Today we are in the Executive Agency for Selection and Reproduction / IASR / and we will meet with its executive director – zooeng. Georgi Yordanov. He was kind enough to meet us in his office and tell us about the Agency, which is authorized to control the breeding activity in the Republic of Bulgaria; for the purposes, mission and function of this institution; for what has been achieved so far and for what lies ahead.
– Hello, Mr. Yordanov. Tell us about yourself and the institution you head.
– Hello, I say Georgi Yordanov. I was born in the town of Gorna Oryahovitsa in 1966. I finished my secondary education in my hometown, after which I entered the Thracian University in Stara Zagora with a degree in Zooengineering. My master’s degree is in Horse Breeding. Until 1998 I worked in the horse farm in Razgrad. Then, until 2008, I was an employee of the former National Selection and Reproduction Service. From 2008 to 2017 I was chairman of the Horse Breeding Association, after which I was appointed Executive Director of the Executive Agency for Selection and Reproduction.
The Agency / EASA / is a secondary administrator at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. The main subject of activity is control over the breeding organizations, monitoring of the farm animals and support of the activity of the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry in particular with regard to the selection of the farm animals. The agency is structured in 3 directorates and 8 departments, and it also includes 2 stations for artificial insemination – in Sofia and in Sliven.
The station in Sofia specializes in horses and small ruminants – sheep and goats, and the one in Sliven for large ruminants – cattle and buffaloes. At the moment in Sliven we also breed Eastern Balkan pigs by a special method of storage outside the natural area of distribution (ex situ).
– This long experience has allowed you to have an in-depth look at the development of the selection in Bulgaria. What stages did she go through?
– The launch of the new approach to conducting the selection process in Bulgaria began in 1999 and for 21 years we have a reorganized selection process. Previously, it was the subject of activity of state institutions. Even before the 99th year there were 3 breeding organizations – those of pig farmers, buffalo breeders and the association “Marishka sheep” of Prof. Doycho Dimov. These associations were the first representatives of the new form of work. The mass reorganization began in 1999, following good European practices. The aim was for the selection and reproduction activities to be gradually transferred to non-profit associations. The first association was of the black-and-white breed, the second of the brown cattle, and the third of the Simmental Breeding Association.
Thus, in the following years, the state gradually got rid of these activities and retained control over them.
– What was this transition – smooth or “thorny”? Was there a spirit of collegiality and goodwill?
– Like any beginning, this was very difficult. Initially, when this process started in 1999, the director of the then National Service for Selection and Reproduction was Associate Professor Dimitar Panayotov. He is currently the dean of the Thracian University. He accepted the idea very warmly. He had a vision of how things were going, but his tenure was too short-lived. After him, the service was headed by the late Prof. Kostadin Zhelev, who had a very different view on the issue. He believed that the State’s involvement in this process should be very serious. The policy pursued at that time by him and other respected specialists and staff of the Agency was very negative towards the breeding organizations. It is a fact that in their first steps the breeding organizations were not organized and lacked experience, but this is quite normal for any newly created structure and it was up to the state services to pass on the experience gained over the years. At that particular moment, there was no positive attitude towards the transmission of this experience. There was serious criticism from the State, which I think should have been slightly softened and more tolerant shown in order to ensure a smoother transition. The difficulties lasted for almost a decade, during which new organizations were created and began to defend their positions. It was very difficult for them at the beginning, as there was no funding.
– Can we talk about selection at all during this transitional period or were these disorders in the focus of events?
– Of course, when there are disagreements and there is no cooperation, the focus shifts from the priority activity. Stress inevitably negatively affects the quality of work.
– Can we say today that this transition has passed or is there still a tension?
– For sure and for good, this transition is long overdue! These first 10 years were really very difficult, but even then the Agency for Selection and Reproduction was very active. After Prof. Zhelev, the Agency was headed by Associate Professor Mitko Petev, but only for a few months. This short term did not have a significant impact on the activity.
In August 2009 Prof. Vasil Nikolov became the Executive Director of IASRZ. His general idea was that this process should go where it belongs – in non-governmental organizations. He believed that breeding associations should be helped in every way possible – financially, administratively and professionally.
After Professor Nikolov headed the Agency, he initiated a stormy handover of the activity. He is a great professional and specialist in the field of breeding and selection. During his time, many new breeding associations were established, which received all the documentation kept over the years by the EAAW. The archive was handed over in an extremely civilized and cultural way to provide NGOs with a good professional start.
In some breeding associations there is still a great need to increase professionalism. However, more than 20 years have passed since the beginning and it is right that these organizations are already at the required level. Of course, not all are from the beginning – this year, for example, we have a newly established breeding association, and others have lost their licenses over the years.
The funding of breeding associations started in 2004, but unfortunately then the criteria were not very fair and were year after year. The purpose of the grants that were provided was a minimum funding for the purchase of an office and other equipment needed to start the business.
