Reproductive Science in the Global Village

Authors


Author’s address (for correspondence): PJ Chenoweth, School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, NSW 2678, Australia. E-mail: pchenoweth@csu.edu.au

Contents

Livestock production contributes not only to national economies, but also to sustainability and profitability of agriculture, as well as to the fabric of local societies. Efficient and viable animal production systems are dependent upon the effective management of animal reproduction. Similar arguments can be made in support of the importance of reproduction for companion and performance animals, whereas its key role in preserving endangered species is indisputable. Despite such considerations, the widespread dissemination of current and credible information regarding animal reproduction faces challenges, not only in the developing world, but also in developed countries, where animal reproduction education is apparently in decline. This review will examine these issues, as well as various ways in which animal reproduction education and knowledge transfer is currently being pursued throughout the world. It will conclude with suggested avenues and opportunities for improvement.

Introduction

It is long acknowledged that the burgeoning human population on this planet is placing increasing stress on global resources, particularly in relation to food. Recently, the challenge of meeting this widening gap has become even more complex, with the emergence of issues ranging from environmental concerns, global warming, increasing use of biofuels and heightened sensitivity for animal welfare, to rising incomes associated with rapidly increasing demand for animal protein. Increasingly, economic and political stability depends upon the reliable supply of affordable food and energy, both of which directly involve agriculture.

Approximately 40% of world agricultural output currently derives from livestock, which directly underpin the livelihoods and food security of almost a billion people. Livestock products contribute nearly 30% of world protein intake, ranging from 17% in Africa to 78-98% in highly developed western countries (FAO 2011b). Population growth in concert with growing affluence and urbanization will increase relative demand for livestock products, particularly in the developing world (Delgado 2005); by 2050, meat consumption is projected to rise nearly 73% and dairy consumption by 58% over current levels (FAO 2011b).

Most predicted population growth will occur in the developing world, in which nations are poorly equipped to provide the necessary resources, and in urban rather than rural settings. Adding to these pressures is anticipated changes to the environmental context in which these resources are produced, and also by growing sensitivities to the environmental ‘costs’ of some currently available measures employed to boost production. In this context, demand for animal-derived foods is predicted to increase (FAO 2009). Despite a 3–5-fold increase in meat and milk consumption in developing countries between the early 1970s and mid-1990s (Delgado et al. 1999) associated with advances in livestock productivity and efficiency, even greater and more rapid progress is necessary (Brown 2003), particularly in the efficiency of livestock systems (FAO 2011b).

The inherent challenges in meeting the food security needs and demands of the developing world are many. Imperatives of logistics and economics mean that many of these challenges are met at a local or regional level where much of the food produced comes from small family operations in which cropping and livestock raising are often linked. Here, progress requires relevant educational, scientific and technological resources to be applied locally (Gustaffson 2011).

Optimal livestock reproduction is the keystone of productivity and efficiency. Achieving this goal in the developing world is often hampered by poverty, culture, animal health, genetics, environment and appropriate levels of education/extension. Improvement strategies will only achieve lasting success if they are seen to be cost-effective and culturally acceptable, as well as being sustainable in human and environmental terms. This may mean that simple and practical changes in animal husbandry may be the most important initial steps to improvements in production and profitability (Winter and Doyle 2008), especially where more sophisticated technologies are ineffective or inappropriate (Mpofu 2002). Thus, although strategies for success vary with region, as does the appropriate application of improved genetics, technologies and infrastructure, an underlying constant is that of effective education and extension/training. The provision and availability of appropriate educational material has particular relevance in the developing world, where key indices of livestock reproduction are often low and where improved knowledge in concert with relatively inexpensive changes in management procedures can offer significant improvement (Fordyce et al. 2003).

The Status Quo

The importance of livestock to developing countries can be evaluated either in terms of national economies or as the mainstay of small-holder farmers where livestock not only provide direct financial benefits, but also food, manure (both for fertilizer and fuel), traction, capital investment as well as social status.

Of the livestock owning populations in the third world, 20% operate in extensive systems, 57% have mixed crop-livestock farms, and 23% are landless, peri-urban producers (Devendra et al. 2005). In Asia, more than 95% of the ruminants and many swine and poultry are raised on small crop-livestock farms. In both South-East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, many animals raised by small farmers suffer from poor nutrition, have poor growth rates, production and reproduction levels and are susceptible to disease (NAP 2008).

