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I. Status of the world's genetic resources for food and agriculture

1. Status of the world's livestock genetic resources: preparation of the first Report on the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources

Ricardo A. Cardellino


FAO's Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) is the intergovernmental forum for negotiating action on genetic resources for food and agriculture. This commission deals with all aspects of genetic resources including plant, animal, forest and fisheries, and holds regular sessions every two years. Technical guidance on aspects dealing with domestic animals is provided by a working group of this commission, the Intergovernmental Technical Working Group on Animal Genetic Resources. Member countries represented in these intergovernmental bodies have requested FAO to develop and implement a global strategy for the management of farm animal genetic resources as a strategic framework to guide international efforts in the animal genetic resources sector. Aims of the global strategy are to enhance awareness of the multiple roles and values of animal genetic resources, provide guidance for establishing national, regional and global policies, strategies and actions, and facilitate and coordinate the activities of many independent organizations that have an interest in animal genetic resources.

In the context of the global strategy, member countries have requested FAO to prepare the first Report on the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources. Status on the progress of this process is reported in the present chapter.


Farm animal genetic resources face a double challenge. On the one hand, the demand for animal products is increasing in developing countries: FAO has estimated that demand for meat will double by 2030 (with respect to 2000); over the same thirty-year period demand for milk will more than double. On the other hand, animal genetic resources are disappearing rapidly worldwide. Over the past 15 years, 300 out of 6 000 breeds identified by FAO have become extinct. Many breeds of local importance for food security are not being improved or utilized in a sustainable manner and are in danger of being lost or diluted by crossbreeding.

Conservation and development of local breeds is important because many of them utilize lower quality feed, are more resilient to climatic stress and to local parasites and diseases, and represent a unique source of genes for improving health and performance traits of industrial breeds. It is also important to develop and utilize local breeds that are already adapted to their environments, most of which are harsh, with very limited natural and managerial input. Animals genetically adapted to these conditions are expected to be more productive at lower costs, support food, agriculture and cultural diversity, and be effective in achieving local food security objectives.

Local communities depend on these adapted genetic resources in many countries. Their disappearance or drastic modification, for example, by crossbreeding, absorption or replacement by exotic breeds, will have serious negative impacts on these human populations. Presently, most breeds at risk of extinction are not supported by any established conservation programmes or active conservation through sustainable utilization (breeding plans) and therefore breed extinction rates are increasing globally.


The key component of the global strategy is the country-based planning and implementation infrastructure, which includes five structural elements:


As part of the global strategy for the management of farm animal genetic resources, FAO invited 188 countries to participate in the first Report on the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources, which is to be completed by 2006. To date, 151 countries have accepted to submit country reports. Guidelines for preparation of country reports have been published in Animal Genetic Resources Information Bulletin (FAO) no. 30. These guidelines are used to assist countries in preparing reports as strategic policy documentation covering the state of animal genetic resources, the state of the art and national capacity to manage these resources, and country needs and priorities. Country reports will serve as the base documentation for the State of the World Reporting Process; thus the involvement of all stakeholders in the development of these reports is strongly encouraged.

The objective of the country and global assessments is to provide a comprehensive analysis of the status and trends of the world's farm animal biodiversity and of their underlying causes, as well as of local knowledge regarding its management. The task is to go beyond description of the resources by analysing the state of these resources and the capacities to manage them, drawing lessons from past experiences and identifying problems and priorities. Country reports are policy documents covering three strategic questions: Where are we? Where do we need to be? How do we get to where we need to be? Country reports are intended to be used in planning and implementing priority country actions. In addition, the country report will serve as documentation for the development of the regional and global reports on strategic priorities for action and, subsequently, the first Global Report on the State of Farm Animal Genetic Resources.

Country reports provide an assessment in three major areas:

International organizations are also being invited to contribute to the state of the world's animal genetic resources preparatory process by providing reports. The long-term aim of the process is for countries and regions to build on the analyses contained in the country reports in order to plan and implement appropriate management of their farm animal genetic resources.

The first Report on the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources will contain the Report on Strategic Priorities for Action and will be based on a synthesis of country reports, thematic studies and reports from international organizations.


