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Conservation and Sustainable Use of Plant Genetic Resources Key to Feeding a Growing Population, Says FAO

December 2, 2011 |

At a conference this week to mark the tenth anniversary of the International Treaty on Plant and Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) director-general Jacques Diouf called on governments and the international community to develop and enact science-based policies with the specific aim of conserving and making wider use of traditional crops and plant varieties.

Traditional food crop and plant varieties are in urgent need of protection from climate change and other environmental stresses, the FAO noted in a news brief.

“The conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture are key to ensuring that the world will produce enough food to feed its growing population in the future,” Diouf said.

As background, The Treaty on Plant and Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture focuses on the achieving the following broad objectives: establishing a global system to provide farmers, plant breeders and scientists with access to plant genetic materials; recognizing the enormous contribution of farmers to the diversity of crops that feed the world; and ensuring that recipients share benefits derived from use of genetic materials with their countries of origin.

The Treaty uses its Benefit-sharing Fund to finance a number of projects that are being undertaken to conserve, share and make greater use of traditional crops and other varieties by farmers and breeders across 21 developing countries. The Fund supports a portfolio of projects that focus on adapting key crops to new conditions brought on by local climate change, floods, droughts, incursions by plant pests, diseases and other factors.

“The effects of climate change on agriculture do not respect national borders, they cover entire agro-ecological zones,” said Shakeel Bhatti, secretary of the International Treaty. “For this reason, this portfolio of projects is taking a pioneering approach in generating a global knowledge base. Some of these projects will help us to establish clear priorities and action plans across borders for future actions.” (To check out a map of Treaty’s project locations click here).

“The fund helps farmers, in a very practical way, to adapt to climate change and contributes to food security by recognizing that one part of the solution is in the huge diversity of crops,” added David Cunningham, a panel expert from Australia.

Among the projects is a potato sanctuary located in Peru, where community members bring together traditional knowledge with modern methods aimed at conserving native varieties, improving agricultural production and assuring food security. Local staff recently worked together with visiting potato farmers from Ethiopia, showing them how to use local wind patterns, native plants and other factors to change the locations and timing of potato cultivation.

“Farmers are the key actors in the conservation and sustainable use of food crops and they struggle with all the changes that are happening,” said Zoila Fundora, a Cuba-based expert from the panel that evaluated new projects approved during the FAO meeting in Rome.  “If we work hard with a solid scientific basis and the integration of farmers, we will see results in two years when these projects will be over.”


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