Available Resources

Various forms of assistance for improving livestock productivity in developing countries have been available for many years. Such assistance has ranged from direct investment in infrastructure, genetics and academic training to enhancing rural advisory, or extension, services (RAS) and interactive farmer workshops. Those organizations or groups providing RAS can be categorized (GFRAS 2011) as follows; (i) farmers and farmer organizations, (ii) public-sector, (iii) private sector, (iv) NGOs, (v) research organizations, (vi) agricultural training and education organizations and (vii) networks and platforms representing all or some of these. Many international agencies support RAS both directly (through financial and technical assistance) and indirectly (by advocating and facilitating good evidence-based policy and practice), including UN agencies such as FAO, WFP and IFAD. Funding bodies such as the World Bank and continental development banks (such as the Asian Development Bank) make significant contributions to development, particularly via funded projects that aim to develop independently funded RAS; an aspiration that is still far removed from reality in most cases. In addition, the private sector also plays an important role in providing RAS in developing countries via national and international consulting firms and independent consultants who provide global RAS, often as service providers to bilateral or multilateral aid donors. In general, however, effective RAS supported by relevant livestock and agricultural industries at the local and regional levels, either directly or indirectly via levies, is still a pipe dream in the developing world.

In January 2010, the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS) emerged to help develop, strengthen and coordinate rural advisory services, as well as identify opportunities, under the banner of global development. An umbrella organization also exists in the research arena, namely the Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR), which, in turn was responsible for the 2010 Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD) with the objective of refining regional and global research priorities and promoting effective and targeted investment to help ensure that agricultural research meets the needs of end users. In both cases, however, the primary focus is often not on livestock. Also contributing within the global context is the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) which represents a strategic partnership of donors supporting 15 international research centres that work in partnership with government, NGOs and private businesses around the world. A recent review, Rural Advisory Services Worldwide; A Review of Actors and Issues (GFRAS 2011) provides a valuable resource for those interested in an overview of global RAS activity as well as relevant and topical issues.

The Role of Extension

Agricultural extension has been defined as ‘the process of engaging with individuals, groups and communities so that people are more able to deal with issues affecting them and opportunities open to them’ (Coutts et al. 2005). The traditional delivery of formal agricultural extension services has been via a government-funded linear, or top-down, diffusion model in which information is transferred from scientists through extension workers to the local farmer. Here, all deliverers are governmental employees; a situation in which policies (both good and bad) of a central government are promulgated even when they might not be in the best long-term interests of the nations, or the local farmer. In addition, extension workers in the developing world often lack the knowledge, status and career incentives to be effective, even when using modern technologies of delivery.

Regardless, however, of the mode of delivery, many challenges occur in achieving optimal outcomes including political support, educational levels (of both deliverers and recipients), local traditions and culture, infrastructural and financial support, economic incentives and coordination of services both within and among regions and nations. At the local level, Winter (2011) describes the effects of ‘shaping’ and ‘enabling’ influences as follows. Shaping influences can be those imposed by climate and geography, such as soil type or rainfall, which influence the development of particular forms of agriculture and community structures. They can also include religious and cultural beliefs that proscribe certain livestock management or dietary principles. Enabling forces are those characteristics that are conducive to certain activities or practices. These could include physical location (for example proximity to the sea would promote fishing), the availability of credit and/or marketing facilities, and accessibility to RAS resources including educational opportunity. Educators and facilitators should understand such influences to select the most promising options for improving small-holder livestock systems within a given locality or region (Winter 2011).

One example of shaping influences is that of gender discrimination, caused by cultural, religious or economic factors, in terms of educational opportunity. For example, in Pakistan, government statistics place the overall literacy rate at 46%, and that of girls at 26%, although unofficial estimates are much lower for both categories (Latif 2011). Such estimates are even lower in rural areas, particularly in those where female education is strictly prohibited on religious grounds (Latif 2011). This lack of education of a significant proportion of the workforce, whether overall or confined to certain categories, can be an impediment to the adoption of new ideas and technologies. Further, it means that the pool of people able to attain higher education is greatly diminished, both in quantitative and qualitative terms.

