even become a threatened species”, says Egill Gautason, one of the lecturers working as an Associate Professor at the Icelandic Agricultural University.

Morten Kargo lifted the perspective of the private sector and stated that companies also have a responsibility to safeguard certain breeds.

“We need to take this responsibility as a company, we need to do it to survive. In many cases, the local breeds are less prone to diseases and have a higher survival rate. Looking at stock level, this can very well balance the fact that they provided a little less yield”, he says.

In the speaker panel’s summary of the event, it was stated that collaboration is key when it comes to achieving change towards a more sustainable food production system. Not least Nordic collaboration, as the farm animal communities often are small and would benefit from interaction with colleagues in similar countries. Because together we are stronger. And perhaps that was the key takeaway as the participants left the conference and travelled home under a sky that had now shifted from gloomy grey to bright blue.