Countries were requested to nominate a national focal point and designate a national coordinator to facilitate the development of the country network on the management of animal genetic resources and to serve as official contact with the global focal point. Keeping in mind that the process involves both scientific and policy matters, the establishment of a National Consultative Committee is recommended to identify the primary areas and issues that need to be addressed in the preparation of the country report and to oversee its preparation. It is essential that the National Consultative Committee have wide and diverse representation and develop a broad network to ensure opportunities for all stakeholders to contribute to the country report.

The response of countries to the invitation of FAO's Director-General to participate in the first Report on the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources and submit a country report has been very positive. During part of 2001 and 2002, FAO trained almost 400 professionals from 178 countries in the preparation of national reports. At the moment, FAO has a team of 15 consultants working in 14 country groupings in all regions of the world. Most countries have undertaken the organization of national stakeholder workshops to elaborate their animal genetic resources policies leading to the country reports. Table 1 shows the regional distribution of country reports submitted to FAO.

FAO has organized 14 subregional workshops to discuss draft country reports and regional priorities for action. This has promoted regional cooperation and allows countries that may be experiencing delays to catch up with those in a more advanced state of country report preparation and learn from their experiences. These sessions were coordinated by the regional facilitators acting as FAO consultants.

FAO has provided technical and financial support to 115 countries with contributions from the Governments of the Netherlands and Finland and from the Nordic Gene Bank. FAO and the World Association for Animal Production (WAAP) signed an agreement to provide technical and operational support for the state of the world animal genetic resources reporting process, including training and country follow-up. FAO considers this cooperation a prime example of effective collaboration with an international non-governmental organization.

Numbers of draft and final country reports already submitted and to be submitted to FAO
(15 February 2005)

No. of country reportsAfricaAsia-Pac.EuropeLatAmCarNear EastN. AmericaNon-FAOTotal
To be submitted3221000017
Total no. of reports473340321323170
Total no. of countries483944332123190
Expected result (%)97.9284.6290.9196.9761.90100.00100.00 


2005   Using as a basis for discussion the first draft of the Report on Strategic Priorities for Action, FAO will convene regional consultations to review and determine regional priorities, identify funding options and expose gaps where international assistance is required. Such consultations will depend to a large extent on the availability of extra-budgetary resources.
FAO will prepare a draft of the first Report on the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources. The results of the regional consultations, the available country reports, reports from international organizations and thematic studies will provide the basis for preparing the first draft of the first report by the end of 2005.

2006   A review of the first draft of the first Report on the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources will be undertaken by governments and stakeholders in the first half of 2006. A second Global Workshop for National Coordinators and a stakeholders' meeting will be convened to undertake a comprehensive technical review of the draft early in 2006. The Intergovernmental Technical Working Group on Animal Genetic Resources will meet in 2006 in order to review the first draft of the first Report on the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources, evaluate the operation of the follow-up mechanism and prepare a draft agenda for an Intergovernmental Technical Conference on Animal Genetic Resources to be held in 2007. The CGRFA, at its Eleventh Regular Session in 2006, will review the first draft of the first Report on the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources, evaluate the follow-up mechanism, and endorse an agenda for the first Intergovernmental Technical Conference on Animal Genetic Resources.


The Commission made a series of recommendations to FAO (Table 2) based on three main elements:


The following thematic studies are being conducted for inclusion in the Report on the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources:

Summary of recommendations of the Tenth Regular Session of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (8–12 November 2004)

TaskOverall activity
Assist countries at local and national levels, strengthen national focal points, implement concrete actions in countries, involve policy-makers.Regional networking
Establish and promote sustainable regional focal points.  support the informal network of regional facilitators.Regional networking
Facilitate regional training in conservation and sustainable utilization of animal genetic resources.Regional networking
Conduct regional consultations to discuss and endorse regional priorities for action.Regional and national policy level
Establish a follow-up mechanism with a national and a regional focus.Planning the follow-up mechanism
Develop and present detailed operational plan for the Report on the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources.Planning Report on the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources
Writing the Report on the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources as a platform for policy discussion and public awareness.Draft of the Report on the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources
Further develop the Report on Strategic Priorities for Action.Draft of the Report on Strategic Priorities for Action
Develop decision-support tools for breeding programmes.Animal breeding plans
Develop DAD-IS.Data base and information
Prepare a proposal for monitoring system.Conceptual development
Develop conceptual approach to conservation.International seminars
Develop a plan for the International Technical Conference to be held in 2007.Planning for 2007
Seek funding for follow-up mechanism.Fundraising
Seek funding for the International Technical Conference.Fundraising


