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A recent study points to the need of creating dialogue and easing bureaucratic obstacles; making sure that the farmers are motivated is vital for conserving genetic diversity.

Our Nordic native breeds have adapted to local conditions for centuries. Today, their legacy is in the hands of a few motivated farmers. A recent study points to the need of creating dialogue and easing bureaucratic obstacles; making sure that the farmers are motivated is vital for conserving genetic diversity.

The researchers of the "3MC– Nordic Mountain Cattle" project, which is led by NordGen, have recently

published an article.

The multidisciplinary research team has examined how farmers and stakeholders view the genetic and cultural significance of conservation. They also investigate the process of decision-making from the farmers’ point of view. Co-author Dr. Ulla Ovaska sees the importance of taking in the farmers’ views: “The farmers should be able to make their voices heard because they do the practical conservation work. The information they provide is up to date and informs the research community of current matters and challenges they are facing. Listening to farmers will surface issues and topics that researchers might oversee.”

Natural Environment

The conservation of native breeds in their natural environment environments (in vivo)

is completely dependent on farmers who are willing to keep them. NordGen Senior Scientist and co-author Maria Kjetså explains, that the breeds are connected to the environment in which the animals are traditionally kept: “The native breeds should be bred in their natural environment. It is connected to what the breed is meant to do, what the breed has adapted to as well as its cultural background.”

Motivated Farmers

Keeping native breeds is supported by various financial support schemes. But they rarely cover the financial gap in output compared to commercial breeds. “The native breeds have often not been that intensively bred towards higher production volumes. That is why the farmers will have a smaller amount of milk, meat, wool or some other product to sell, said Kjetså.” Kjetså points out that that the farmers must be motivated to keeping the breeds despite the financial gap: “Without motivation and a well-functioning support system, we may be left with only a few hobby breeders, who keep the breeds for just keeping them alive. In that environment, the animals will be disconnected from the culture around their original production system.”

Co-operation and Participation

Conserving our native breeds for the future is a complex task and requires team efforts. NordGen Section Leader and co-author Mervi Honkatukia notes that decision-makers, academia and farmers all need to be on the same page when shaping the schemes and decisions that will affect the genetic diversity of our native breeds. "The research results show that farmers value a well-functioning system of subsidies as well as being able to take part in shaping the measures that will affect them,” said Honkatukia. Honkatukia explains that co-operation and participation are key in making sure that the farmers are motivated to taking care of the animals and complying with the measures that are adopted. “If the farmers are not motivated, they will not keep the cattle. Making sure that the farmers are motivated is not important – it's crucial”, said Honkatukia.

A Multidisciplinary Approach

For zooarchaeologist and co-author Auli Bläuer, one of the major discoveries was that the farmers understand that the genes are important – but they also wish to feel connected to the culture of keeping a special type of cattle. "People see the animals from many different angles. Some think about the historic significance, while others think of the role the breed has played in the everyday life of their ancestors in more recent times. But there are also those, who see them as an important genetic resource”, said Bläuer.

Like a Network

Bläuer explains, that the survey sheds light on the numerous reasons why people keep the animals. “If we want to support the people who keep the animals, a multidisciplinary approach is the best one. It reflects the idea of the cattle that people have in their mind.” Honkatukia agrees with Bläuer and concludes: “The animals are part of the society. If genetic resources are seen as just genes, we are seeing things from one perspective only. When it comes to safeguarding our native breeds, all things are connected. It's like a network of things.” [nordgen_button url="" target="blank" color="dark blue"]Read the article[/nordgen_button] Above image: Annu Puurunen

The project is funded with a grant from EU, Interreg Nord, Lapin liitto and Länsstyrelsen Norrbotten 2019-2022 and has 5 Nordic partners. NordGen is the coordinator for the project as well as responsible for investigating pedigree and population kinship, dissemination of results and implementation of applications. NordGen will also be responsible for establishing the network of preservers.