Conservation and sustainable utilization of plant genetic resources for food, sustainable agriculture and plant and ecosystem conservation.
This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.
The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)- supported centres, including the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), conduct research and training, provide publications, and hold conferences and seminars about plant genetic conservation. Over 45,000 agricultural scientists have been trained.
IPGRI promotes among others the conservation of genetic resources of important plant species, especially in areas where the spread of new varieties may put traditional varieties at risk. Specific aims include: assisting countries, particularly in the developing world, to assess and meet their needs for conservation of plant genetic resources and strengthen links with users of those resources; building international collaboration in conservation and use of plant genetic resources, mainly through support of networks on both a crop and a geographical basis; developing and promoting improved strategies and technologies for conservation of plant genetic resources; providing an information service to inform the genetic resource community of practical and scientific developments in the field. IPGRI also promotes research relevant to its mandate, with a worldwide programme in 120 countries.
Programmes IPGRI coordinate include inter alia: Andean Network on Plant Genetic Resources (REDARFIT), (1992); Meso-American Network for Plant Genetic Resources (REMERFI); Plant Genetic Resource Network for South American Tropics (TROPIGEN); Regional Cooperation in Southeast Asia on Plant Genetic Resources (RECSEA-IPGRI), (1993). RECSEA-IPGRI has developed into a regional forum for cooperation, promoting the conservation and management of the region's plant genetic resources through collaborative activities of benefit to member countries. Exchanges take place on the basis of prior informed consent. Activities include assistance to On-Farm Conservation Workshop; development and improving of information systems for plant genetic resources at national and regional levels. IPGRI proposes setting up the Caribbean Network on Plant Genetic Resources and has supported founding of the Caribbean Committee for the Management of Plant Genetic Resources (CMPGR) for that purpose. IPGRI houses the Forest Genetic Resource Information System (TRESOURCE) to provide forestry researchers with background information on the germplasm of forest trees and shrubs. TRESOURCE comprising five databases on plant aspects of plant genetics. IPGRI cooperates with the other centres supported by CGIAR.
International agreements being negotiated through the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Commission on Plant Genetic Resources include the: International Code of Conduct for Plant Germplasm Collecting and Transfer; Code of Conduct on Biotechnology; basic agreements on genebanks. Global mechanisms being developed: network of in situ base collections (with technical assistance of IPGRI); network of areas established or demarcated for in situ conservation of genetic resources; establishment of Global Information and Early Warning System on Plant Genetic Resources (WIEWS) arising from the Seed Information System. WEIES and the Global Plan of Action on Plant Genetic Resources are being developed within within the framework of the Global System for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Sustainable Agriculture. The former is a network of in situ base collections and areas established or demarcated for in situ conservation of genetic resources. The former aims to collect and disseminate data and facilitate exchange of information on plant genetic resources and related technologies; draw rapid attention to hazards threatening operation of genebanks and loss of genetic diversity throughout the world. The latter is proposed to overcome restraints and face emergency situations identified in the state of the world's plant genetic resources; permit recommendation of priorities and promote rationalization and coordination of efforts in the area.
The Plant Genetic Resources Centre (SPGRC) operates under the framework of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). SPGRC: promotes and coordinates a regional network for plant genetic resources management through national centres; trains specialists; develops national plant genetic resource management programmes; through collection and preservation efforts, prevents erosion and loss of regional resources; provides service to plant breeders and researchers in the SADC region through a system of National Plant Genetic Resources Centres; collects, conserves, documents, evaluates and utilizes regional plant germplasm. SPGRC has medium and long-term storage facilities, and collected material is available to any bona fide user.
Other organizations working in the field of plant genetic conservation include among others the Islamic Plant Genetic Research Centre and the Action Committee on Latin American Cooperation and Consultation on Plant Genetic Resources (CARFIT).
Better use of plant genetic resources is critical to meeting the challenges of increasing food production and of alleviating poverty. All countries depend on plant genetic resources origination beyond their borders, which means that international cooperation is essential to secure continued access to these resources. International agreements are also necessary to guarantee their conservation. Both aims can be achieved only if there is an effective mechanism for sharing benefits with the countries that maintain these resources. A multilateral system, within the framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity, is required to guarantee these objectives. Because of the importance of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, and their millennia-old history of evolution and exchange between and within farming cultures, they deserve special attention in the international debate on biodiversity. For agriculture, a multilateral approach is preferable, but can co-exist with bilateral arrangements for other uses. In addition to national conservation efforts, there is a continuing need for international collections, maintained on behalf on the world community, such as those housed in the CGIAR centres. Furthermore, there is a need for a set of international agreements amd cooperation mechanisms under a common legal framework, as well as an intergovernmental policy forum and an international fund. This would guarantee conservation of, and access to, plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and ensure the sharing of benefits. Broadening of plant breeding strategies is also required to allow the strengthening of linkages between conservation and development, and to ensure that benefits reach the farmers who continue to maintain and develop genetic resources.