The following is a list of regional priorities identified in regional workshops:


All cited bibliography and related publications can be found in All documentation pertaining to the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) and the Intergovernmental Technical Working Group on Animal Genetic Resources can be found in

2. Status of the world's fishery genetic resources

Devin M. Bartley


The world's fisheries are composed of 974 taxa of fin-fish, 143 crustaceans, 114 molluscs, 26 plants and 73 taxa of miscellaneous animals, while aquaculture production is composed of 153 species of fish, 60 molluscs, 44 crustaceans, 11 plants and several other miscellaneous taxa. These figures are certainly underestimates. Stocks of wild populations and farmed species exist, but are poorly documented for all but a few species.


The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (1992) defines aquatic genetic resources as “(aquatic) genetic material of actual or political value” and genetic material as “any material of plant, animal, microbial or other origin containing functional units of heredity.” Bartley and Pullin (1999) then asked the questions, “Are aquatic genetic resources, then, the sum total of all the aquatic plants, animals and micro-organisms on the planet? Does everything aquatic and alive and all of its DNA have actual or potential value?” This might indeed be the best assumption today because of the large knowledge gaps that remain in: (i) understanding how aquatic ecosystems function to support fisheries; (ii) how to choose aquatic species, for domestication; (iii) how to make rapid progress in domesticating them; and (iv) how to harness aquatic biochemicals and biological processes for the benefit of humankind. For the time being such a broad definition would make the terms “aquatic genetic resources” and “aquatic biodiversity” nearly synonymous. Therefore, there are different levels of genetic diversity, including ecosystems, communities, populations, genotypes and individual genes. Each level of the hierarchy has specific functions and supports the level above it (Bartley and Pullin, 1999). Since genetic resources have value in terms of economic, ecological and social uses, they need to be characterized. This is central to FAO's mandate concerning information, but is also vital for fishery management and aquaculture development. Both wild and farmed groups of fish need to be characterized. Aquaculture is the fastest growing food producing sector; by 2025 it is expected that one out of every two fish eaten will be from aquaculture. Although capture fisheries is the last major source of food derived from “hunting”, fishing is important as an economic, social and cultural activity in much of the world.

This chapter reports on the status of aquatic species that are fished or farmed throughout the world. The number of species and production were derived from FAO's databases. Unlike the terrestrial plant and animal sectors, there is no systematic effort to describe the state of the world's fishery genetic resources below the species level. Therefore, selected examples of well-studied groups or organisms are included to demonstrate the diversity and usefulness of fishery genetic resources.


In 2002 FAO Members reported that 974 taxa of fin-fish, 143 taxa of crustaceans, 114 taxa of molluscs, 26 taxa of plants and 73 taxa of miscellaneous animals such as sea urchins, sea cucumbers and marine mammals were taken from the world's capture fisheries (Figure 1).

The 15 most productive fisheries in terms of quantity are listed in Table 3 with their production figures. Although over 1 000 taxa are represented in this data set, around ten species make up about one-third of total production. Overall production from the world's capture fishery increased up to the late 1980s and has now reached what most fishery scientists think is a plateau, that is, not much more production can be expected (Figure 2).

This information officially reported to FAO is certainly an underestimate of the number of species and genetic diversity contributing the world's capture fisheries. The categories “nei” (Table 3) refer to organisms “not elsewhere included”, that is, generally, catch not identified to a species or to a major group. The “nei” groups account for over 20 percent of the global catch. Unfortunately, the information reported to FAO is getting worse in terms of reporting by species because now more than before, production is reported as coming from species “nei” (FAO, 2002).

Taxa reported taken from the world's capture fisheries in 2003


Production from the world's capture fisheries from 1950–2002


Below the species level, many of the world's fisheries are composed of numerous stocks. Definitions of what constitute a “stock” have not been agreed on. However, the term is used here to refer to a group of similar individuals within a species that preferentially breed within the group. Good examples of stocks are the various spawning migrations of salmon and trout. These runs or stocks can be differentiated spatially by river systems and temporally by seasons. For example, the chinook salmon fishery in the Pacific Northwest of North America is composed of hundreds of genetically differentiated stocks that correspond to river systems and time of spawning (Figure 3) (Bartley et al., 1992). The US Endangered Species Act has recognized the value of this intraspecific diversity and has afforded protection to numerous endangered runs under the Act. Although most of worlds' fisheries have not been genetically characterized to the extent that many salmonid fisheries have, stock structure has been found in many species. Genetic differentiation depends on a variety of factors and can be useful in setting management and conservation goals.