The Role of Higher Education

Opportunities for higher education to provide solutions to animal production problems in developing countries vary in terms of institutional numbers, quality and capacity as well as social and cultural impediments. For example, in China, there are approximately 50-60 veterinary educational institutions, producing at least 5–6000 graduates per year (Ying et al. 2006). Despite this impressive output, it is considered that a number of systemic constraints should be removed or relaxed before the contributions of these graduates are optimized (Ying et al. 2006; Li et al. 2011). These constraints include inflexibility, lack of national standards (although a Chinese veterinary system for accrediting veterinary educational programmes is in its infancy), overreliance on traditional Chinese educational methods and standards, patchy teaching quality and poor communication and cooperation with international institutions (Ying et al. 2006; Li et al. 2011). In India, animal industries contribute nearly 10% of the GDP, although livestock productivity is relatively poor. More than 30 veterinary colleges produce an impressive number of graduates to help meet this challenge. However, lack of funding, consistency and flexibility in curricula, limitations on teaching faculty numbers and quality as well as inadequate exposure to both research and practical experience have been flagged as areas that require improvement (Sasidhar 2002). Veterinary education in both India and China has, to date, been considered as a function of government; a feature that favours consistency although not necessarily flexibility or innovation. Thus, it is perhaps understandable that suggestions for improving veterinary relevance for the Indian livestock industries include closer institutional ties with such industries and an increased infusion of private service philosophies, including entrepreneurship, into veterinary education (Sasidhar and Van Den Ban 2006; Sasidhar and Gopal Reddy 2011). Here, it is relevant that the latter study was conducted in collaboration with Tuskegee University with support from USDA.

One organization that has striven to redress the balance, at least at one end of the spectrum, is the International Foundation for Science (IFS) that has worked for over 30 years to help achieve a critical mass of qualified scientists and related capacities in low-income countries. To date, over 4000 grantees (30% female) have received nearly 6000 grants. The impact of these programmes has been documented by Galina et al. (2000), as well as in the IFS-MESIA (Monitoring and Evaluation System for Impact Assessment) series. The latter also provides details of key issues that have emerged in developing countries and that place constraints not only upon scientific aspirations but also upon socio-economic development in general. These issues collectively contribute to a ‘vulnerable scientific research infrastructure’ and include poor government recognition of the role of scientific knowledge in the development process, an accelerating loss of scientific expertise via ageing and migration and difficulties that young scientists experience in establishing secure and fulfilling career paths within their countries and institutions. As well as IFS, many organizations and institutions have played laudable roles in training scientists for developing countries and in upgrading research and educational capacities. For example, USAID works through the Higher Education for Development program (http://www.hedprogram.org), formerly the Association Liaison Office for University Cooperation in Development (ALO) to support development by mobilizing the resources of higher education. In the past 20 or more years, HED has helped to strengthen the institutional capacity of over 200 developing country higher education, research and training institutions in over 60 countries. Recently, however, there has been an apparent trend away from agricultural/livestock-related projects, such that of 14 cooperative new projects funded by USAID/HED in 2010, none were in this area (HED 2011). This reflects a global trend in which public funding for research and development in the farm sector decreased by 50% between 1980 and 2004 (The Economist 2008). Mention should also be made in this context of the many commendable contributions made by first-world higher educational institutions, which include the provision of training programmes as well as collaborative research, often in partnership with institutions in the third world.

It should not, however, be assumed that developing countries are the only ones in which higher education is failing the livestock industries. In North America, USA, Europe and Australia, there are concerns of decreasing enrolments in the Animal Sciences as well as in the relative amount of food-animal training received by veterinary students (Chenoweth 2004). In the USA, higher education institutions are being urged to ‘shape their academic focus around the reality of issues that define the world’s systems of food and agriculture and to refashion the way in which they foster knowledge of those complex systems in their students’ (NAP 2009); in Australia, educators have been urged to add sociology to the agriculture curriculum (Dunn and Wolfe 2001). However, such initiatives imply that appropriate numbers of students will take advantage of them; an assumption not supported by student enrolment trends in science, at least in developed countries such as the USA, where student interest in science falls dramatically in transition from high school to college (Duncan 2009). One approach to counter this trend is that of PICSE (The Primary Industry Centre for Science Education) in Australia, which facilitates collaborations between universities, local communities and primary industries to attract students into tertiary science, particularly in agriculture-related fields, with the ultimate aim of increasing the number of skilled professionals in research institutions and agribusiness. Even closer to the collective soul of the current gathering, there has been a disconcerting decline in both funding for animal reproduction research (Reeves 2007) and in the resources applied to the teaching of animal reproduction in veterinary schools, at least in North America and the Caribbean (Root Kustritz et al. 2006), a trend that requires urgent attention to avoid an irreversible loss of critical teaching mass.

