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					Crop Diversity at Risk:
       THE CASE FOR SUSTAINING CROP COLLECTIONS
Crop Diversity at Risk:
                  THE CASE FOR SUSTAINING CROP COLLECTIONS




  This report has been prepared by the Department of Agricultural Sciences, Imperial College Wye, UK
          in co-operation with colleagues in the international agricultural research community.
          Executive Summary
                              AT THE HEART OF AGRICULTURE is human innovation; at the heart of this innovation is the vast
                              diversity of crops that have been developed by farmers for millennia, and more recently by
                              scientists as well. Today, much of this diversity is contained in plant collections—stored, nurtured,
                              and distributed by the world’s crop genebanks. The seeds and other plant material held in these
                              sanctuaries provide the raw material for breeding crop varieties capable of meeting environmen-
                              tal challenges and demands for increased yield, improved quality, and greater diversity in the
                              human diet. Now, new data shows the precarious state of many of these genebanks as well as the
                              serious disparity between the capacity of collections held in the developing and developed worlds
                              to serve a conservation function. It reveals that at the same time genebank collections are
                              growing in size, in the majority of countries, the resources needed to sustain them have remained
                              stagnant or been reduced.


                              The data points us to one major conclusion: genebanks can no longer rely on uncertain annual
                              sources of funding—as most now do—to fulfill their perpetual responsibility for maintaining the
                              diversity of plants that underpin our food security. They need a major new endowment—a fund
                              generated by public and private sources—that can support, in perpetuity, this essential work.
ICRISAT


                              The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that worldwide, about 1 470 genebanks
                              together maintain more than 5.4 million samples of plants of which perhaps two million are dis-
                              tinct non-duplicate samples. Key collections hold samples of the world’s major crops for human
                              food and forages used for to feed livestock. Genebanks also house a host of so-called “minor”
                              crops that are especially important to farmers in agriculturally marginal lands and to those in
                              developing countries. Taken as a whole, genebank collections represent a significant share of the
                              existing agricultural heritage of humankind—the legacy of some 10 000 years of planting,
                              ploughing and breeding of crops for human use. They contain traditional farmers’ varieties and
                              modern varieties, as well as wild relatives of domesticated crops.


                                                                                                            EXECUTIVE SUMMARY         iii
                                        Farmers and plant breeders have relied on genebanks to provide them with the crop diversity they      three fronts: in the wild, in farmers’ fields, and in the genebanks that are intended to be safe hous-
                                        have used to develop thousands of varieties suited to their particular environments, nutritional      es for the future. Even as we work to conserve diversity in the wild and in farmer’s fields, we must
                                        and taste needs. This diversity is the raw material needed to breed plants enriched with protein,     secure safe havens removed from the threats posed by human development and modern agri-
                                        iron, and other nutrients; able to resist disease and drought; and to increase yield despite harsh    culture.
                                        conditions. This diversity is needed now more than ever: experts predict that crop yields must
                                        roughly double in the next 50 years just to keep up with the growing population. In addition,         We know of individual genebanks that have barely averted disaster: when duplicate seed held in
                                        crops must be able to adapt to regional climate changes predicted to accompany a general glob-        other lands have been used to replace collections lost in the course of war or natural disaster.
                                        al warming.                                                                                           Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, and Romania provide a few such examples.We know of other genebanks
                                                                                                                                              that have lost or are at risk of losing portions of their collections: Albania, Fiji, and Nigeria among
                                        In 1996, when the FAO conducted the first systematic assessment of the state of the world’s           them. Each out-of-business genebank or compromised collection is like a sunken ship from a fleet
                                        genebanks, it found that a large number were in a state of “rapid deterioration.” It reported that    of galleons filled with gold. But unlike the underwater explorations that can raise sunken treasure,
                                        some genebanks had already closed and that others had problems maintaining their physical             once a unique collection of seeds is lost, it may be lost forever.
                                        structures and equipment. Perhaps of most concern, there was a large backlog of plant samples
                                        that needed to be regenerated (reproduced) before they lost their viability and thereby their use-    Until now, the world community has dealt with genebank crises in an ad hoc manner, stomping
                                        fulness.                                                                                              out fires, one by one. Such an approach cannot work indefinitely. Even some of the world’s largest
                                                                                                                                              genebanks are facing severe budget cuts: the Future Harvest Centres of the Consultative Group
                                        New genebank data, also gathered by FAO, compares the latest available information (collected         on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) have seen their core funding—the funds which
                                        in 2000) to the 1996 data. It finds that:                                                             support the genebanks—drop by 50 percent since 1994. The collections maintained by the
                                              The number of plant samples conserved worldwide has increased in 66 percent of countries        Centres house more than one-tenth of the world’s total, with a large concentration of traditional
                                              and remained unchanged in 13 percent. About 6 percent of countries have lost portions of        farmers’ varieties.
                                              their collections. (About 15 percent of countries did not respond to this question).
                                              Despite the expansion in the size of collections, genebank budgets have been cut back in        Nations around the world have adopted a number of international agreements that recognize the
                                              25 percent of the responding countries and remained static in 35 percent. Budgets improved      need to conserve crop diversity and the important role of collections. Among them are the
                                              in 33 percent of countries (7 percent provided no response).                                    Convention on Biological Diversity (signed in 1992), a Global Plan of Action (1996) that lays out
                                              The number of samples in urgent need of regeneration increased or remained unchanged in         critical steps for the conservation and use of crop diversity; and the International Treaty for Plant
                                              62 percent of countries. Only 18 percent of countries succeeded in decreasing their regener-    Genetic Resources (2001). None of these agreements, however, provides for a perpetual source of
                                              ation needs (20 percent provided no response.)                                                  funding. Meanwhile, the discrepancy between goals and implementation grows larger each year.


                                        A closer look at the data shows the disparity between developing countries and countries with         We can think of no better economic instrument to meet these commitments and safeguard the
                                        economies in transition on the one hand, and developed countries on the other hand. Some              future of a diverse and plentiful food supply than a permanent international endowment. It could
                                        28 percent of developing countries, 33 percent of countries in transition, and 13 percent of devel-   both support the maintenance needs of the world's most critical collections and help to build the
                                        oped countries have had genebank budget cutbacks.                                                     capacity of under-funded collections. Unless genebanks are able to rely on a stable and ongoing
                                                                                                                                              source of funding, the isolated fires will continue to flare, and eventually threaten a general con-
                                        The issue of regeneration is perhaps even more revealing. Regeneration is a cornerstone of            flagration.
                                        genebank activity. It requires monitoring the health and viability of plant samples. Before the
                                        samples lose their ability to germinate, they must be grown out and new seed harvested, a
                                        process that can be fairly straightforward or quite complicated, depending on the plant’s biology.
                                        Regardless, the only way to indefinitely maintain a collection and ensure a ready supply for use
                                        is to periodically regenerate it. The new data show that some 52 percent of developing countries
                                        have increased numbers of samples in need of urgent regeneration as compared to 1996. Among
                                        developed countries, 27 percent reported increased need.


                                        The declining condition of many genebanks does not take place in a vacuum. It comes at a time
                                        when crop diversity in the field is diminishing and the wild relatives of crops are disappearing
                                        under cleared forests and urban sprawl. Therefore, crop genetic diversity today is threatened on


iv   C R O P D I V E R S I T Y AT R I S K : T H E C A S E F O R S U S TA I N I N G C R O P C O L L E C T I O N S                                                                                                             EXECUTIVE SUMMARY          v
Table of Contents
                    Executive Summary                                   iii

                    Introduction                                         1

                    What is Crop Diversity?                              3

                    The Conservation of Crop Diversity                   9

                    International Commitment to Saving Crop Diversity   17

                    The State of Crop Collections Worldwide             21

                    Conclusion                                          27
                                                                                                                             Introduction
                                                                                                                                            ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST VALUABLE RESOURCES is also one of its least recognized. The
                                                                                                                                            great diversity within agricultural crop plants provides the basis upon which farming improvements
                                                                                                                                            depend. This diversity is the source of traits to improve yield and quality, resist disease and adapt
                                                                                                                                            to climate changes.


                                                                                                                                            For many people, the use of agricultural diversity is an important part of their way of life. This is as
                                                                                                                                            true for Andean farmers who grow a wide range of potato varieties as for cosmopolitan consumers
                                                                                                                                            who seek to recapture diversity in their diets, an idea popularized by the ‘Slow Food’ movements
                                                                                                                                            now active in many countries. Today’s crop diversity ensures tomorrow’s food security and the
                                                                                                                                            livelihood and quality of life for billions of people. And it is in jeopardy.


                                                                                                                                            The problem is threefold: decreasing diversity in farmers’ fields; the loss of crop wild relatives in
                                                                                                                                            nature; and the precarious state of the world’s plant diversity collections. Located in more than 150
                                                                                                                                            countries around the world, many of the facilities—known as genebanks—that house these irre-
                                                                                                                                            placeable collections of crop diversity are in disrepair and disarray. Most are under-funded.
                                                                                                                                            Collections may have already been lost and others are in jeopardy. Some genebanks struggle just
                                                                                                                                            to pay the electricity bills for refrigeration of seed.

                                                                                                                     IPGRI
                                                                                                                                            At the same time, wild relatives of domesticated plants are disappearing as their natural habitats
                                                                                                                                            are destroyed, and the diversity sown in farmers’ fields is dwindling. Genebanks may soon contain
                                                                                                                                            almost 100 percent of the diversity of both tomato and cassava (a starchy root crop), as wild
                                                                                                                                            species continue to disappear from their degraded native environments.1


                                                                                                                                            If the samples held by crop genebanks are allowed to disappear as well, humanity will lose raw mate-
                                                                                                                                            rial that is critical for innovation in farming, and thereby a vital safeguard against widespread hunger.


                                                                                                                                            Although farmers have long recognized the need to conserve crop diversity, today all of society
                                                                                                                                            must also take note and take action, because the world’s food security is in danger.


viii   C R O P D I V E R S I T Y AT R I S K : T H E C A S E F O R S U S TA I N I N G C R O P C O L L E C T I O N S                                                                                                                 INTRODUCTION         1
                         What is Crop Diversity?
         Crop diversity embraces the great variety within and between crops and their wild relatives. Not
           only are there hundreds of species of crops—from wheat to carrots to mangoes—but each
        species may also have hundreds or thousands of varieties containing subtle yet important genetic
          differences. These varieties evolved over thousands of years in a dynamic interaction between
                                nature and farmers’ careful selection and breeding.