The most important capture fisheries in terms of quantity in 2002

TaxaQuantity (mt)PercentCumulative
Marine fishes*10,693,76412.512.5
Freshwater fishes*4,389,2975.129.0
Alaska pollock2,654,8543.132.1
Skipjack tuna2,030,6482.435.4
Atlantic herring1,872,0132.238.9
Japanese anchovy1,853,9362.241.1
Chilean jack mackerel1,750,0782.043.1
Blue whiting1,603,2631.945.0
Marine molluscs*1,491,8491.746.8
Chub mackerel1,470,6731.748.4
Largehead hairtail1,452,2091.750.1
Marine crustaceans*1,372,5221.651.2
Yellowfin tuna1,341,3191.553.3

* nei = not elsewhere included; generally refers to catch not identified to species or group
Source: FAO FishStat Plus, 2005

Major watersheds inhabited by Chinook salmon in California


Chinook salmon stocks within a watershed are genetically more similar to one another than to stocks in other watersheds.
Watersheds are:
1 = San Joaguin River
2 = Sacramento River
3 = Eel River and coastal rivers
4 = Trinity River


In 2002 FAO Members reported that 153 species of fish, 60 species of molluscs, 44 species of crustaceans, 11 species of plants and several other miscellaneous taxa such as echinoderms, frogs, and crocodiles were farmed in various parts of the world (Figure 4). Contrary to the levelling in production from capture fisheries, aquaculture is expanding rapidly (Figure 5), especially in the developing world, and many governments have increased aquaculture development as development goals (Government of Kenya, 2003).

Aquaculture is a relatively new enterprise except for a few species, such as common carp that was domesticated several thousand years ago. Although there are a number of genetic techniques available to improve aquatic species (Table 4), the aquaculture sector lags behind the crop, livestock and poultry sectors in regard to the development of domesticated and genetically improved strains. However, progress is being made in domesticating species of fish such as rainbow and brown trout, Atlantic salmon, channel catfish, common carp, Chinese and Indian carps, and tilapia. While Pacific oyster and other oyster species have been genetically improved, very few crustaceans have been improved due to the problems in artificial breeding. Several projects have been developed or are currently in operation to characterize these important aquatic species.

Composition of the reported aquaculture production in 2002


For example, a European Union project SALMAP to characterize salmonids found 200 microsatellite markers for rainbow trout, 299 for Atlantic salmon and 232 for brown trout (Fjalestad, Moen and Gomez-Raya, 2003). Other fish species for which genetic databases and linkage maps are being created are tilapia (Kocher et al., 1998) and channel catfish (Liu, 1999). The fish with the longest history of genetic alteration and improvement is the common carp (Balon, 1974). Breeding centres in Eastern Europe list over one hundred genetically distinct varieties, many of which are differentiated morphologically (Bakos and Gorda, 2001).

Global aquaculture production, 1950–2002


Genetic improvement strategies (Bartley, 1998)