The Role of Modern Biotechnologies

A wide range of biotechnologies have been employed in developing countries to advance animal reproduction, genetics and breeding (FAO 2011a,b Biotechnologies for Agricultural Development) with the most common being artificial insemination (AI) using frozen semen representing selected genetic traits. Less commonly employed are other reproductive technologies such as oestrous synchronization, embryo transfer (Drost 2007) and hormonal monitoring, whereas more basic procedures, such as pregnancy testing, male breeding soundness evaluation and the use of body condition scoring, go largely unreported.

Here, it is considered that small-herd owners in developing regions such as those in South-East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are unlikely to improve livestock genetic potential by using locally available genetic material only, even when this is highly environmentally adapted. Conversely, the full potential of superior genetics can only be realized when appropriate assessment and recording systems, ranging from individual animal identification to the collection of objective, comparative data, are in place (NAP 2008).

Concerted efforts are being made to apply new technologies in the quest to raise livestock productivity and profitability in developing countries (FAO 2011a), and this certainly applies in the case of animal reproduction. Probably the most widely exploited example is livestock AI. Although this is employed to a greater or lesser degree in most developing countries, it is constrained by factors such as inadequate training, poor technical facilities, lack of animal identification, evaluation and recording systems as well as the high cost and availability of liquid nitrogen, dry ice, or even a reliable power supply. Such factors, combined with difficulties in marketing and transport, have been even more restrictive to the uptake of more sophisticated technologies such as embryo transfer and in vitro fertilization. Here, the assumption that animal genetics that have proven to be superior in one environment will be equally effective in another, quite different environment has led to costly failures (Winter and Doyle 2008). Although circumstances differ from region to region, it can be assumed that technologies, in themselves, are not a universal panacea for many livestock production problems in the developing world, at least at present. This is because their successful implementation at the local level is dependent upon appropriate infrastructural and educational contexts, both of which often require considerable preparation as well as resources.

A Case Study

Some of those factors that might influence agricultural production and profitability in a developing country, as well as the uptake of technological advances, may be appreciated by focusing on a particular region such as the Indo-Pakistani subcontinent. In Pakistan, agriculture accounts for 25% of the country’s GDP (Zia et al. 2011), with approximately three quarters of the population relying directly upon the agricultural sector for their livelihood (Davidson and Munir 2003). Despite such statistics, agricultural production consistently falls short of demand, leading to food shortages and the need to import agricultural products and the depletion of national coffers (Davidson and Munir 2003). In 2009, it was estimated that 31% of the population was below the poverty line, a proportion likely to increase if agricultural production does not keep pace with a rapidly growing population (Zia et al. 2011). This, in turn, will necessitate significant improvements in the delivery, and uptake, of agricultural advice and extension (Davidson and Munir 2003). However, the delivery of extension services to Pakistani farmers is often constrained by the limitations of extension personnel who lack appropriate knowledge and expertise. In addition, the effective delivery of advice is often compromised by social, religious and traditional barriers (Riaz 2010). Here, it is apparent that effective change must be preceded by sociological and cultural changes, which are heavily dependent upon appropriate educational and extension initiatives.

The Case for Focusing on the Basics

Much of the infertility and associated production loss that occurs in livestock systems in developing countries is linked with deficiencies in practical animal management and husbandry, including aspects such as housing, water, nutrition, health, pre- and post-partum management. Here, a case study from South-Eastern Asia, as below, is pertinent.