        The uses of crop diversity go beyond the production of
        food. In many cases crop diversity is at the root of sustain-    Crop Diversity
        able agriculture and provides environmental benefits.
                                                                             Farmers have bred tens of thousands of varieties of
        Humanity has historically used the wide variety of wild
                                                                             rice, and Future Harvest scientists and their partners
        and cultivated crop plants to meet needs for cloth fibres,           have collected more than 1 100 wild rice species.
                                                                                                                                2

        housing materials and livestock feed. Crops also underpin            There are about 200 wild species of potatoes and
                                                                                                                                   3
        many cultural traditions, aesthetic aspirations and medical          thousands of named varieties cultivated by farmers.
        needs. Even today 80 percent of the world’s people rely on           In the Andes, farming communities use about 3 000
        herbal cures rather than on pharmacies when they are sick.           different varieties of potatoes.
                                                                             More than 1 000 species of native fruits grow in the
        Generations of farmers have enhanced the world’s crop                Americas.
                                                                             In Java, Indonesia, farmers may plant more than 600
        diversity. Varieties that have arisen through selection by
                                                                             crop species in a single home garden
        farmers—sometimes called landraces—suit their imme-
        diate environments and other preferences. In the last
        hundred years, scientific research institutions have con-
                                                                        Mexican deserts, in the mountainous highlands of the
        tributed enormously to the breeding of new crop varieties
                                                                        Andes and the islands of the Philippines. Different vari-
        for improved production and for adaptation to a broad
IPGRI                                                                   eties of maize may be particularly high in protein or good
        range of farming environments.
                                                                        for making tortillas, grits or flour.
        Each crop variety may be adapted to a particular type of
        soil, climate and growing season. Its genes may endow it        DIVERSITY OF MAJOR AND
        with traits needed by farmers: disease resistance, cold or      MINOR CROPS
        heat tolerance, special taste or nutritional qualities. These   In 10 000 years of settled agriculture, men and women
        qualities provide farmers and plant breeders with raw           have discovered some 50 000 varieties of edible plants.
        materials to improve their crops and adapt them to              Today, human beings cultivate 7 000 plants for food, and
        changing environmental conditions.                              many more for fibres, medicines and other purposes.4 Yet
                                                                        just three crops—wheat, rice and maize (corn)—together
        For example, farmers have adapted varieties of maize that       provide more than half of humanity’s global food supply
        flourish in the Brazilian prairies and the northern             and are staple foods for four billion people.5

                                                                                                         W H AT I S C R O P D I V E R S I T Y ?   3
    Although these three crops dominate agriculture, region-                                          farmers grow diverse species in small forest and farm           farmers in South Asia and Latin America grow pearl mil-        species were not previously well studied. Nonetheless, like
    by-region a more complex picture emerges. Bananas and                                             plots. These traditional vegetables have very high nutri-       let, which originated in Africa. Citrus, which originated in   the growing tide of animal extinctions, the loss of wild
    plantains are the developing world’s fourth most impor-                                           tional value and may often be used for their medicinal as       Southeast Asia, flourishes in tropical and subtropical         crop relatives changes not only the ecosystems in which
    tant food. Sorghum, millet, potatoes, sugar cane and                                              well as food benefits. It is essential to conserve the diver-   regions across the globe. Soybeans, one of the principal       they once flourished but also limits human opportunities
    sugar beet, soybean, sweet potatoes, beans and cassava all                                        sity of carefully tended minor crops.                           crops grown in the United States, originated in China.         for the future. Following are a few examples of wild crop
    provide much needed calories for millions of the world’s                                                                                                                                                                         relatives on the way to extinction:
    poor.6 For example, cassava supplies over half of the                                             A WORLD FOOD WEB                                                In today’s world then, countries strongly depend on crops
    plant-derived energy for Central Africa. In developing                                            Each crop species has at least one centre of diversity—the      with foreign origins for their agriculture. This complex       Soybean: Wild soybeans could once be found growing
    countries, groundnut, pigeon pea, lentils, chickpea and                                           place where the crop’s wild relatives first proliferated and    web points to a simple truth: all countries are interde-       over almost all of China’s Yellow River Delta and Sanjiang
    cowpea (black-eyed peas) are important high-protein                                               humans domesticated the crop. It is particularly in their       pendent with regard to crop diversity. Ultimately farmers      Plain, but now they are scattered in just a few sites.10
    sources of food.                                                                                  historic homes that a crop and its wild relatives continue to   around the world are likely to depend upon diversity
                                                                                                      co-evolve, creating still more novel genetic combinations.      from elsewhere as a source of new genes to maintain the        Tomato: Across the South American centre of diversity,
    In the Andes Mountains of Peru and Ecuador, native peo-                                                                                                           health and productivity of their harvests. But as diversity    populations of wild tomato are being severely reduced.
    ple have grown dozens of roots and tubers found                                                   However, regardless of their places of origin, today’s major    is lost from farms and from the wild, as land is ploughed      Many are endangered by goat herding in the highlands
    nowhere else in the world. In sub-Saharan Africa about                                            crops are bred, grown, and marketed all over the world.         or paved, crop genebanks may be the only way to preserve       and by habitat loss. One species in Chile is now restricted
    1 000 plant species can be eaten as green leafy vegetables.                                       For example, farmers in many African countries grow cas-        a genetic legacy evolved over millennia.                       to about half a dozen populations and open pit copper
    Nobody knows how many of these are cultivated, but                                                sava, which originated in Latin America. Meanwhile,                                                                            mines pose a potential threat to another desert species.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Sprawling shantytowns around Lima, Peru, have elimi-
                                                                                                                                                                      LOSS OF CROP WILD RELATIVES
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     nated others. The loss of just one extremely diverse pop-
                                                                                                                                                                      The world contains an estimated 250 000 species of flow-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     ulation can have disproportionate effects.11
     REGIONS OF DIVERSITY OF MAJOR CULTIVATED CROPS                                                             7                                                     ering plants, but one in 12 of them (8 percent) now seem
                                                                                                                                                                      likely to disappear before 2025.8 Of the many factors that
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Coffee: A wild species of coffee that once grew in Côte
      NORTH AMERICA                                    SOUTHERN                                         SOUTHERN AFRICA                WEST ASIA                      contribute to this extinction crisis, chief among them is
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     d’Ivoire in West Africa is known to be extinct. Ten others
       Sunflower                                       MEDITERRANEAN                                     Finger Millet                  Pistachio                     modern agriculture.9 Clearing forests to create farmland
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     are either endangered or vulnerable in the wild.
       Cranberry                                        Oats                                             Pearl Millet                   Wheat                         is the cause of most extinctions today. More than 15 mil-
       Jerusalem Artichoke                              Beetroot                                         Sorghum                        Barley                        lion hectares of tropical forest are lost each year to agri-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Hard wheat: Triticum monococcum is a species that was
                                                       Artichoke                                         Melon                          Lentil                        culture and development. Among the losses are the wild
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     widely grown for bread in the ancient Roman Empire.
      CARIBBEAN                                         Olive                                                                           Pea                           relatives of domesticated plants and species with as yet
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Today it is almost lost, with relic populations existing only
      Arrowroot                                         Grape                                           INDIAN OCEAN                    Fig                           untapped potential. Such losses are occurring on every
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     in Turkey, and possibly in Yemen. Because of its high fibre
                                                        Date-palm                                        Mascarene Coffee                                             continent and in every region.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     content, T. monococcum is again in demand, and a special
      CENTRAL AMERICA                                                                                    Banana                         SOUTH ASIA                                                                                   project has begun to bring back this crop.
       Maize                                           EAST AFRICA                                                                      Rice                          The loss of crop wild relatives has profound implications
       Cassava                                          Sorghum                                         EAST ASIA                       Kodo Millet                   for agriculture. Plant breeders and farmers depend on the
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Grape: The world’s grape species are threatened in all
       Beans                                            Pearl Millet                                     Proso Millet                   Aubergine                     wild relatives of crops as an essential source of genes. For
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     areas of their range. In North America, the grape species
       Sweet Pepper                                     Finger Millet                                    Fox Tail Millet                Mango                         example, wild wheats have recently provided domesticated
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Vitis rupestris has been grazed to the point of near extinc-
                                                       Tef                                               Soybean                        Black Pepper                  wheat with genes to resist fungal diseases, drought, cold,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     tion. It was once found in gravelly and sandy creek beds
      SOUTH AMERICA                                     Pigeon pea                                       Orange                                                       and heat. A single sample of wild rice from Central India
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     from Tennessee to Texas. Seven other North American
       Sweet potato                                     Coffee                                          Apricot                                                       provided resistance to two of Asia’s main rice diseases.
                                                                                                                                       SOUTHEAST ASIA                                                                                grape species are also threatened. Scientists believe these
       Potato                                                                                            Peach                          Rice                                                                                         may contain a range of valuable genes, including for
       Cassava                                         WEST AFRICA                                                                                                    It is difficult to know exactly when a crop’s wild relative
                                                                                                                                        Winged Bean                                                                                  drought tolerance and resistance to the pest root-knot
       Beans                                            Sorghum                                         CENTRAL ASIA                                                  has completely disappeared. Wild crop species grow as
                                                                                                                                        Taro                                                                                         nematode.12
       Pumpkin                                         Yam                                              Wheat (bread, club)                                           distinct populations and each typically has its own dis-
                                                                                                                                        Yam
      Tomato                                            Cowpea                                           Onion                                                        tinct genetic identity and so contributes to the total
                                                                                                                                        Breadfruit                                                                                   LOSS OF CROP DIVERSITY
       Cocoa                                            Oil Palm                                         Carrot                                                       genetic diversity of the species. The loss of individual
                                                                                                                                        Banana                                                                                       The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
                                                                                                         Faba Bean                                                    populations is a form of genetic erosion—a process that
                                                                                                                                        Citrus                                                                                       (FAO) estimates that about three-quarters of the original
      EUROPE                                           CENTRAL AFRICA                                                                                                 can lead to extinction.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     varieties of agricultural crops have been lost from farm
      Brassica spp                                     Yam                                                                             PACIFIC                                                                                       fields since 1900.13 And this trend has accelerated in the
       Forage species                                   Kenaf                                                                           Sugar Cane                    WILD CROP RELATIVES NEARING                                    last half century.
      Apple                                             Coffee (robusta)                                                                Coconut
       Peach
                                                                                                                                                                      EXTINCTION
                                                                                                                                                                      The negative impacts resulting from the loss of wild           The intensification of agriculture often means less, not
                                                                                                                                                                      species are hard to measure, since in most cases lost          more, crop diversity. Although modern plant breeders