Genetic manipulationImprovement
Long-term strategies 
Selective breeding for: 
 growth rateAs high as 50% increase after 10 gen. in Coho salmon; gilthead sea bream mass selection gave 20% increase/generation; mass selection for live wt and SL in Chilean oysters found 10–13% gain in one generation.
 body confirmationHigh heritabilities found in common carp, catfish and trout.
 physiological tolerance (stress)Rainbow trout selected for high response showed increased levels of plasma cortisol levels.
 disease resistanceIncreased resistance to dropsy in common carp but disease resistance is difficult to select for.
 pollutant resistanceTilapia progeny from lines selected for resistance to heavy metals Hg, Cd, and Zn survived 3 to 5 times better than progeny from unexposed lines.
 maturity and time of spawning60 days advance in spawning date in rainbow trout
Gene transferCoho salmon with a growth hormone gene and promoter from Sockeye salmon grew 11 times (0–37 range) as fast as non-transgenics. Atlantic salmon grew 400% faster than normal during the first year.
Short-term strategies 
Intra-specific crossbreedingHeterotic growth is seen in 55% and 22% of channel catfish and rainbow trout crosses, respectively. Chum salmon and largemouth bass showed no heterosis.
Heterosis for wild x hatchery S. aurata; crossbreeds of channel catfish common carp showed 30–60% heterosis.
Sex reversal and breedingAll male tilapia show improvements in yield of almost 60% depending on the farming system and little unwanted reproduction and stunting. All female rainbow trout grew faster and had better flesh quality.
Chromosome manipulationPagrus major triploids had similar growth rate to diploids at 10 months of age, but were smaller and presumed to be sterile at 18 months. Dicentrarchus labrax triploids showed inconsistent growth in relation to diploids and had lower Gonadal-Sematic Index (GSI).
Improved growth and conversion efficiency in triploid rainbow trout, channel catfish, and at plaice flounder hybrids. Triploid Nile tilapia grew 66–90% better than diploids and showed decreased sex-dimorphism for body weight, but other studies found no advantage. Genotype by environment (GxE) interactions also influence performance.
Triploid Pacific oysters show 13–51% growth improvement over diploids at 8–10 months of age and better marketability due to reduced gonads; triploid Sydney rock oysters showed 41 % increase in body weight at 2.5 years.
Polyploidization makes certain interspecific crosses viable.

The Genetic Improvement of Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) programme increased the Nile tilapia growth rate by about 11 percent/generation (Eknath et al., 1993) through selective breeding; the GIFT fish is now a registered trademark. Chromosome set manipulation has also been used to improve tilapia growth through the creation of all male tilapia or “genetically male tilapia” (GMT) (Mair et al., 1995). Male tilapia grow faster than females and a single-sex population does not have the problem of unwanted reproduction.

Interspecific hybridization has been used to develop some animals that are useful for aquaculture, such as sunshine bass, which is a hybrid between white and striped bass, the bester, a popular sturgeon hybrid of beluga and starlet sturgeons, and red tilapia, which is produced by several crosses of various tilapia species (Bartley, Rana and Immink, 2001). In general, hybridization is not a good mechanism for creating stable varieties for production because the progeny may not be fertile, or when fertile, the second generation (F2) yields a group of fish with diverse phenotypes.

Gene transfer in fish is a technology that may have potential once environmental and human health issues are better understood by consumers. There are tremendous possibilities available to create new varieties, improve efficiencies and increase farming areas through genetic engineering. Advances in molecular genetics have allowed numerous useful genes to be identified and inserted into aquatic species (Table 5). At present, there are no transgenic aquatic species available to the consumer.


Looking into the future aquaculture will grow rapidly and capture fisheries will level off. According to “The promise of the blue revolution” (The Economist, August 2003), aquaculture will provide most of the world's supply offish by 2030. In many developed countries, inland food fisheries have been replaced by recreational fisheries, a trend that is also seen in some developing countries. To keep apace with human population growth, fishery production must increase if the same level of consumption of fish products enjoyed today is to be maintained. One strategy to provide additional food will be improved management of natural fisheries, taking into account genetic stock structure and the resilience and resistance that genetic resources give to natural populations. Another will be the further development of aquaculture, but this must be responsible development.

In the terrestrial agriculture sectors, species have been domesticated over millennia into diverse breeds. The fishery and aquaculture sectors use many more species, but it has been suggested that there should be a reduction in this number and that these few domesticated species should be widely used throughout the world. This would mean an increase in the use of alien species and genotypes. At present, aquaculture is the primary reason for the deliberate movement of aquatic species, which have both good and bad impacts (FAO, 1999). Which model should the aquatic sector follow? Domestication of local species for local use, introduction of a few “good” species throughout the world, or better management of wild fisheries? Improved knowledge of the genetic diversity of aquatic species and how it functions in populations and ecosystems will help in evaluating these options.