In Indonesia, there is a rising demand for beef products although cattle are also used as draught animals, investment vehicles and status symbols, and many crop-livestock farms retain cattle as user/keepers. In Lombok, problems in cattle production included high calf mortality (20-30%), low cow fertility (one calf per 2 years) and poor access and a high cost of service (Fordyce et al. 2003). Attempts to improve results included a crossbreeding programme, an AI programme using ‘superior’ bulls (selected on phenotypic characteristics), and introduction of high producing grasses. However, most success was obtained with basic management changes including limited mating periods (to align cattle pregnancies with available feed), earlier weaning (5–6 months) and improved bull management and biosecurity. Although such changes were relatively simple and inexpensive, they required considerable diplomacy to implement at the local levels. However, once the success of these measures became evident, such as a mature cow re-conception rate of 90%, a reduction of calf mortality to 2-4% and a doubling of cow numbers within 5 years, they were welcomed (Fordyce et al. 2003). In earlier work, Preston (1983) illustrated the effectiveness of a relatively simple, low-cost, managerial procedure, that is restricted suckling, in lifting productive and reproductive performance of both cattle and buffalo.

The Local Interface

Relative success in such cases should not lead to the assumption that simple, formulaic solutions can be applied universally. One caveat is that most programmes rely upon the knowledge, expertise and motivation of local ‘facilitators’ who, in turn, require appropriate education, training, updating and incentives to be effective. In the developing world, gaps occur in many facets of this continuum, as shown in the Pakistan example above. A noteworthy and significant gap occurs between research and extension, whose orbits often do not overlap. Although there is already sufficient knowledge to make significant progress in alleviating many problem areas, this is not evident at the farm or local level where RAS personnel do not have the knowledge, tools, career structure or numbers to transfer this knowledge into action.

The Importance of Institutional Capacity

From the above considerations, it cannot be assumed that the provision of more scientists, in itself, will solve development challenges in third-world countries. Relevant to this discussion is a recent USAID report focused on Africa (USAID 2010) which flags a paradigm shift from an emphasis on the academic training of individuals to one that aims to build institutional capacity. For local extension personnel, capacity building may include workshop training, staff meetings, field trips, team building and mentoring (Photakoun and Millar 2009). In this study, hands-on activities (workshop, on-site and on-job training) were ranked considerably higher in acceptance than use of the internet by local extension workers. However, building the capacity of organizations implies not only a critical mass of trained individuals, but also a favourable context in which they can effectively apply their skills within secure and fulfilling career frameworks. Thus, building institutional capacity requires not only infusions of funding, infrastructure and personnel, but also the establishment of an environment or culture in which human resources can be nurtured and channelled most effectively (Beddoe et al. 2009). In this respect, the needs of developing economies do not differ from those of the corporate world, which has long acknowledged the value of both formal and informal mentorship programmes. Thus, initiatives such as the non-profit International Professors Project (IPP 2011) in which dedicated volunteer academics from developed countries work in local or regional institutions as educators and mentors should be highly commended.

The Reproduction Equation

Although livestock differs in type and environmental contexts as well as the interactions that occur between these factors, the basic principles of good livestock reproductive management (Chenoweth 2005) are considered universal. Application of some or all of these principles, which include those associated with strategic feeding, breeding and health, can lead to significant improvements while being relatively simple and inexpensive to implement (Fordyce et al. 2003; Winter and Doyle 2008). For example, good animal reproduction is dependent upon good animal health; an issue that becomes more critical when new genotypes, not adapted to local environments or pathogens, are introduced. However, even adapted genotypes are susceptible to a wide variety of diseases (Mekonnen 2007), with this increasing when nutrition, hygiene and biosecurity are deficient. The importance of monitoring and managing animal health extends beyond local production issues. Encroaching urbanization has contributed to the emergence of new zoonoses while increasing globalization means that pathogens, both ‘old’ and ‘new’, can more easily transcend borders. Thus, both from the global human perspective as well as that of livestock reproduction, it is important to develop and improve regional disease diagnostic capabilities to determine which pathogens are most important, and to prioritize control measures. This will require augmentation of field research, trained technicians, diagnostics (NAP 2009) and, in particular, veterinary programmes, which are under-resourced in developing countries (Bonnet et al. 2011). Here, the World Animal Health Information Database (WAHID) created by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) represents a valuable resource in monitoring disease prevalence in different regions and providing early warning of potential problems via the World Animal Information System (WAHIS). Collaborative endeavours as represented by the School for Global Animal Health (OIE 2012) at Washington State University also provide valuable research and expertise in combating infectious disease challenges to animal production and human health in developing countries.