4     C R O P D I V E R S I T Y AT R I S K : T H E C A S E F O R S U S TA I N I N G C R O P C O L L E C T I O N S                                                                                                                                                    W H AT I S C R O P D I V E R S I T Y ?   5
    have made considerable use of the genetic diversity pres-                                         early 1900s in India and Java. This narrow genetic base
                                                                                                                                                                          THE WORLD’S TOP CROPS FOR FOOD ENERGY
    ent in landraces to create high-yielding modern varieties,                                        puts sugarcane cultivation at risk from several diseases,
                                                                                                                                                                          SUPPLY27
    the widespread use of these new varieties has replaced                                            including rust, smut, and eyespot and has resulted in a
    many of the older ones.                                                                           yield plateau.18                                                     NAME OF CROP                     PERCENT OF WORLD
                                                                                                                                                                                                          FOOD ENERGY PROVIDED
    Since the Green Revolution was launched in the 1960s,                                             The world’s crop landraces and their wild relatives, with
                                                                                                                                                                            Rice                                       26%
    farmers have increasingly abandoned their traditional                                             their huge genetic variation, are dwindling fast. Like wild
                                                                                                                                                                            Wheat                                      23%
    landraces of wheat, rice and other crops in favor of high-                                        plants and animals, agricultural diversity is in decline.
                                                                                                                                                                            Sugar                                       9%
    yielding new seeds. By the 1990s, adoption of modern
    varieties of wheat, rice and maize in developing countries                                        WHY CROP DIVERSITY MATTERS                                            Maize                                       7%
    had reached 90, 70 and 60 percent respectively.14 In China                                        Diversity occurs in two main forms: diversity among                   Millet and Sorghum                          4%
    farmers grew nearly 10 000 wheat varieties in 1949. By the                                        crops and diversity within a crop. Both are essential.                Soybean Oil                                 3%
    1970s only about 1000 varieties remained in use.15 Today,                                         Although just fifteen food crops now provide 90 percent               Potatoes                                    2%
    wheat landraces are extensively cultivated only in isolated                                       of the world’s food energy intake, a much wider diversity             Sweet Potatoes                              2%
    patches of the drier production zones of West Asia-North                                          is needed to meet human nutritional needs.19 Scientists
                                                                                                                                                                            Other Vegetable Oils                        6%
    Africa and in the highlands of Ethiopia.16                                                        have focused their crop-improvement efforts on a hand-
                                                                                                                                                                            Others                                     18%
                                                                                                      ful of key species in an effort to produce enough food for
    A wide range of crops—from broccoli to sugarcane—is                                               the rapidly growing human population. But this focus has
    following a similar trend. In the United States less than                                         come at the cost of many more so-called “minor” crops,              tory and cultural identity of the communities that have
    five hybrid broccoli plants account for 80 to 90 percent of                                       which are often better adapted to harsh environments—               grown them for centuries.28
    the broccoli crop, and one hybrid, ‘Marathon,’ accounts                                           such as poor, salty soils and arid climate—and to the
    for more than 50 percent of acreage.17 Most sugarcane                                             needs of their cultivators. Therefore, minor crops both             Diversity within a crop comes from its many varieties,
    cultivars in the world today were derived from crosses                                            meet nutritional needs and generate income for local                each with its own unique complement of genes.
    made with only a few clones selected in the late 1800s and                                        communities. These crops are often closely tied to the his-         Dependence on too few varieties is dangerous because
                                                                                                                                                                          disease or pests can spread rapidly through a genetically
                                                                                                                                                                          uniform crop. In the 1840s, Irish farming was primed for
     Gone From Farmers’ Fields                                                                                                                                            disaster: it relied on one crop—potato—with a narrow
                                                                                                                                                                          genetic base and a susceptibility to late blight. When a vir-
      IN THE COURSE OF THE 20TH CENTURY, farmers grew a shrinking array of crop varieties. Here are a few examples:                                                       ulent pathogen strain entered Irish potato fields, it spread
                                                                                                                                                                          like wildfire. The famine that followed claimed one mil-
     COLLARD                                                                                          PISTACHIO                                                           lion lives and forced the emigration of another million of
         This crop—a regionally important leafy green vegetable—                                          Farmers throughout Central and West Asia and North              the country’s population.
         originated in the southeastern United States and scientists                                      Africa cultivate pistachio nuts. Hardy wild relatives of the
         project that its still surviving landraces will be lost                                          domesticated trees help conserve ecosystems prone to            Finally, in today’s world, crop diversity is an essential
         in another generation due to development and the                                                 drought and provide a source of pest and disease resist-        insurance policy against unforeseen changes, from the
         migration of farmers and rural populations to larger                                             ance for cultivated varieties. However, pistachio’s broad       natural disasters caused by unpredictable climates to the
                  20
         cities.                                                                                          genetic base is being lost as a few high-yielding commer-       devastation of war.
                                                                                                          cial types replace ancient varieties, and human activity
      MAIZE                                                                                                                      23
                                                                                                          destroys wild species.
         In Mexico, between the 1930s and today, farmers
         have lost about 80 percent of their traditional maize vari-                                   RICE
                  21
         eties.                                                                                           Between 1910 and 1920 in Taiwan, the number of lan-
                                                                                                          draces of rice dropped from 1200 to approximately 400 as
      PECAN
                                                                                                          a result of a campaign against rice diversity. Since then
         There are over a thousand documented pecan nut culti-                                                                                                  24
                                                                                                          numbers have fallen even more dramatically.                In
         vated varieties, but over half of the acreage sown to
                                                                                                          Bangladesh, the promotion of high yield rice has led to
         pecans worldwide is composed of only four varieties.                                                                                      25
                                                                                                          losses of 7000 traditional rice varieties.
         Given this narrow genetic base and a steadily shrinking
         native acreage, scientists say the diversity of this crop is at                               SOYBEAN
                 22
         risk.                                                                                            In the United States, about one quarter of the genetic
                                                                                                          diversity base of the soybean crop was lost between 1947
                                                                                                                      26
                                                                                                          and 1988.



6     C R O P D I V E R S I T Y AT R I S K : T H E C A S E F O R S U S TA I N I N G C R O P C O L L E C T I O N S                                                                                                                         W H AT I S C R O P D I V E R S I T Y ?   7
                                      The Conservation of
                                        Crop Diversity
                  To meet the need for improved agriculture and crops, farmers and plant breeders must make
                  better use of the world’s crop diversity. But they can only do so if this diversity is conserved.
                              Such conservation takes two main forms: ex situ—in crop genebanks,
                                            and in situ—in nature, including on farms.



               While the two forms complement each other, strong              needs. In these and other ways, it is possible to support
               genebank collections are increasingly essential as a stable    farmers’ efforts to improve their livelihoods while still
               reservoir of diversity for research by scientists seeking to   nurturing diversity.
               meet the world’s food and agriculture challenges.


               ON-FARM CONSERVATION                                            On-farm conservation can:
               In traditional agriculture, by choice or by necessity, farm-         Maintain the processes of evolution and adaptation of
               ers grow a diversity of crops and varieties that help spread         crops to their environments
               the risk of environmental threats, such as disease or                Conserve diversity at different levels—ecosystem,
               drought. In their fields, farmers maintain and continue to           species, within species
               improve the traditional crop varieties they have devel-              Ensure farmers’ efforts are an integral part of nation-
               oped. The choice to grow a mix of crops is influenced by             al plant genetic resources systems
               social and cultural, as well as economic and environmen-             Conserve ecosystem services critical to the function-
                                                                                    ing of the Earth's life-support system
               tal considerations. On the one hand, particular varieties
                                                                                    Improve the livelihoods of resource-poor farmers
               may be associated with cultural and religious uses. On the
                                                                                    through economic and social development
               other hand, diversity can be especially important to farm-           Maintain or increase farmers' control over and access
               ers in marginal areas and subsistence farmers who have no            to crop genetic resources
FAO/A. CONTI
               money in the bank to see them through a harvest failure.

               Increasingly, national agricultural programmes are recog-      CROP GENEBANKS
               nizing the need to support on-farm conservation.               Crop genebanks store, maintain and reproduce living
               National programmes and genebanks can help provide             samples of the world’s huge diversity of crop varieties and
               farmers with access to new and diverse materials while         their wild relatives. They are safe houses to ensure that the
               learning from farmers about the nature and management          varieties and landraces of the crops that underpin our
               of their crop diversity. Such cooperative efforts can be       food supply are both secure and available for use by farm-
               used to shape farming practices that improve ecosystem         ers, plant breeders and researchers. Genebanks are a reser-
               health through the use of local crop diversity. They can       voir of traits for resistance to diseases and pests, to cli-
               also help breeders to improve varieties for marginal envi-     matic and other environmental stresses, and thus hold the
               ronments and to link breeding efforts with farmers’            key to improving the quality and yield of crops. Some of

                                                                                                 T H E C O N S E R VAT I O N O F C R O P D I V E R S I T Y   9
     the plant varieties held in genebanks are now extinct in                                          and 19th centuries as science and colonialism advanced in          preserving humanity’s agricultural heritage. As Russians        collections. Medicinal, spice, aromatic and ornamental
     farmers’ fields and in nature; others are threatened with                                         parallel.                                                          battled Hitler’s army during the siege of Stalingrad, nine      species were rare in long-term publicly held collections.
     extinction. As deforestation and habitat loss wipe out                                                                                                               scientists at the Institute chose to starve to death rather
     wild crop relatives, and farmers give up traditional crop                                         The greatest pioneer of the modern era was the Russian             than reveal the whereabouts of the irreplaceable crop           WHAT DO GENEBANKS DO?
     varieties, genebanks become the custodians of the crops                                           academician Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov (1887-1943). In              diversity under their care. In one case, the chief rice col-    Plant genebanks collect, conserve, document and distrib-
     that humankind has nurtured for centuries. Ideally,                                               1918 he discovered a variety of wheat that grew at an alti-        lector was found starved to death amidst several thousand       ute plant genetic materials to researchers, breeders, farm-
     genebanks act as vital centres of conservation, working                                           tude of 914 m (3000 ft) and was resistant to rust and              packs of rice seed that he had refused to eat.                  ers and other users. A cornerstone of genebank opera-
     with governments, farmers and others to use what is con-                                          mildew. Excited by his findings on the genetic variation of                                                                        tions is the reproduction—called regeneration—of its
     served and to conserve what is left in nature.                                                    wheat, Vavilov attempted to trace the geographic origin of         Outstanding among those who picked up Vavilov’s baton           plant material. Plant samples must periodically be grown
                                                                                                       various crops by locating their areas of greatest species          was the Austrian-born Sir Otto Frankel (1900-1999).             out, regenerated, and new seed harvested because, even
     Genebank collections may include seeds stored at low                                              diversity. In a series of extraordinary and often intrepid         Frankel truly bridged the generations: he knew Vavilov from
     humidity and low temperature, plantlets cultured in test                                          expeditions mainly between 1916 and 1933, Vavilov and              the 1930s, and in the 1970s was a key figure in the creation
     tubes (in vitro conservation) and whole plants grown in                                                                                                              of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural          FUTURE HARVEST GENEBANK COLLECTIONS
                                                                                                       his many disciples collected more than 250 000 plant
     special protected fields (field genebanks).                                                                                                                          Research (CGIAR), which now supports a network of 16             HELD IN-TRUST FOR THE WORLD
                                                                                                       accessions from around the world. Although Vavilov fell
                                                                                                       foul of the Stalin regime and was banished to Siberia              international Future Harvest Research Centres, 11 of which       COMMUNITY BASED ON AGREEMENTS
     A SHORT HISTORY OF PLANT                                                                          where he died in a Soviet labor camp, his name has long            hold significant collections of crop diversity.                  WITH FAO (2002)
     GENEBANKS                                                                                         been honored in the N I Vavilov Institute of Plant
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            CENTRE             CROP                                 NUMBER OF
     It is impossible to say exactly when the world’s crop diver-                                      Industry (VIR), St Petersburg.                                     GENEBANKS AROUND THE WORLD                                                                                                ACCESSIONS
     sity collections began to be amassed: people have been                                                                                                               FAO reports that there are about 1 470 genebanks world-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            CIAT              Cassava                                      5 728
     collecting and conserving plants in botanic gardens for                                           During World War II, the Vavilov Institute became an               wide that together maintain more than 5.4 million samples
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Forages                                    18 138
     hundreds of years. There was huge activity in the 18th                                            inspiring example of the deep dedication of scientists to          of plants (although many are duplicates, so the total num-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Bean                                       31 718
                                                                                                                                                                          ber of distinct samples is probably less than two million).29
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            CIMMYT            Maize                                      20 411