The real financing started in 2016 with the launch of the schemes for support of the breeding activity and the animals under selection control. In these schemes, things were relatively much better organized than in the previous period, and activities were valued. The number of animals and farms with which the organizations work is clear and on this basis support is already received in a controlled manner. A great contribution of Prof. Nikolov is also that during his rule we became a member of ICAR – an international organization for standardization and control. The activities recognized by ICAR as relevant to the selection activity were valued, notified in Brussels and included in the supported activities.
ICAR gives us the certainty when issuing pedigree certificates and zootechnical certificates that these documents are adequate to the requirements of the market in each EU country. This gives Bulgarian farms the opportunity for international trade, as the certificates in question are drawn up in accordance with ICAR requirements, and this guarantees their authenticity. On the other hand, this increases the quality of work, as control is exercised by ICAR and farmers are required to meet all requirements. In this way, our breeders become competitive with their Western counterparts.
– What are the Agency’s relations with the breeding associations – as between controlled and controlling or partner?
– To a much greater extent, the functions of the Agency are control, but with some breeding organizations we also have points of contact as partners. Your association is such an example. The Management Board of NARMS has a decision, approved by the members, for providing in the state station in Sliven young bulls, which are tested for their own productivity, for the quality of their seed material and their offspring. In this way the selection process develops. This is an activity that I strongly welcome! You have a scheme for the realization of the seed material that is produced at the station, which is a huge plus. However, this is a special case and in such partnerships we work with only a few of the more than 50 breeding organizations in the country.
I have even shared with Minister Taneva that there are breeding associations that are very stable and professional in the breeding activity and can claim to be modern European breeding organizations. There are others, those who find it difficult to cope with their activities.
Many things have been done in the last 20 years. An example of this is the DNA laboratory, which controls the authenticity of the issued pedigree certificates. This laboratory was built on a Swiss project 3 years ago. The first samples of blood, hair follicles and semen were taken in 2018. In this way, the first real results proving the origin of the animals came out. DNA samples are compared, for example, from heifers with the DNA profile of the father, which is specified in the certificate. This guarantees the authenticity of the certificates and makes it possible to sell heifers on the international market. In this way the activity of the associations is controlled, as the reliability of the information is especially important.
Currently, if the DNA results of the animals do not correspond to the information from the breeding association, they are dropped from the main section ex officio and funding for the animals in question is suspended for both the farmer and the breeding organization.
The introduction of the electronic breeding book has also been a very positive aspect in recent years. Of course, this is not a panacea, but it greatly improves our activities.
The management of Prof. Nikolov provided us with a very good foundation and continuity. He provided the breeding associations with a period of tolerance during which they could organize, and today we now have the opportunity to demand much more from them, and this e-breeding book was a natural next stage of development.
We are working together with the breeding associations to create a register of the male breeders used in the herds. This is very important for assessing the breeding value of the animals, as well as for assessing the breeders themselves.
– What is the reason for the fact that some breeds of cattle in Bulgaria have 2, 3 and more breeding associations? Doesn’t this dilute the activity and is a single and reliable archive for the breed possible in this way?
– My personal opinion is that in one country for each breed there should be one breeding association. The more associations, the more difficult the selection process. This is my personal opinion and is based on the experience I have gained over the years and my view on this activity in Western countries. We still follow their example, and there is very rarely the existence of more than one breeding organization for one breed. Differences in breeding programs also create difficulties.
– How far has the process of accrediting a laboratory for dairy samples reached?
– This is very important to happen. We currently have such laboratories, but they have a very small capacity and very expensive services. My goal is to accredit a laboratory that offers cost-effective services and with a large enough capacity to serve the needs of breeding organizations in a timely manner. Such a project is on the agenda, but until we have specific deadlines I can not commit when it will happen.
– What else did you manage to do during the time you are the head of the Agency and what are the tasks to be solved in the near future?
– What we have succeeded will be appreciated by colleagues. What I want is for the e-pedigree book to be improved and for us to work more seriously in this regard with some of the breeding organizations.
Another important goal before us is the register of male breeders, but not only for cattle, but also for all other breeders. We make great efforts to build it completely correct and accurate in order to be a reliable source of information.
In addition to working with breeding associations, we are also responsible for the conservation of genetic resources. This is also our important priority and that is why we are working very hard in this direction. We can boast that Bulgaria has an extremely diverse palette of species of farm animals and it is our responsibility to maintain a rich genetic bank. We have over 3 million doses of frozen semen in the bank, and there are about 700,000 in the genetic reserve.
For example, thanks to this genetic reserve we restore the breed of Bulgarian garden (red) cattle.
– Does the Bulgarian farmer evolve in the time when you have observations?
– Yes for sure. In these 20 years, things have changed a lot and we already have very modern and adequately thinking breeders. In terms of selection, things have definitely changed in a positive direction. We already have farms on the first line with modern technical equipment, with a vision for selection, which are not inferior to a Western European farm. Of course, most of the farms still have a lot of work to do and there is a lot to be desired.
– We were very pleased and we hope you will soon surprise us with good news about the new laboratory!
– It was also a pleasure for me and I promise you will know immediately when we are ready with the project.