Livestock productivity is often constrained by poor reproduction, and this is particularly evident in third-world countries (Mukasa-Mugerwa 1989; Abassa 1995; Masama et al. 2003; Fordyce et al. 2003) where is not only confined to individual animals of small farmers, but also to herds and flocks belonging to larger private owners and those of research and government-run ‘institutes’. However, despite numerous reports and publications addressing aspects of livestock reproduction in disadvantaged regions, this does not appear to have resulted in widespread dissemination, and acceptance, of basic precepts of good reproductive management. This could be partly because complex, high technology solutions are more attractive to governments and funding entities than those which might be regarded as basic and low-tech. It also relates to the problems of effective RAS delivery in developing countries, as discussed above. Regardless of the reasons for this apparent deficiency, there appears to be an urgent need for those organizations and groups with expertise in livestock reproduction to establish a manifesto of universally applicable reproduction management principles, and to ensure its effective delivery to target bodies and audiences using the best means available.

Ways Forward

In considering the many options available to deliver appropriate information to targeted audiences in the developing world, it is beyond the scope of this review to provide a comprehensive listing and to compare relative effectiveness. Much thought and effort is being expended on these and related topics, as evident in the deliberations of MEAS (MEAS 2012); an initiative that aims to transform and modernize extension/advisory services in selected countries. A common thread is the importance of productive collaborations between individuals, institutions and the business world to develop interdisciplinary approaches tailored to local and regional needs and realities. A combination of traditional and innovative methods of information delivery are indicated, with the relative mix being influenced by local societal and cultural contexts.

It is concluded that many current programmes aiming to raise livestock productivity in disadvantaged regions of the world would benefit greatly from increased focus on animal reproduction as the linchpin of progress. This argument is bolstered by the wide scope of activities, technologies and competencies that fall under the animal reproduction banner. In fact, animal reproduction comprises such diverse facets that it is often difficult to adequately define; a consideration that hinders its full recognition as a stand-alone discipline within educational institutions. Thus, the central task is to impress educational opinion-leaders, whether of the developing or developed worlds, that animal reproduction is a high-value discipline worthy of enthusiastic support.

The challenges in improving livestock production in the developing world are many and complex, with many facets worthy of consideration. However, from the perspective of livestock reproduction, recommendations would include:

Firstly, a concerted effort should be made to emphasize the importance of animal reproduction in livestock improvement programmes, particularly in the developing world. In turn, this necessitates;

  • 1 encouragement of multi-disciplinary approaches in which animal reproduction expertise figures prominently;
  • 2 promotion and strengthening of animal reproduction educational programmes in both developed and developing countries; and
  • 3 development of succinct, effective educational modules concerning good livestock reproduction principles that can be used by RAS in a variety of contexts.

To further these recommendations, consideration should be given to the formation of a ‘think tank’, comprising representatives of livestock reproduction organizations and related entities, to forge united approaches on such issues.

Secondly, we need to engage with the challenge of improving institutional infrastructures in developing countries. Again from the perspective of livestock reproduction, the starting point is the effectiveness of local RAS. Here, recommendations include;

  • 1 upgrading the knowledge, tools, status and career incentives for RAS personnel; and
  • 2 encouraging closer relationships between RAS staff, research entities and the livestock industries.

In most developing countries, such aspirations require governmental ‘sign-on’ for implementation; a reality tempered by economics, priorities and political awareness. Here, the initiatives of the livestock reproduction ‘think tank’ mooted above should also provide dividends.

Expertise in animal reproduction is not in itself sufficient to facilitate the necessary changes in the developing world, which might require additional skills as diverse as sociology, marketing, communication, extension and education. Most, if not all, of these skills are also relevant in helping to ensure a viable, vibrant future for the discipline of animal reproduction within the first world.

Acknowledgements

Grateful acknowledgement is extended to those who helped to shape this review, including Peter Wynn, Michael Campbell, David McGill, Denis Hoffmann, Ted Wolfe, Emma Hand and John Wilkinson.

Conflicts of interests

The author, who is solely responsible for the content herein, does not have any conflicts of interest to declare.

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