      The Future Harvest Centres of the Consultative Group                                                                                                                The majority of genebanks are government operated.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Wheat                                      95 113
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            CIP               Andean roots and tubers                      1 112
      on International Agricultural Research                                                                                                                              National and regional genebanks conserve crops of greatest
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Sweet potato                                 6 413
                                                                                                                                                                          importance to the food security and economic stability of
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Potato                                       5 057
      CREATED IN 1971, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is an association of public and private                                      the nation or region concerned. International genebanks,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            ICARDA            Barley                                     24 218
      members that support the 16 Future Harvest Centres. The Centres comprise a comprehensive system, the largest in the world,                                          such as those in the Future Harvest Centres hold crops
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Chickpea                                     9 116
      devoted primarily to research and the development of agriculture in developing nations. To increase food security and eradicate                                     grown mainly by poor farmers (such as cassava, millet and
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Faba bean                                    9 074
      poverty the Centres are engaged in research, creative partnerships, capacity building, and policy support. The CGIAR approaches its                                 cowpea), staple food crops grown worldwide (such as
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Wheat                                      30 270
      mission based on the promotion of environmentally sustainable agriculture and the sound management of natural resources.                                            wheat and rice) and forage crops for livestock.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Forages                                    24 581
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Lentil                                       7 827
      Initially sponsored by the World Bank, FAO, and the United                                       set up in 1994 to, among other things, enhance the efficien-       More than a third of the world’s total holdings are stored
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            ICRAF             Sesbania                                         25
      Nations Development Programme, today the CGIAR has 58                                            cy and responsiveness of Centre genebanks.                         in 15 national genebanks. The world’s 15 largest national
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            ICRISAT           Chickpea                                   16 961
      funding members: countries, foundations and regional and                                                                                                            genebanks are in China, the United States of America, the
                                                                                                        Today, eleven Future Harvest Centres operate genebanks that                                                                                           Groundnut                                  14 357
      international organizations. The CGIAR began with pro-                                                                                                              Russian Federation, Japan, India, the Republic of Korea,
                                                                                                       between them hold nearly 667 000 samples of crops, more than                                                                                           Pearl millet                               21 250
      grammes to increase the productivity of key foods in devel-                                                                                                         Canada, Brazil, Italy, Ethiopia, Hungary, Poland, the
                                                                                                       one-tenth of the world’s total. Some 532 000 of these samples                                                                                          Pigeon pea                                 12 698
      oping countries (rice, wheat, maize, cassava and pastures).                                                                                                         Philippines and at two national centres in Germany.
                                                                                                       are held in trust for the world community under agreements                                                                                             Sorghum                                    35 780
      Today, more than 8 500 CGIAR scientists and scientific staff
                                                                                                       with the FAO. The majority of the samples held in the Future                                                                                           Minor millets                                9 050
      carry out research not only on major food crops, but also on                                                                                                        The major regional genebanks are the Tropical Agricultural
                                                                                                       Harvest genebanks consists of farmers’ varieties developed to                                                                        IITA              Bambara groundnut                            2 029
      neglected and underused crops, as well as livestock, fish, trees                                                                                                    Research and Higher Education Centre in Costa Rica, the
                                                                                                       meet specific environmental, nutritional and food security needs                                                                                       Cassava                                      2 158
      for forestry and agroforestry, and the development of envi-                                                                                                         Asian Vegetable Research and Development Centre in
                                                                                                       and of wild relatives of domesticated crops.                                                                                                           Cowpea                                     15 001
      ronmentally beneficial farming systems.                                                                                                                             Taiwan, the Nordic Gene Bank in Sweden, the Southern
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Soybean                                      1 909
                                                                                                       The Centres’ collections for the most part meet the highest        African Development Community Plant Genetic
      All of the benefits of this research are in the public domain,                                                                                                                                                                                          Wild Vigna                                   1 634
                                                                                                       international standards of genebank management set by              Resources Centre in Zambia and the Arab Centre for the
      freely available to everyone.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Yam                                          2 878
                                                                                                       FAO, although a few Centres have not been able to secure           Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Lands in Syria.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            ILRI              Forages                                    11 537
      One Future Harvest Centre, the International Plant Genetic                                       the funding required to achieve this status. The costs of
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            IPGRI             Musa                                            931
      Resources Institute (IPGRI), was established in 1974 specifi-                                    maintaining the collections and distributing materials are         In 1996, FAO reported that over 40 percent of overall
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            IRRI              Rice                                       80 617
      cally to stem the loss of plant diversity. IPGRI leads the                                       largely borne by core funding that, for all Centres, has fallen    genebank holdings consisted of cereals; legumes account-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            WARDA             Rice                                       14 917
      CGIAR’s System-wide Genetic Resources Programme (SGRP),                                          by 50 percent since 1994.                                          ed for 15 percent; vegetables, roots and tubers, fruits and
                                                                                                                                                                          forages each accounted for less than 10 percent of global         TOTAL                                                      532 508


10     C R O P D I V E R S I T Y AT R I S K : T H E C A S E F O R S U S TA I N I N G C R O P C O L L E C T I O N S                                                                                                                                          T H E C O N S E R VAT I O N O F C R O P D I V E R S I T Y   11
     under the best of conservation conditions, samples will
     eventually die.                                                                                     Value of duplication                                             SINGER: The System-wide Information Network for Genetic Resources
     Fundamental to the work of genebanks is the careful                                                   IN 1987-1988, the West African Rice Development                THE FUTURE HARVEST CENTRES have created a collective database that allows cross-searching of some 530 000 genebank
     description of plant samples, keeping them disease free,                                              Association (WARDA), a Future Harvest Centre, lost its rice    samples held in trust by the Centres. It contains data on each sample’s identity, source, characteristics and distribution.
     and ensuring that samples retain their genetic integrity,                                             collection during civil strife in Monrovia, Liberia. Eighty
                                                                                                           percent of the samples were replaced by duplicates stored      The plant breeding community is increasing its use of               assists with the implementation of crop–and region–based
     remaining uncontaminated from contact with other
                                                                                                           at two other Future Harvest Centres. Since then, a newly       SINGER, which is receiving more than 10 000 queries a               information networking. For example, the International
     species or varieties.
                                                                                                           resuscitated collection at WARDA has restored 1075 sam-        month. The SINGER model and the expertise, tools and infra-         Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), the
                                                                                                                                                     30
                                                                                                           ples of rice to six West African countries.                    structure of the network are available to assist others to          International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry
     COLLECT                                                                                                                                                              establish their own information networks. For example,              Areas (ICARDA) and the International Potato Centre (CIP) are
     To ensure that they will be available when needed and to
                                                                                                                                                                          SINGER has been contracted to implement the European                taking the lead in creating networks amongst holders of
     safeguard diversity at risk in nature, scientists seek to
                                                                                                       through periodic inspection of plants and cleaning the             catalogue of crop genetic resources collections (EURISCO)           major collections of wheat, barley and sweet potato world-
     gather a good representation of the gene pool of a target
                                                                                                       collections of diseases and pests.                                 and has been requested to assist with the development of an         wide, respectively. By complementing crop-specific networks
     species. Collecting takes place in farmers’ fields, local
                                                                                                                                                                          Internet-based information system for the Asian Vegetable           with the development of multi-crop networks among
     markets, remote places where the crops’ wild ancestors
                                                                                                       REGENERATE                                                         Research and Development Centre (AVRDC).                            national and other organizations within a given region,
     and relatives grow, and through exchange with botanic
                                                                                                       Plant samples deteriorate at different rates, so genebank                                                                              SINGER aims to be a major player in supporting a global
     gardens and other scientific and commercial institutions.                                                                                                            In contributing to the development of a global information
                                                                                                       workers must routinely test samples to identify the ones that                                                                          information system for plant genetic resources.
                                                                                                                                                                          system for plant genetic resources, SINGER promotes and
                                                                                                       need regeneration. To regenerate samples, conserved seed
     CONSERVE
                                                                                                       and in vitro plantlets need to be planted and grown out, and
     Genebanks must actively conserve their collections. The
                                                                                                       new seed harvested. This fresh stock is then fully viable (able
     conservation method used depends on the biology of the
                                                                                                       to germinate). Regeneration is also necessary to replenish        over the world for their use in research and crop improve-            CROP IMPROVEMENT
     plant.
                                                                                                       stocks to meet demand by farmers, breeders and other users        ment. These samples are used to develop higher yielding,              Modern varieties of staple crops rely on accessible diver-
                                                                                                       of the collections. In the course of regeneration, the plants     better adapted crop varieties.                                        sity. Wheat provides a particularly good example.
     Many food crops, including the most common—wheat,
                                                                                                       need to be cultivated carefully and in environments to                                                                                  Sonalika is one of the best-known wheats ever released in
     rice, and maize—produce seed that if dried, and kept dry
                                                                                                       which they are well adapted. In the case of cross-pollinated      The eleven Future Harvest genebanks alone have distrib-               developing countries. To develop this variety, CIMMYT
     and cold, can remain viable for many years. Typically this
                                                                                                       species, such as maize, they must be isolated from any for-       uted more than a million plant samples directly to users              breeders used landraces from about 17 countries and
     means placing the dried seed in sealed jars or packets and
                                                                                                       eign pollen that may alter their genetic makeup.                  worldwide since the 1980s. On average, they distribute                breeding lines from 14 countries. All were sourced from
     storing them for 20 to 30 years at temperatures of -5
                                                                                                                                                                         about 100 000 samples a year, about 80 percent of which
     degrees C. Seeds in long-term storage for up to 100 years
                                                                                                       DOCUMENTATION                                                     go to developing countries.
     are kept at even lower temperatures.
                                                                                                       The documentation of crop diversity collections begins                                                                                    Cassava: Distribution for
                                                                                                                                                                         Regional and national genebanks also play an important
     Some plant species have short-lived seeds that are sensi-                                         with recording important data when botanists first collect                                                                                Development
                                                                                                       the plant material. This “passport data” includes basic           role in distributing crop genetic resources. The Asian
     tive to drying and cooling, and are more difficult and
                                                                                                       information on where, when, and what was collected. But           Vegetable Research and Development Centre, for exam-                   20 AFRICAN COUNTRIES together produce 90 percent of
     expensive to maintain. To a large extent, conservation of
                                                                                                       to be of real use, each sample needs further documenta-           ple, has distributed some 300 000 samples to 180 coun-                 the cassava in sub-Saharan Africa. Between 1970 and 1998,
     these species must be individually tailored to their needs.
                                                                                                       tion. Especially important is a careful description of each       tries around the world.31 The United States National                   the national agricultural research systems in these countries
                                                                                                       sample’s special characteristics that are inherited, easy to      Centre for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort                      released 206 cassava varieties. Most of these were devel-
     A number of crops are propagated vegetatively—by
                                                                                                       score, and expressed consistently in all environments.            Collins, Colorado, distributed 3 800 accessions to 18                  oped using material from the genebank at the International
     tubers, roots and cuttings. These are stored either as
                                                                                                                                                                         countries in the year 2000.32                                          Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria (IITA).
     whole plants grown in field genebanks or in vitro—as
     plantlets in test tubes. They include many important                                              Evaluation data goes deeper than characterization.
                                                                                                                                                                         It is critical that all distributed material be healthy;               By 1998, improved varieties were planted on more than one-
     species such as potato, sweet potato, banana, cassava and                                         Analysis of traits—such as drought or pest resistance—
                                                                                                                                                                         diseased material can spread infection across borders and              fifth of the land devoted to this crop, and resulted in a 49 per-
     yam.                                                                                              are important to plant breeders and researchers but not
                                                                                                                                                                         into other collections.                                                cent yield increase. The additional production of fresh storage
                                                                                                       necessarily visible to the naked eye. Such evaluation may
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                roots was more than 10 million tons per year, the equivalent
     Finally, it is becoming more common to store cells for                                            use DNA-based methods to analyze a plant’s genetic
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                of 2 200 kcal per person per day for 14 million people.
     long and even indefinite periods by ‘cryopreservation’:                                           make-up. All of this data must be easily accessible, and          HOW AGRICULTURE USES CROP
     freezing in liquid nitrogen, at -196 degrees C.                                                   ideally stored on computer databases and incorporated             DIVERSITY COLLECTIONS                                                  The IITA samples conferred traits that include resistance to
                                                                                                       into crop-specific networks of information.                       Because genebanks represent a repository of potentially                pests and diseases such as cassava green mite and cassava
     To ensure the safety of the collections, genebanks must                                                                                                             useful genes for the future well being of agriculture, they            mealybug. Other important traits affected mealyness, stor-
     create duplicate back-up collections for safe storage in a                                        DISTRIBUTION                                                      are invaluable to humanity. Today the crop diversity col-              age root dry matter and low storage root cyanide content.
     separate location. In addition it is important for                                                Genebanks distribute samples from their collections               lections stored in the world’s genebanks are in higher                 The released varieties were adapted to a wide range of
     genebank workers to maintain the health of collections                                            upon request from scientists, breeders, and farmers all           demand than ever before.                                               African ecologies.33


