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B.1 General background
Recent changes of EU agricultural policy (CAP Reform Agreement) support sustainable rural development, linked to the respect of environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards. Moreover, the current economic situation and the expected trends in world demand make it imperative for Europe to avoid dependence on imported livestock-farming products and animal feed and to secure a better balance between those products and the traditional ones, such as the Protected Destination of Origin (PDO) products of sheep and goat farming, which the European market always favored.
The goat population of the EU-27 is estimated at 13.7 million heads. Goat production, even if it is still considered of small political significance at European level, remains important in countries like Greece (4,931,000 goats), Bulgaria (4,955,000), Spain (2,891,600), France (1,250,200), Italy (920,000), Romania (865,100), (source Eurostat).
Apart from these traditional Mediterranean and Balkan areas, a non negligible number of goat flocks is spread all over Europe, generating considerable returns for the farmers. Moreover, in various other European countries as for example The Netherlands, the goat industry has expanded considerably since the last fifteen-year period (40,000 heads in 1990, 280,000 heads in 2005-source Eurostat) mostly because of the consumers interest for the products.
Worldwide, goat production increases because of the economic value of goats as efficient converters of low-quality forages into quality products and of farmers’ determination to be selfsufficient where resources are limited.
Overall, goat farming in Europe is made up of traditional farming enterprises (low stocking rates), that support the livelihood of thousands of producers and supply products of high quality with specific characteristics, as well as by-products, thereby serving to underline its socio-economic contribution in rural areas.
Nowadays, goat products are gaining popularity due to i) the increased demand for the labeled and/or organic products; ii) demand of high quality dairy products; iii) strong religious consumption; iv) introduction of new consumers. Goat milks high digestible protein and fat content is beneficial to infant, invalid and convalescent diet. Its buffering quality facilitates ulcer treatment and is increasingly consumed by people facing allergies to cow milk. Hence, goat production should not be considered only in terms of economic factors.
Goat farming, including the farming of traditional and local breeds, plays a key environmental role that includes the natural upkeep of less fertile areas and the preservation of environmentally fragile ecosystems; whereas natural spaces of the pastureland type have been preserved for centuries thanks to such farming.
The beneficial effects include:
- Maintenance of valued open and diverse landscapes at a scale that is important for Europe’s openground flora biodiversity and wild fauna protection.
- Maintenance of pasturelands composed of valued habitats, ranging from marshes, steppe lands, coastal grasslands and heaths to moorlands and alpine grasslands; as well as managed farmland components including semi-natural grasslands, hay meadows and cultivated areas.
- Fire prevention and management, especially (but not exclusively) in Mediterranean regions, by cleaning up the natural spaces and removing dry vegetable material, and thus the prevention of a cycle of fire that can lead to severe land degradation.
- Environmentally positive integration with low-intensity farm management such as the dry-landarable systems of Mediterranean regions (with associated dunging, stubble and fallow grazing) and small-scale mixed livestock farming in the more remote parts of the Atlantic region.
In such outdoor husbandry systems, parasites are ubiquitous, highly prevalent, and responsible for major economic losses in production and degradation of product quality. For long, it has been considered that the data on parasitism obtained in sheep may be directly transferred to goats.
However, recent studies have underlined i) the existence of many caprine specificities in the hostparasite interactions; ii) how the lack of specific knowledge can affect animal health, public safety and product quality, illustrating the need for specific studies.
Research on specificities of goats to parasitism is an interdisciplinary subject which needs to integrate data from various research fields. Although some of the European teams working on parasitism in goats are internationally well-recognised, overall research within the various European countries remains dispersed and diluted. On the other hand, large scale EU Framework projects about parasite infection mostly dealt together with other animal species. Despite considerable efforts undertaken at national levels, no formal framework exists at the European scale to enhance and structure researches in this rapidly evolving scientific area. Therefore, it seems well-timed to use the COST open call policy in order to create a core group by creating links between those scientists either:
- within Europe (i.e. from southern to northern countries; by know-how transfer from the traditionally experienced scientists to the newcomers) or
- outside Europe (i.e. including countries like Israel and Turkey where goats have always been of major importance).
Conclusively, the main argument endorsing the necessity to create CAPARA is: to structure and coordinate research on parasitic infections in goats, presently dispersed throughout Europe, and funded at national levels.
COST provides the proper intergovernmental framework for such cooperation, because it encompasses the possible inclusion of countries outside Europe and COST flexibility offers the opportunity for new scientists to join the Action. No other research frameworks offer such an opportunity because they are designed to focus on specific targeted issues and they do not fund networking and capacity-building activities.
CAPARA aims at establishing a multidisciplinary network based on the existing European leading teams. By assembling and coordinating those researches, this Action will put Europe in a forefront position for both basic and applied researches in caprine parasitology and make it attractive worldwide especially for scientists from developing countries where goat plays a major economical role, particularly for the poorest.