Examples of gene transfer involving aquatic species (FAO, 2000)

SpeciesForeign geneDesired effect and commentsCountry
Atlantic salmonAFPCold tolerance;United States, Canada
 AFP salmon GHincreased growth and feed efficiency.United States, Canada
Coho salmonChinook salmonAfter 1 year, 10- to 30-fold growth increase.Canada
 GH + AFP 
Chinook salmonAFP salmon GHIncreased growth and feed efficiency.New Zealand
Rainbow troutAFP salmon GHIncreased growth and feed efficiency.United States, Canada
Cutthroat troutChinook salmonIncreased growth.Canada
 GH + AFP  
TilapiaAFP salmon GHIncreased growth and feed efficiency; stable inheritance.Canada, United Kingdom
TilapiaTilapia GHIncreased growth and stable inheritance.Cuba
TilapiaModified tilapia insulin-producing geneProduction of human insulin for diabetics.Canada
SalmonRainbow trout lysosome gene and flounder pleurocidin geneDisease resistance, still in development.United States, Canada
Striped bassInsect genesDisease resistance, still in early stages of research.United States
Mud loachMud loach GH + mud loachand mouse promoter genesIncreased growth and feed efficiency; 2- to 30-fold increase in growth; inheritable transgeneChina, Korea
Channel catfishGH33% growth improvement in culture conditions.United States
Common carpSalmon and human GH150% growth improvement in culture conditions; improved disease resistance; tolerance of low oxygen level.China, United States
Indian Major carpsHuman GHIncreased growth.India
GoldfishGH AFPIncreased growth.China
AbaloneCoho salmon GH + various promotersIncreased growth.United States
OystersCoho salmon GH + various promotersIncreased growth.United States
Fish to other life forms
RabbitSalmon calcitonin-producing geneCalcitonin production to control calcium loss from bones.United Kingdom
Strawberry and potatoesAFPIncreased cold tolerance.United Kingdom, Canada

Note: The development of transgenic organisms requires the insertion of the gene of interest and a promoter, which is the switch that controls expression of the gene.
AFP = anti-freeze protein gene (Arctic flatfish)
GH = growth hormone gene

Advances in biotechnology have and will continue to provide valuable information on aquatic diversity. Molecular analysis has demonstrated, however, that cows are genetically more similar to dolphins than to horses, but we do not think of putting cows in the sea or dolphins on the open range (paraphrased from Lewin, 1998). Biotechnology is one tool that can be used with others to help us develop, use and enjoy the tremendous aquatic diversity around us.


Bakos, J. & S. Gorda. 2001. Genetic resources of common carp at the Fish Culture Research Institute, Szarvas, Hungary. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper, 417. Rome.

Balon, E.K. 1974. Domestication of the common carp, Cyprinus carpio L. Ontario, Canada, Royal Ontario Museum of Life Sciences Misc. Pub. 37.

Bartley, D.M. 1998. Genetics and breeding in aquaculture: current status and trends. In D.M. Bartley & B. Basurco, eds. Genetics and Breeding of Mediterranean Aquaculture Species. Cahiers OPTIONS, 34:13–30.

Bartley, D.M., Bentley, B., Brodziak, J., Gall, G., Gomulkiewicz, R. & Mangel, M. 1992. Geographical variation in the population genetic structure of Chinook salmon from California and Oregon. Fishery Bulletin, 90: 77–100.

Bartley, D.M. & Pullin, R.S.V. 1999. Aquatic genetic resources policy. In R.S.V.Pullin, D.M. Bartley & J. Kooiman, eds. Towards policies for conservation and sustainable use of aquatic genetic resources, pp. 1–16. ICLARM Conference Proceedings 59, Manila, Philippines.

Bartley, D.M., Rana, K. & Immink, A.J. 2001. Interspecific hybrids in aquaculture and fisheries. Rev. Fisheries and Fish Biol., 10: 325–337.

Convention on Biological Diversity. 1992. (available at

Eknath, A., Tayamen, M.M., Palada de Vera, M.S., Danting, J.C., Reyes, R.A., Dionisio, E.E., Capili, J.B., Bolivar, J.L., Abella, T.A., Circa, A.V., Bensten, H.B., Gjerde, B., Gjedrem, T. & Pullin, R.S.V. 1993. Genetic improvement of farmed tilapia: the growth performance of eight strains of Orechromis niloticus tested in different farm environments. Aquaculture, 111: 171–188.

FAO. 1999. Impact of introductions on the conservation and sustainable use of aquatic biodiversity, by D.M. Bartley & C.N. Casal. FAO Aquaculture Newsletter, 20: 15–19. Rome.

FAO. 2000. State of the world fisheries and aquaculture 2000. (available at

FAO. 2002. State of world fishery resources: inland fisheries. FI Circular, 942. Rome.