12     C R O P D I V E R S I T Y AT R I S K : T H E C A S E F O R S U S TA I N I N G C R O P C O L L E C T I O N S                                                                                                                                                 T H E C O N S E R VAT I O N O F C R O P D I V E R S I T Y   13
     the in-trust collection. Six continents contributed to just
     one small section of Sonalika’s pedigree. Two East Asian                                            Soybean in Nigeria                                              Seeds of Peace in Rwanda
     landraces provided the dwarfing genes that made wheat
                                                                                                          THE INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE of Tropical Agriculture
     plants shorter, helping to create the semidwarf wheat                                                                                                              WAR BROKE OUT IN RWANDA in April 1994. Eight hundred thousand people died in a few months and another two million
                                                                                                          (IITA) developed soybean varieties well adapted to local
     varieties that have dramatically improved wheat yields                                                                                                             were displaced, mainly to neighboring countries.
                                                                                                          growing conditions in Nigeria. This led to the development
     over the past 30 years.
                                                                                                          of a new food processing industry that includes about 140     Logic suggested that the country’s agriculture would be dev-      bute suitable seed. Another key activity was to identify the
                                                                                                          food products and employs some 47 000 people. In one          astated as well. It was feared that less than 30 percent of the   most acute problems and appropriate actions needed and to
     Of the more than 1 000 spring bread wheat varieties released
                                                                                                          Nigerian state, 35 percent of the hospitals are using soy-    crops that had been planted would be harvested. Relief agen-      understand how the farmers coped. This knowledge would
     in developing countries from 1966 to 1996, the number of
                                                                                                          bean products to reduce malnutrition.                         cies anticipated an immediate and serious shortage of food,       provide valuable information that could be applied in future
     distinct landrace ancestors per pedigree has increased signif-
                                                                                                                                                                        which could force people to eat the seed that otherwise           comparable situations. The distribution of seed was impor-
     icantly over time. This conscious use of diversity has
                                                                                                                                                                        would be saved for planting. In the longer term, it was feared    tant, but studies also revealed how resourceful farmers were
     improved the yield stability of wheat, decreased the amount                                       ments to repair and restore the agriculture of nations
                                                                                                                                                                        that supplies of local varieties might be compromised.            with their own seed stocks, in spite of the disruption of war.
     of nitrogen fertilizer needed, and increased the crop’s resist-                                   wracked with conflict and war or by natural disasters.
     ance to disease and tolerance to heat and drought.34                                                                                                               Agriculture is the backbone of the Rwandan economy:               A nationwide survey of more than 1 200 households in 1996
                                                                                                       Genebanks have come to the aid of countries ravaged by           Ninety per cent of the people live directly off the land. Prior   revealed that in the first season after the war, 45 per cent of
     There are countless examples of the use of diversity in                                           war: Rwanda, Angola, Somalia, and Sudan in Africa,               to the war, workers at national, regional and international       the beans and 25 per cent of the maize sown came from the
     crop improvement. For instance, researchers and plant                                             Cambodia and in East Timor in Asia. In Honduras and              genebanks knew the astonishing complexities of Rwanda’s           farmers’ own stocks. Over a range of crops, there was little
     breeders have made extensive use of genebank samples                                              Nicaragua, genebanks restored seed and agriculture in the        farming, which for example include 600 varieties of beans.        significant loss of indigenous germplasm, even among the
     for tomato breeding. Resistance to 42 major diseases has                                          aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. In each case, genebanks            Researchers also knew how to obtain many types of                 diverse beans and sorghum.
     been reported in world collections and resistance to 23 of                                        have proved themselves essential players, giving extra focus     Rwandan seed—of beans, sweet potatoes, cassava, sorghum
     these diseases has been incorporated into adapted culti-                                          and precision to relief operations, and providing necessary      and maize—both from regional and international sources. In        However, channels for receiving improved varieties were inter-
     vars. Genebank collections are the primary source of                                              components for the re-emergence of agriculture.                  the relief operations after the war, all of this experience       rupted. Such seed came from government seed services, devel-
     resistance to new diseases or new strains of existing dis-                                                                                                         proved invaluable.                                                opment projects or from non-governmental organizations.Worst
     eases that appear on a regular basis in tomato fields.35                                          ENVIRONMENTAL RENEWAL                                                                                                              hit of all was the supply of ‘clean’ (disease free) potato seed.
                                                                                                                                                                        The Seeds of Hope Initiative (SOH-Rwanda) was launched in
                                                                                                       Genebanks are important sources of diversity to cope             1995: a unique consortium of the national agricultural            The study enabled the Seeds of Hope participants to re-align
                                                                                                       with dramatic, human induced changes in agricultural
     FOOD SECURITY AND LIVELIHOODS                                                                                                                                      research systems of neighboring countries, including Burundi,     their endeavors. Notably, they had planned to multiply local
                                                                                                       environments. For instance, irrigation has enabled a dra-        Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire (now Democratic       varieties, and distribute them to farmers. Instead, emphasis
     Experts predict that crop output must roughly double in
                                                                                                       matic increase in food production, but it has also caused
     the next 50 years just to keep up with rising population.36                                                                                                        Republic of Congo), several Future Harvest Centres, UN agen-      switched to the multiplication and supply of clean potato
                                                                                                       the salination of about 20 percent of the world’s irrigated      cies and NGOs. A crucial endeavor was to obtain and distri        seed, as the formal sector had collapsed completely.
     The effort to feed the world’s growing population is
                                                                                                       land; nearly two million hectares are lost to excessive salt
     already exhausting arable land, depleting soil and water
                                                                                                       each year. At the same time, some of the world’s best top-
     resources, and deforesting large tracts of land. So the
                                                                                                       soils are disappearing in the wind and in the rivers. FAO
     future of increased production rests with increasing yield                                                                                                        ing seasons for maize, wheat and other crops in some               borers, and armyworms. Simulations suggest that a tem-
                                                                                                       estimates that 140 million hectares of high quality soil
     rather than putting more land under the plough. Such                                                                                                              regions of the world. Shorter growing seasons will call for        perature increase of 2-4 degrees C in the tropics and sub-
                                                                                                       will be degraded by 2010, mostly in Asia and Africa.
     yield increases depend upon new highly productive vari-                                                                                                           varieties that mature more rapidly without sacrificing             tropics will considerably increase the losses to insect pests
     eties that in turn depend on the availability of a diverse                                                                                                        yields. Other areas may experience a greater incidence and         that consume stored grain. So maize and wheat varieties
                                                                                                       Genebanks can provide farmers with the means to pro-
     genetic pool.                                                                                                                                                     intensity of drought and high temperatures (e.g. in many           that resist these plagues will become even more important
                                                                                                       duce new varieties capable of yielding well under such
                                                                                                                                                                       areas of sub-Saharan Africa) and a greater risk of flooding        as conditions get hotter.39
                                                                                                       harsh conditions. In addition, the restoration of soils and
     At the same time, over one billion people live in farm                                                                                                            (e.g., in parts of Asia) where farmers will need varieties that
                                                                                                       water requires crops that use less water and are less
     families, growing their own food and earning their liveli-                                                                                                        survive very wet, waterlogged conditions.37                        In a future of extreme climates, to avoid losing their liveli-
                                                                                                       dependent on fertilizer and other agrochemicals. For
     hoods through farming. For many of these people, agri-                                                                                                                                                                               hoods, farmers will need varieties that are versatile and
                                                                                                       example, a new variety of sorghum increased yield by 85
     culture represents a way out of poverty. The ability to                                                                                                           While the overall climate trend is toward higher temper-           able to thrive under a wide range of conditions.
                                                                                                       percent during the height of a drought in northern
     improve crop yields and to meet consumer demand for                                                                                                               atures, some parts of the world may grow colder, chal-
                                                                                                       Cameroon. This was achieved without the use of irriga-
     specific qualities in taste, nutrition, or texture may make                                                                                                       lenging crops with unexpected frosts. Portugal is carrying
                                                                                                       tion or fertilizers. And CIMMYT has produced experi-
     the difference between a life of subsistence farming and                                                                                                          out a programme to develop cold-tolerant varieties of
                                                                                                       mental varieties of wheat and corn that produce more
     earning income needed to send children to school or to                                                                                                            coffee in co-operation with the International Centre for
                                                                                                       grain with less water.
     invest in farm improvement.                                                                                                                                       Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).38

     DISASTER AND RECOVERY                                                                             CLIMATE CHANGE                                                  Climate change may also increase the incidence and evo-
     Throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century,                                                   Genebanks provide farmers with essential tools to cope          lution of diseases and pests. It already appears that as sub-
     genebanks have increasingly taken on roles not originally                                         with climate change and with new, invasive pests and dis-       tropical climates warm, agriculture is experiencing stress-
     envisaged: working alongside relief agencies and govern-                                          eases. For instance, changing climate may reduce the grow-      es that are typically tropical, such as certain diseases, corn

14     C R O P D I V E R S I T Y AT R I S K : T H E C A S E F O R S U S TA I N I N G C R O P C O L L E C T I O N S                                                                                                                                             T H E C O N S E R VAT I O N O F C R O P D I V E R S I T Y   15
           International Commitment to
               Saving Crop Diversity
         When the international community first began to talk seriously about genetic resources in the
         1960s and 1970s, it was taken as self-evident that the world should share its genetic resources
            freely as the common heritage of humanity. When it comes to plant genetic resources,
              the peoples of the world are utterly interdependent; a true globalism is part of the
                          heritage of modern crops and the economies based on them.

       This spirit underpinned the first discussions in FAO on          Summit at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Over 150 governments
       genetic resources in the 1960s and persisted through the         signed the legally binding treaty at the Rio conference, and
       1980s. Its basic tenets were modified only by a broad            since then more than 175 countries have ratified the agree-
       recognition of plant breeders’ rights: the payment of roy-       ment. The Convention has three main goals: the conserva-
       alties to those who develop clearly identifiable, new vari-      tion of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its com-
       eties that others want to grow. By the late 1980s, the con-      ponents, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits
       cept of farmers’ rights, defined as the “rights arising from     arising from the use of biological resources.
       the past, present and future contributions of farmers in
       conserving, improving, and making available plant genet-         The Convention acknowledges that conservation is a
       ic resources, particularly those in the centres of               common concern for all humanity, and it links conserva-
       origin/diversity,” began to gain support40.                      tion efforts to the goal of the sustainable use of biodiver-
                                                                        sity for the benefit of human beings. It obliges countries
       But in the 1990s, this basic vision began to shift as greater    to facilitate access to biological resources within their own
       recognition of the value of agricultural biodiversity led to     borders. But the Convention also acknowledges that
       growing concerns about ownership and benefit sharing. A          countries have a right to regard biological resources and
       number of international instruments governing the con-           the genes they contain as a national resource over which
       servation and use of biodiversity have been adopted over         they have sovereignty. It sets out principles for the fair
       the past decade; all of them reflect this shift in vision. And   sharing of benefits arising from the use of biological
IRRI   while these conventions, treaties and agreements—the             resources, particularly in commercial applications. Those
       most critical of which are described below—have been             who seek access to biological resources must gain prior
       hotly negotiated in political fora and themselves give rise      informed consent, on terms that are mutually agreed.
       to significant policy issues, they have also provided a pol-
       icy framework for global programmes and plans related            The Convention acknowledges that substantial invest-
       to agricultural biodiversity.                                    ments are required to accomplish its goals.

       CONVENTIONS, TREATIES AND                                        International Treaty on Plant
       AGREEMENTS                                                       Genetic Resources
       Convention on Biological Diversity                               The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for
       The Convention on Biological Diversity was one of the key        Food and Agriculture was adopted by the member states
       agreements reached by world leaders at the 1992 Earth            of FAO on 3 November 2001.

                                                                        I N T E R N AT I O N A L C O M M I T M E N T TO S AV I N G C R O P D I V E R S I T Y   17
      The International Treaty represents a significant effort to                                      tions by means of a standard material transfer agreement       The Global Plan comprises twenty priority activities, cov-     first to explicitly recognize the importance of conserving
     open up access to crop diversity and to ensure that bene-                                         approved by the FAO. These agreements accompany sam-           ering in situ and ex situ conservation, plant genetic          the diversity of plant life on Earth in all its forms, inde-
     fits are shared equitably. By agreeing to share their                                             ples sent out by the Centres and establish conditions for      resources use and institution and capacity building.           pendently of use-oriented considerations like forestry or
     resources through the creation of a multilateral exchange                                         their use. All further recipients of in-trust materials are                                                                   agriculture. The Strategy sets global targets to be met by
     system, governments created a new structure for the com-                                          bound by the same terms.                                       Four of the twenty activities relate specifically to ex situ   the year 2010—a risk not often taken in international fora
     mon good of humanity.                                                                                                                                            conservation:                                                  and a first for the Convention.
                                                                                                       The International Treaty invites the Centres to enter into
                                                                                                                                                                          Activity 5. Sustaining Existing Ex Situ Collections
     The Treaty, which is in harmony with the Convention on                                            new in-trust agreements with the Treaty’s Governing                                                                           The targets of the Global Strategy relevant to ex situ con-
                                                                                                                                                                          Activity 6. Regenerating Threatened Ex Situ Accessions
     Biological Diversity, will enter into force once it has been                                      Body. It is envisaged that these agreements, unlike the                                                                       servation are:
                                                                                                                                                                          Activity 7. Supporting Planned and Targeted Collect-
     ratified by 40 countries, a process that is expected to take                                      previous agreements, would operate in perpetuity. New
                                                                                                                                                                          ing of Plant Genetic Resources                             Understanding and documenting plant diversity
     up to two years.                                                                                  material transfer agreements will also need to be drafted
                                                                                                                                                                          Activity 8. Expanding Ex Situ Conservation Activities      1. A preliminary assessment of the conservation status
                                                                                                       and agreed.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        of all known plant species, at national, regional and
     It envisages a multilateral system to facilitate access to key
                                                                                                                                                                      One hundred and fifty countries formally adopted the              international levels.
     crop resources with minimal procedural and administra-                                            The Treaty calls for a strategy to mobilize funding for pri-
                                                                                                                                                                      Global Plan of Action at the Leipzig Conference. In so         2. Development of models with protocols for plant con-
     tive costs. Initially the system applies to 35 food crops and                                     ority activities, plans and Programmes – including those
                                                                                                                                                                      doing, governments also adopted the Leipzig Declaration,          servation and sustainable use, based on research and
     some 80 forages. The listed species cover most of the                                             described in the Global Plan of Action.
                                                                                                                                                                      through which they committed themselves to implement-             practical experience.
     crops that are important for world food security and that
     are maintained in the Future Harvest Centres; exceptions                                                                                                         ing the Global Plan. The FAO Commission monitors this
                                                                                                       GLOBAL PROGRAMMES AND PLANS                                                                                                   Conserving plant diversity
     include Glycine (soybean), Arachis (peanut) and some                                                                                                             implementation, and is committed to periodic updating
                                                                                                       The Global Plan of Action                                                                                                     1. 60 percent of threatened plant species, in accessible
     tropical forages. The Treaty invites all holders of plant                                                                                                        of the Global Plan.
                                                                                                       While these conventions and treaties identified the need                                                                         ex situ collections, preferably in their country of ori-
     genetic resources on the list to join the multilateral sys-                                       for plant genetic resource conservation, nations required                                                                        gin, and 10 per cent of them included in recovery and
     tem. The list itself can be changed with the consensus of                                                                                                        The Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and
                                                                                                       a practical plan of action. To develop such a plan, FAO                                                                          restoration programmes.
     the parties to the Treaty.                                                                                                                                       Sustainable Use of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and
                                                                                                       organized a technical conference held in Leipzig,                                                                             2. 70 percent of the genetic diversity of crops and other
                                                                                                                                                                      Agriculture (FAO, 1996) is retrievable from http://www.
                                                                                                       Germany in 1996.                                                                                                                 major socio-economically valuable plant species con-
     The Treaty envisages a mechanism for sharing benefits                                                                                                            fao.org/WAICENT/FAOINFO/AGRICULT/AGP/AGPS/
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        served, and associated local and indigenous knowl-
     whereby the ‘owners’ of a commercialized product that                                                                                                            Pgrfa/gpaeng.htm
                                                                                                       In preparation for the conference, 158 governments com-                                                                          edge maintained.
     incorporates material obtained from the multilateral sys-                                         piled country reports, assessing the status of their plant
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Promoting education and awareness about
     tem will pay a royalty into a specially designated fund.                                          genetic resources, and their capacity to conserve and use      FURTHER INITIATIVES
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     plant diversity
     The payment is mandatory if the product is not available                                          them. FAO’s first Report on the State of the World’s Plant     The governing body of the Convention on Biological
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     1. The importance of plant diversity and the need for its
     for further research and breeding as a result of the appli-                                       Genetic Resources was largely based on this information.       Diversity (known as the Conference of the Parties) has
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        conservation incorporated into communication, edu-
     cation of intellectual property rights. It is voluntary when                                      The Report analyzed the status of the conservation and         established a work programme specifically concerned with
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        cation and public awareness programmes.
     the product can be freely used for breeding and research.                                         use of plant genetic resources around the world and            the maintenance and use of agricultural biodiversity.
     The Treaty clearly envisages that benefits will flow prima-                                       described activities and programmes carried out by                                                                            Building capacity for the conservation
     rily to farmers in developing countries.                                                          regional, international and non-governmental organiza-         The work programme seeks to provide a comprehensive            of plant diversity
                                                                                                       tions. It identified gaps, constraints and emergency situa-    analysis of the status and trends of the world's agricul-      1. The number of trained people working with appro-
     FAO-CGIAR In-Trust Agreements                                                                     tions. The Report warned of a large-scale loss of plant        tural biodiversity, as well as the status and trends of            priate facilities in plant conservation increased,
     In 1994, the Future Harvest Centres of the CGIAR signed                                           genetic resources of importance to food and agriculture,       local knowledge concerning the management of that                  according to national needs, to achieve the targets of
     agreements with FAO, placing the collections in their                                             citing the spread of modern, commercial agriculture and        diversity. It works to identify and promote management             this strategy.
     genebanks under the auspices of FAO for the benefit of all                                        the introduction of new varieties as the main causes of        practices, technologies, and policies that promote the         2. Networks for plant conservation activities established
     humanity. The agreements recognize the Centres as                                                 the loss of genetic diversity.                                 positive and mitigate the negative impacts of agricul-             or strengthened at national, regional and internation-
     trustees for the collections under their care. In signing the                                                                                                    ture on biodiversity.                                              al levels.
     agreements, the CGIAR accepted the long-term responsi-                                            The State of the World Report provided the basis for the
     bility to see that the invaluable and irreplaceable material                                      Global Plan of Action. The FAO Commission on Genetic           A key objective is to strengthen the capacity of farmers       Not all countries waited for the Global Strategy to be
     in the collections is safely conserved to international tech-                                     Resources for Food and Agriculture guided the develop-         and indigenous and local communities to sustainably            adopted before starting work. Planta Europa, backed by
     nical standards, well documented and readily accessible.                                          ment of the Global Plan, through a country-driven              manage agricultural biodiversity so as to increase their       the Council of Europe, has already agreed to a Plant
                                                                                                       preparatory process that included twelve regional and sub-     benefits and promote awareness and responsible                 Conservation Strategy for Europe along the lines of the
     Under the terms of the 1994 agreements, the Future                                                regional meetings at which governments discussed prob-         action.                                                        Global Strategy. Colombia has also adopted a national
     Harvest Centres are not permitted to claim ownership, or                                          lems and opportunities and made recommendations for                                                                           strategy in anticipation of the Global Strategy. Ethiopia
     seek intellectual property rights over the in-trust materi-                                       the Global Plan. This process itself helped to strengthen      The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, adopted by         proposed that a regional strategy for Africa should be
     al and related information. They must pass the same obli-                                         existing national crop diversity research programmes and       the 6th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the        developed, following the example of Europe.
     gations on to any recipient of material from the collec-                                          regional networks and promoted scientific co-operation.        Convention on Biological Diversity in April 2002, is the


18     C R O P D I V E R S I T Y AT R I S K : T H E C A S E F O R S U S TA I N I N G C R O P C O L L E C T I O N S                                                                                                                   I N T E R N AT I O N A L C O M M I T M E N T TO S AV I N G C R O P D I V E R S I T Y   19
                              The State of Crop
                            Collections Worldwide
              Through the succession of treaties and strategies adopted over the last decade, the global
                  community has demonstrated its intention to conserve crop genetic diversity.
                However, despite their best intentions, many countries are having difficulty meeting
                   these commitments and many genebanks are proving unable to fulfill even
                                            basic conservation functions.

         In the six years since 150 countries endorsed the Global        FAO based its evaluation on reports from 151 govern-
         Plan of Action, its implementation regarding genebank           ments. More recent data—supplied by 99 countries—has
         conservation has been patchy. While there have been             allowed for some of this information to be updated. The
         some significant advances, primarily in developed coun-         new data, comparing conservation efforts in 2000 to
         tries, many developing nations are struggling. The finan-       those in 1996 show that:
         cial and human resources needed to sustain their efforts
                                                                             The number of plant samples being conserved world-
         are in short supply—the “safe houses” that store human-
                                                                             wide has increased in 66 percent of countries and
         ity’s agricultural heritage are not all equally secure.
                                                                             remained unchanged in 13 percent. About 6 percent
         Although most nations are trying to meet their commit-
                                                                             of countries have lost portions of their collections.
         ments—as evidenced by increases in the size of genebank
                                                                             (About 15 percent of countries did not respond to
         collections—the capacity to maintain those collections
                                                                             this question).
         has in most cases either declined or remained unchanged.
                                                                             Despite this expansion of collections, genebank
         The maintenance of the status quo is of concern given the           budgets have been cut back in 25 percent of countries
         low baseline from which most countries are starting. In             and remained static in 35 percent. Budgets improved
         1996, FAO determined that a large number of the world’s             in 33 percent of countries (7 percent provided no
         crop genebanks were in a state of “rapid deterioration.”41 It       response).
CIMMYT   reported that some genebanks established in the 1970s and
                                                                             Staff have been reduced in 19 percent of countries and
         1980s had already closed and that others faced deteriora-
                                                                             remained static in 50 percent. Some 26 percent report
         tion of physical structures and equipment and had an omi-
                                                                             staff increases (10 percent provided no response).
         nously high backlog of plant samples that needed to be
         regenerated before they lost their viability. The same report       The number of samples in urgent need of regenera-
         found that most countries lacked long-term storage capac-           tion increased or remained unchanged in 62 percent
         ity for crop genetic resources. Only 77 countries reported          of countries. Some 18 percent of countries succeeded
         that they had seed storage facilities suitable for medium-or        in decreasing their regeneration needs (20 percent
         long-term storage, and of those, “probably fewer than half          provided no response.)
         can offer secure, long-term management of accessions.”42
         Without long-term storage, there is little security for the     As the following statistics show, in most cases, genebanks
         world’s crop genetic resources.                                 in developing countries and countries in economic tran-