FAO. 2005. FishStat Plus. Fisheries Department. Rome. (available at

Fjalestad, K.T., Moen, T. & Gomez-Raya, L. 2003. Prospects for genetic technology in salmon breeding programmes. Aquaculture Research, 34: 397–406.

Government of Kenya. 2003. Samaki News, Vol. II, July, 2003, p. 33. Kenya Fisheries Department.

Kocher, T.D., Lee, W.J., Sobolewska, H., Penman, D. & McAndrew, B. 1998. A genetic linkage map of a cichlid fish, the tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus). Genetics, 148: 1225–1232.

Lewin, R. 1998. Family feuds. New Scientist, January: 36–40.

Liu, Z. 1999. The catfish genetic linkage mapping, its current status and future prospects. Plant and Animal Genome, 7: 34.

Mair, G.C., Abucay, J.S., Beardmore, J.A. & Skibinski, D.O.F. 1995. Growth performance trials of genetically male tilapia (GMT) derived from YY-males in L: on station comparisons with mixed sex and sex reversed male populations. Aquaculture, 137: 313–342.

The Economist. 2003. The promise of the blue revolution. 9 August 2003:19–21.

3. Global overview of crop genetic resources

Brad Fraleigh


Crop genetic resources activities include acquisition, conservation, maintenance, characterization and evaluation for use in the creation of new crop varieties and seed. The FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) has launched a process to update the 1996 Report on the State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources for Food in Agriculture (SoW-PGRFA), which remains an authoritative source of information and assessment.


Presenting crop genetic resources at the global scale is an enormous task; this chapter will only attempt to provide an overview of findings and major global agreements, and present the status and progress made in certain critical activities.

Crop genetic resources include farmer's varieties and landraces, elite and special material and crop varieties developed by plant breeders and other researchers, wild and weedy relatives of crop plants, and wild plants harvested for food. They are used as raw material for the production of new crop varieties that respond to the needs of farmers and consumers. They provide insurance to meet future challenges posed by changes in the environment, diseases, and marketing opportunities, among others. Many crop cultivars also have significant cultural value for their holders.

Figure 6 illustrates the links between the conservation of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) and its sustainable use as seed and propagating material, highlighting the key role of plant breeding. The system is farmer-centred as all the elements are integrated by farmers working in agro-ecosystems. Each component is related to the others, with germplasm flow and feedback loops connecting them.

Crop genetic resources systems typically acquire genetic resources, conserve their viability and genetic integrity, characterize diversity by evaluating its agronomic value, document all these activities, and facilitate their use by providing access to samples of material and associated information.


3.3.1 The first Report on the State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

In 1996, the first SoW-PGRFA Report was presented to 150 countries at the Fourth International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources held in Leipzig, Germany (FAO, 1996a). Prepared under the auspices of FAO, it was welcomed as the first comprehensive evaluation in this domain. An extended version of the first SoW-PGRFA Report was published by FAO in 1997 (FAO, 1997). Although now almost ten years old, the first SoW-PGRFA Report remains the most widely cited source of information and assessment.

Interrelationships between the conservation of crop genetic resources and their sustainable use in plant breeding and as seed and propagating material


The first SoW Report pointed out that a small number of cereal crops provide a large proportion of total food requirements. However, when food energy supplies were analysed on a subregional level, a greater number and more types of crops emerged as significant. A substantial share of energy intake was also provided by meat, which is ultimately derived from forage and rangeland plants. For the most part, these plants were poorly collected, documented and exploited.

The first SoW Report provided summary information on many ex situ collections of major staple food crops. Over 1 300 gene banks were identified, preserving more than 5.5 million accessions, with wheat and rice accounting for 50 percent of the total. Continued gene flow between crops and their wild relatives in centres of origin underlined their importance as sources of new variability. Secondary centres of diversity were also very important. Various in situ approaches were identified: conservation of crop wild relatives and wild food plants; managed ecosystems such as rangelands; and conservation of traditional crop varieties on-farm and in home gardens. The report documented the facilitation of the use of PGRFA by evaluating agronomic characteristics, pre-breeding, crop improvement and seed supply programmes.