                                                                                    T H E S TAT E O F C R O P C O L L E C T I O N S W O R L D W I D E   21
     sition have faired worse than in developed countries.                                                    report static budgets. One third (33 percent) have had
     However, even some of the world’s richest nations have                                                   budget increases. Meanwhile, 61 percent report              Averting Disaster
     experienced cutbacks and fallen behind in regenerating                                                   increases in the size of their collections.
     their collections.                                                                                                                                                   ALL TOO OFTEN IN RECENT YEARS, genebanks have narrowly averted disaster. In the examples described below, emergency
                                                                                                              Among countries with economies in transition, 33
                                                                                                                                                                          interventions narrowly saved entire collections from destruction. But emergency or stopgap measures cannot ensure the viabil-
                                                                                                              percent report reduced budgets; 40 percent report
                                                                                                                                                                          ity of all the world’s genebanks. More comprehensive measures are needed.
     BUDGET CUTBACKS AND                                                                                      static budgets; and 27 percent report increases. Some
     COLLECTION INCREASES                                                                                     73 percent have increased their collections.                ROMANIA                                                          SOMALIA
     Country reports show that countries in the midst of eco-                                                                                                             As with many national genebanks in Eastern Europe, the           In 1991, Somalia’s government collapsed amid civil war and
                                                                                                              Among developed countries, only 13 percent have
     nomic transition and in the developing world have suffered                                                                                                           Romanian genebank faced dire times at the dawn of the 21st       the country was plunged into anarchy. By mid-1992, a com-
                                                                                                              had cutbacks; 53 percent have remained static, and 33
     the most severe cutbacks in their crop diversity conserva-                                                                                                           Century. Its irreplaceable collection, with over 10 000 unique   bination of war, drought, and banditry produced a famine
                                                                                                              percent have had budget increases. Some 80 percent
     tion budgets. On a regional basis, budget cuts have been                                                                                                             accessions (74 percent indigenous and 68 percent tradition-      that killed more than 300 000 people. Among the casualties
                                                                                                              have increased the size of their collections.
     most severe in sub-Saharan Africa (41 percent of countries                                                                                                           al farmers’ varieties), was threatened by poor storage condi-    of the chaos were Somalia’s genetic resources—seeds and
     have had their budgets reduced); South America (38 per-                                                                                                              tions. Landraces of maize, wheat, barley, linseed, faba beans    other plant materials essential for growing and improving the
     cent); Central America (30 percent); and Southwest Asia
                                                                                                       REGENERATION                                                       and common beans were all threatened.                            country’s major food crops.
                                                                                                       The new data show that the need for regeneration
     (29 percent). Increases were highest in North America (100
                                                                                                       was most extensive in developing countries, followed               The high electrical consumption of an ancient refrigera-         Fortunately, prior to this disaster, the Somali government had
     percent) and in East Asia (100 percent).
                                                                                                       by countries in economic transition. However, even                 tion system—able to run just one of the four available           arranged to have 300 samples of Somali sorghum and maize
                                                                                                       a majority of developed countries reported a lack of               cold   storage    chambers—consumed           the   national     deposited with the Kenya national genebank for safekeeping.
     Reduced or static budgets for genebank collections result in
                                                                                                       improvement in their regeneration efforts. The                     genebank’s entire budget. As a result, staff was forced to       Other samples of Somali crops were maintained at Future
     a multitude of problems, including poor maintenance of
                                                                                                       regions with the most urgent regeneration needs                    neglect the urgent regeneration of the majority of the           Harvest collections in India and Nigeria and in genebanks in
     equipment such as cooling and humidity control units, and
                                                                                                       are South Asia, South America and Sub-Saharan                      plant samples.                                                   the United States and Russia.
     an insecure electrical supply. When budget cuts come at the
                                                                                                       Africa.
     same time that collections are growing in size, maintenance                                                                                                          In this instance, FAO and IPGRI mobilized resources to           These back-up collections made it possible to restore native
     of those collections becomes even more difficult.                                                                                                                    upgrade the storage and documentation facilities, and            plant genetic resources to the country. In 1997, an aircraft
                                                                                                       A regeneration backlog is a strong indication that a
                                                                                                                                                                          finance critical measures to save parts of the collection and    delivered a half-ton of seeds of 165 different local crop vari-
                                                                                                       genebank is in trouble. Collections can survive indefinite-
     The data show that:                                                                                                                                                  ensure a minimum level of conservation while long-term           eties to Somalia. Research scientists worked with farmers to
                                                                                                       ly only if they are regularly reproduced. Ultimately, plant
                                                                                                                                                                          solutions were developed.                                        plant, harvest and replant seeds of key Somali crops to build
          Some 28 percent of developing countries have had                                             samples that are not regenerated die and genetic diversity
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           up quantities needed to supply to farmers.
          genebank budget cuts since 1996. Another 29 percent                                          is lost.


       Loss in the South Pacific                                                                                                                                         The data show that:                                               STAFF, TRAINING AND CAPACITY
      ON THE SOUTH PACIFIC ISLAND nation of Fiji, 67 percent of the work force is engaged in subsistence agriculture. Fiji main-                                         1. Some 52 percent of developing countries have                   BUILDING
      tains most of its crop diversity collection as whole plants growing in field genebanks with additional samples held in cold stor-                                     increased numbers of samples in need of urgent                 About 80 percent of the world’s scientists live in industri-
      age. In November 2001, senior research officers at the country’s Koronivia Research Station reported that Fiji’s cooling facilities                                   regeneration. Another 15 percent reported no change            alized countries, which account for about 20 percent of
      urgently needed replacement. Problems with the cooling equipment had caused the loss of 212 rice samples. In addition the                                             in status. Only 10 percent had succeeded in reducing           the world’s population, 20 percent of its biodiversity and
      genebanks had lost valuable samples of yams, beans, tomato, pigeon peas, cowpeas, peanuts and kumala (sweet potato).                                                  their regeneration load.                                       about 85 percent of the world’s economy. At least three-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           quarters of the remaining scientists live in just a few
      The report warned that Fiji risked further losses because of                                     The genebank losses were accompanied by a loss of diversi-
                                                                                                                                                                         2. Among countries in transition, 40 percent have
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           countries, among them China, India, Brazil, and Mexico.
      lack of funds needed to:                                                                         ty in farmers’ fields: commercial varieties were replacing tra-
                                                                                                                                                                            increased numbers of samples in need of urgent
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           A majority of the world’s remaining countries have very
                                                                                                       ditional ones and land clearing practices were likewise erod-
                                                                                                                                                                            regeneration; another 7 percent reported no change of
             Maintain and repair equipment, including the cooler                                                                                                                                                                           few scientists and scientific institutions, and limited
                                                                                                       ing diversity. In particular, varieties of yams, coconuts, and
                                                                                                                                                                            status. However, 40 percent have succeeded in reduc-
             and the two freezers;                                                                                                                                                                                                         capacity to deal with the conservation of biodiversity and
                                                                                                       dalo (the local name for taro – an edible root rich in calcium
                                                                                                                                                                            ing their regeneration load.
             Purchase a backup generator to be used in case of                                                                                                                                                                             its sustainable use. 44
             electricity failures (sometimes caused by cyclones in                                     and iron) were being lost in farm fields.                         3. Among developed countries, 27 percent reported
             the region);                                                                                                                                                   increased need for regeneration; another 27 percent            As seen below in tables based on information compiled
                                                                                                       The report noted the need to document and describe crop
             Duplicate seeds;                                                                                                                                               reported no change in status. One-third had reduced            by FAO in 2000 this same situation applies to the
                                                                                                       samples held in the genebanks – including those traditional
             Build and maintain long-term storage facilities;                                                                                                               their regeneration load.                                       world’s crop diversity collections, and is evident in
                                                                                                       crops that were being displaced from the field.43
             Regenerate collections;                                                                                                                                                                                                       genebanks’ relative abilities to carry out activities that
             Educate stakeholders on conservation;                                                                                                                       Although the majority of all countries (66 percent) report-       demand higher levels of capacity and training, such as
             Purchase equipment for seed processing and viability                                                                                                        ed having multi-year plans for regeneration in place, it is       monitoring collections for diversity and testing them
             control.                                                                                                                                                    clear that many of these are not being carried out.               for viability.



22     C R O P D I V E R S I T Y AT R I S K : T H E C A S E F O R S U S TA I N I N G C R O P C O L L E C T I O N S                                                                                                                                      T H E S TAT E O F C R O P C O L L E C T I O N S W O R L D W I D E   23
                                                                                                       the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and
      MONITORING GENETIC DIVERSITY
                                                                                                       Sustainable Use of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and
      Is the genetic diversity of the collections monitored on                                         Agriculture. This information is retrievable from
      a regular basis in all your country genebanks?                                                   http://apps3.fao.org/wiews/wiewspage.jsp?i_l=EN&show
                                                                                                       =GPAmonitorEN.jsp
      COUNTRY STATUS                     YES            NO           NO RESPONSE

      Developed                        73%               20%                    7%                     COLLECTIONS AT RISK
      Economy in transition 67                           33                     -                      Even as collecting missions have continued and genebank
                                                                                                       collections have expanded, the resources to sustain them
      Developing                       51                48                     1
                                                                                                       are being stretched ever thinner. Unless this trend in
                                                                                                       resources is reversed, the time will come when many
                                                                                                       genebank collections around the globe will fail. Should
      MONITORING VIABILITY OF SAMPLES                                                                  this happen, the world will lose an irreplaceable resource.
                                                                                                       While international treaties recognize the importance of
      Is the viability of the collections monitored on a regular
      basis in all your country genebanks?
                                                                                                       crop diversity collections, and some countries have man-
                                                                                                       aged to increase the resources directed toward them, the
      COUNTRY STATUS                     YES            NO           NO RESPONSE                       reality is that this responsibility exists year in and year out
                                                                                                       —in perpetuity—and annual sources of uncertain funds
      Developed                           93%                  7%                      -
                                                                                                       cannot be expected to sustain crop genebanks. Too much
      Economy in transition               73                  27                       -               is at stake.
      Developing                          67                  32                      1



     A similar situation exists in regard to training, with the
     least developed countries in greatest need of staff train-
     ing. Asked whether genebank staff had received any train-
     ing since 1996, 40 percent of countries in transition, 35
     percent of developing countries, and 20 percent of devel-
     oped countries said no.

     Comprehensive information systems—essential for the
     effective use of crop diversity collections—are lacking as
     well. Although 62 percent of countries reported having
     information systems for data management of crop diver-
     sity collections or seed stock, only 29 percent had infor-
     mation systems on a national level, and 44 percent of
     countries failed to provide any training in documenta-
     tion/information systems since 1996.

     Developing countries are clearly disadvantaged by lack of
     access to the internet, which hampers their access to
     international databases such as the FAO’s World
     Information and Early Warning System on Plant Genetic
     Resources for Food and Agriculture or the CGIAR’s
     System-wide Information Network for Genetic Resources
     —SINGER. All developed countries had such access, as
     did 67 percent of countries in transition. But fewer than
     half (48 percent) of developing countries had access.

     The foregoing analysis is based on information from the
     FAO 2000 Survey on Monitoring the Implementation of


24     C R O P D I V E R S I T Y AT R I S K : T H E C A S E F O R S U S TA I N I N G C R O P C O L L E C T I O N S                                                       T H E S TAT E O F C R O P C O L L E C T I O N S W O R L D W I D E   25
                                                           Conclusion
                       The world's crop genebanks maintain the seeds for future harvests, even as crop diversity
                          disappears from farmers’ fields and nature. As the climate changes, as the human
                              population increases and development proceeds apace, the need for crop
                                              diversity collections is greater than ever.



                  These collections conserve crop varieties and genes that        Despite the agreements forged through international
                  farmers and scientists require if they are to continue to       conventions and the guidance provided by the Global
                  produce seeds that provide food and countless other             Plan of Action, the disparities between genebanks are
                  resources for present and future generations. They con-         large. Behind these disparities are two main factors: the
                  serve both the major staple crops upon which humanity           lack of a clearly articulated vision for a global genebank
                  depends and minor crops that ensure the health and              system and access to the resources necessary to make that
                  livelihoods of millions of farming communities around           vision a reality.
                  the world. Genebanks provide the best opportunity for
                  reintroducing diversity of crops and varieties that were        The vision should not be difficult to articulate: it includes
                  presumed lost; their vast collections undoubtedly contain       both management standards and optimal goals. The min-
                  many as yet unrecognized treasures.                             imum standards should ideally be met by all genebanks,
                                                                                  because they assure the viability and usefulness of a col-
                  TOMORROW'S GENEBANKS                                            lection.
                  In the early 1970s, the world’s genebanks held perhaps half
                  a million samples. Since then, genebanks and their collec-      Issues around which minimum standards need to be set
                  tions have mushroomed, with each year seeing an average         include the procedures for entering new material into a
                  expansion of some 200 000 samples. Many of the hundreds         collection; the establishment of appropriate regeneration
FAO/G. BIZZARRI
                  of new collections established in the last three decades were   regimes that are fundamental to maintaining the viability
                  understandably assembled in an atmosphere of crisis, and        and genetic integrity of genebank samples; accurate and
                  the imprint of that legacy remains. As a result, today there    timely monitoring of the viability of samples; and the
                  is a wide spectrum of genebank capacity. At one end of the      characterization, documentation and supply of healthy,
                  spectrum, crop genebanks use their well-managed collec-         viable samples to users.
                  tions, technical expertise and deep knowledge base to act as
                  partners in crop improvement and in the conservation of         Optimal goals for genebank operations go well beyond
                  agricultural diversity in farmers’ fields and in the wild. At   the technical responsibilities of collecting, maintaining,
                  the other end of the spectrum, some genebanks are over-         regenerating and distributing seed. They go to the core
                  whelmed by the job of managing the material in their care       purpose of crop diversity collections: to conserve unique
                  and are unable, often through lack of funding, to carry out     and potentially valuable diversity of key crops. Beyond
                  basic conservation functions.                                   knowing what is in the collection, genebanks should be

                                                                                                                               CONCLUSION         27
     proactive participants in the planning of agricultural pro-                                       These mandates from the world community have not yet
     duction systems in terms of what kinds of crops and vari-                                         been fully implemented, although countries and organi-
     eties to use. They should be centres of information on                                            zations have made initial efforts in good faith. The
     genetic resources in a given country. Genebanks should                                            resources are lacking to allow their full realization. The
     be able to provide relevant information to every potential                                        task now is to procure the resources necessary to ensure
     user: what the varieties have to offer in terms of develop-                                       that genebanks worldwide can meet their conservation
     ment; what they have to offer in terms of contributing to                                         functions and offer the full range of expertise and insight
     a more sustainable environment; and the full range of                                             that accompanies their mission. To garner these
     indigenous knowledge associated with a species, includ-                                           resources, the world community must look beyond the
     ing its uses. On all of these topics, genebanks should make                                       annual budgets of individual countries or donor organi-
     information available to policy makers and the general                                            zations. Resources can be pooled into one global fund—
     public. A well functioning genebank should operate with-                                          an endowment for the future of agricultural diversity and
     in the framework of relevant international treaties.                                              a foundation for food security.
     Finally, genebanks should link conservation with devel-
     opment and agriculture with the environment.                                                      A PERMANENT ENDOWMENT?
                                                                                                       A substantial endowment would match the perpetual
     FUNDING IN PERPETUITY                                                                             need for crop diversity conservation with a perpetual
     From the perspective of a genebank that lacks money to                                            source of support for the world's national and interna-
     run its cooling system, these goals may indeed seem                                               tional plant genetic resources collections. It could support
     remote. Limited resources can present nearly insur-                                               the maintenance needs of the world's most critical collec-
     mountable obstacles. Therefore, it is time to think about                                         tions and help to build the capacity of under-funded
     how to mobilize global resources to meet a global chal-                                           collections. An endowment could help realize the ideals of
     lenge. New and imaginative means of support must be                                               the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources by
     found. Until now, genebank funding has largely been                                               taking as its starting point conservation of the 35 priority
     dependent on annual disbursements from national budg-                                             food crops and 80 forages listed under the Treaty. Over
     ets, which can vary from year to year. However the need                                           time, it could grow in size and scope to encompass addi-
     to keep crop diversity collections safe exists in perpetuity.                                     tional genebank collections and crops.
     To let it lapse even one year may mean the sacrifice of
     irreplaceable crop genetic resources. Therefore, funding                                          The conservation of crop diversity collections is a respon-
     must be stable and forever.                                                                       sibility that transcends borders, regimes, and world
                                                                                                       orders. The issue is on the table.
     Several recent international treaties and global plans
     address these concerns and suggest directions to pursue.

          The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources
          calls for a funding strategy to mobilize resources for
          priority conservation activities, including for main-
          taining and expanding the role of crop genebanks.

          The Global Plan of Action envisions a more rational
          global genebank system, in which costly and excessive
          duplication is eliminated, while crucial collections,
          each with a single duplicate set, are fully secured at
          separate locations. The Global Plan assumes a high
          level of international and national collaboration.

          The in-trust agreements between the Food and
          Agriculture Organization and the Future Harvest
          Centres, place the collections managed by the Centres
          under the auspices of FAO to be conserved and used
          for the benefit of all humanity. These agreements envi-
          sion an on-going responsibility—yet no stable funding
          mechanism has been established.

28     C R O P D I V E R S I T Y AT R I S K : T H E C A S E F O R S U S TA I N I N G C R O P C O L L E C T I O N S                                                    CONCLUSION   29
                                                                                                                   Notes
                                                                                                                           1
                                                                                                                                Personal communication; Jan Engels, International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI).
                                                                                                                           2
                                                                                                                                Personal communication; Jane Toll, IPGRI.
                                                                                                                           3
                                                                                                                                Spooner, D.M., and R. Hijmans. (2001). Potato Systematics and Germplasm Collecting, 1989-2000.
                                                                                                                                American Journal of Potato Research 78: 237-268; 395.
                                                                                                                           4
                                                                                                                                Padulosi, S. (1999, May). Final Report: Conservation and Use of Underutilized Mediterranean Species.
                                                                                                                                Aleppo, Syria: IPGRI Regional Office for Central and West Asia and North Africa.
                                                                                                                           5
                                                                                                                                Personal communication; Jane Toll, IPGRI.
                                                                                                                           6
                                                                                                                                Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (1998). Report on the State of the
                                                                                                                                World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Rome.
                                                                                                                           7
                                                                                                                                FAO, 1998.
                                                                                                                           8
                                                                                                                                Personal communication; Ruth Raymond, IPGRI.
                                                                                                                           9
                                                                                                                                McNeely, J.A., and Scherr, S.J. (2001, May). Common Ground Common Future: How Ecoagriculture
                                                                                                                                Can Help Feed the World and Save Wild Biodiversity. IUCN and Future Harvest.
                                                                                                                           10
                                                                                                                                National Environmental Protection Agency, (1994-95). China Biodiversity Conservation Action
                                                                                                                                Plan. Retrieved from www.bpsp-neca.brim.ac.cn/books/actpln_cn/part1-1.html
                                                                                                                           11
                                                                                                                                Personal communication; Roger Chetelat, Director/Curator, C.M. Rick Tomato Genetics Resource
                                                                                                                                Centre. Dept. of Vegetable Crops. University of California, Davis.
                                                                                                                           12
                                                                                                                                National Plant Germplasm System. (2001, November). Crop Germplasm Committees: Genetic
                                                                                                                                Vulnerability Statement. Retrieved from www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/cgcweb.html
                                                                                                                           13
                                                                                                                                Personal communication; Ruth Raymond, IPGRI.
                                                                                                                           14
                                                                                                                                Smale 2000; Morris and Heisey, 1998. Cited in Wood, S., Sebastian, K., and Scherr, S. (2000) Pilot
                                                                                                                                Analysis of Global Ecosystems: Agroecosystems. Washington, DC: International Food Policy
                                                                                                                                Research Institute.
                                                                                                                           15
                                                                                                                                Personal communication; Toby Hodgkin, IPGRI.
                                                                                                                           16
                                                                                                                                FAO, 1998.
                                                                                                                           17
                                                                                                                                National Plant Germplasm System. (2001). Vegetable Crucifers Crop Committee Status Report.
                                                                                                                                Retrieved from www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/cgcweb.html
                                                                                                                           18
                                                                                                                                National Plant Germplasm System. (1996). Sugarcane Crop Germplasm Committee Report.
                                                                                                                                Retrieved from www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/cgcweb.html
                                                                                                                           19
                                                                                                                                Personal communication; Ruth Raymond, IPGRI.
                                                                                                                           20
                                                                                                                                National Plant Germplasm System, 2001.
                                                                                                                           21
                                                                                                                                Personal communication; Toby Hodgkin, IPGRI.
                                                                                                                           22
                                                                                                                                National Plant Germplasm System. (1997, June). Carya Crop Germplasm Committee Report.
                                                                                                                                Retrieved from www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/cgcweb.html
                                                                                                                           23
                                                                                                                                IPGRI. (2001). Conserving and Increasing the Use of Neglected and Underutilized Crop Species.
                                                                                                                                Retrieved from www.ipgri.cgiar.org/nus/projects.htm
                                                                                                                           24
                                                                                                                                Thrupp, L.A. (1998). Cultivating Diversity: Agrobiodiversity and Food Security. Washington, DC:
                                                                                                                                World Resources Institute.
                                                                                                                           25
                                                                                                                                Personal communication; Sara Scherr, Adviser, Future Harvest.
                                                                                                                           26
                                                                                                                                Personal communication; Toby Hodgkin, IPGRI.
                                                                                                                           27
                                                                                                                                FAO, 1998.
                                                                                                                           28
                                                                                                                                IPGRI. Ruby Treasure: Securing the Wealth of Pomegranate in Central Asia.
                                                                                                                           29
                                                                                                                                FAO World Information and Early Warning System on Plant Genetic Resources.
                                                                                                                           30
                                                                                                                                Personal communication; Jane Toll, IPGRI.
                                                                                                                           31
                                                                                                                                Asian Vegetable Research and            Development      Centre.    Resources.   Retrieved     from
                                                                                                                                www.avrdc.org.tw/resources.html



30   C R O P D I V E R S I T Y AT R I S K : T H E C A S E F O R S U S TA I N I N G C R O P C O L L E C T I O N S                                                                                                           NOTES       31
32
     National Centre for Genetic Resources Preservation. (2000). Seed Viability and Storage Research
     Unit – Annual Report. Retrieved from www.ars-grin.gov/ars/NoPlains/FtCollins/preserve/
     pres_annual_rept_.htm
33
     Manyong, V.M., Dixon, A.G.O., Makinde, K.O., Bokanga, M., & Whyte, J. (2000). The Contribution of
     IITA-improved cassava to food security in sub-Saharan Africa: An impact study. Ibadan, Nigeria:
     International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.
34
     Cassaday, K., Smale, M., Fowler, C. and Heisey, P. W. (2001). Benefits from giving and receiving
     genetic resources: the case of wheat. Plant Genetic Resources Newsletter. No. 127.
35
     National Plant Germplasm System. (1996). Tomato Crop Germplasm Committee Report. Retrieved
     from www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/cgcweb.html
36
     Personal communication; Ruth Raymond, IPGRI.
37
     International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. (2001, October). CIMMYT & Climate Change.
     Retrieved from www.cimmyt.org/Research/NRG.
38
     FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. (2001, July). Progress Report on
     the Implementation of the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of
     Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Rome.
39
     CIMMYT, 2001.
40
     FAO, Conference Resolution 5/89.
41
     FAO, 1998.
42
     FAO, 1998.
43
     Kete, T.N. and Turgakula, A. (2001, November). Status of the Agriculture National Plant Genetic
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44
     Raven, P. (1999, August). [Speech delivered to the XVI International Botanical Congress].
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