Fifty-nine countries reported national committees on PGRFA but some lacked a national programme of any type. Almost 80 percent of these countries referred to lack of training as a serious constraint. The first SoW-PGRFA Report also documented the status of regional and international collaboration in PGRFA, access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing. A technical annex reported on the state of the art of methods to analyse and assess genetic diversity and vulnerability, in situ conservation and methods for utilization of PGRFA through plant breeding.

3.3.2 Challenges

Conserving and using PGRFA effectively requires policies, knowledge and action. Crop genetic resources are at the intersection of agriculture, food security, environment and trade. A series of relevant global agreements affects their management, including the World Food Summit Plan of Action, the CBD, and global agreements on intellectual property rights.

The exchange of crop genetic resources, from which everyone will eventually benefit, has been a reality since the beginning of agriculture. Our growing world population will only be fed if the widest possible range of genetic diversity can be draw upon. As a result, countries and regions are interdependent. The world greatly depends on crops that originated elsewhere for food and agriculture. No country can hope to do well with its own resources alone. Finally, it is a fact that PGRFA were developed and are maintained by humans - by farmers within their farming systems and by plant breeders and researchers. Unless diversity is conserved in gene banks, it is often lost when farming systems die or when scientific programmes come to an end.

At the scientific and technical levels, challenges are posed by genetic erosion, genetic vulnerability and utilization. Value in crop genetic resources lies at the intra-specific level, in the diversity within a crop's gene pool. The first SoW-PGRFA Report defined genetic erosion as “the loss of genetic diversity, including the loss of individual genes, and the loss of particular combinations of genes (i.e. of gene-complexes) such as those manifested in locally adapted landraces” (FAO, 1997). There is still no scientific consensus on how to measure genetic diversity in a crop's gene pool. Similarly, there is no consensus on the optimal balance of in situ and ex situ conservation methods to combat genetic erosion. The first SoW-PGRFA Report identified measures to strengthen ex situ conservation, such as “the development of low-cost conservation technologies, and in particular, technologies for non-orthodox seeded and vegetatively propagated plants including in vitro methods and cryopreservation” (FAO, 1996a).

Genetic vulnerability has been described as “the condition that results when a widely planted crop is uniformly susceptible to a pest, pathogen or environmental hazard as a result of its genetic constitution, thereby creating a potential for widespread crop losses” (National Academy of Sciences, 1972, cited in FAO, 1996a). Genetic vulnerability pertains to the level of the crop genetic diversity actually being used. One of its main causes is the widespread replacement, since the 1950s, of genetically diverse traditional varieties by varieties with more homogenous genetic make-up. The first SoW-PGRFA Report noted that “there is no comprehensive or coordinated system for monitoring uniformity in agricultural species, and methodological tools which might help assess related genetic vulnerability have not been adequately developed” (FAO, 1996a). Over the past decade, farmers' reasons for maintaining or changing the varieties they grow have only just begun to be understood.

Some biotechnologies used in the conservation and use of crop genetic resources

Conservationclonal gene banksin vitro conservation
 plant healthELISA diagnostics
  virus treatment
 identificationgenetic fingerprinting
Characterizationprotein analysisisoenymes
 DNA analysisRAPD, RFLP,microsatellites, gene arrays, sequencing
Evaluationgenetic markersQTL mapping, genetic maps
Enhancementwide crossingembryo rescue
 transgenestransformation, gene expression

Conservation of the diversity of crop genetic resources is not enough: their potential uses and values need to be understood by characterizing, evaluating and documenting them. Methods still need to be developed to improve and facilitate productive utilization. The first SoW-PGRFA Report noted that “a variety of plant breeding and biotechnological techniques, which often differ in technical complexity and cost, may be used in crop improvement... Biotechnological methods are now increasingly available to facilitate wide crosses thus allowing the introduction of the desired genes” (FAO, 1996a). It also noted that “while a number of countries have initiated crop improvement programmes based on new biotechnologies, not all countries have the capacity to use such technologies” (FAO, 1997). There are biotechnologies relevant for every objective of a crop genetic resources system. Table 6 provides some examples.

Another set of challenges is posed for taking action: Is there sufficient capacity for this? How can capacity be built where it is currently inadequate? How can the necessary cooperation be organized among countries and among disciplines, particularly in order to link conservation and use of crop genetic resources? How can the resources needed to address these issues be mobilized?


The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture - a new, legally binding international instrument - provides a global framework to respond to such challenges. The FAO Conference adopted the International Treaty by consensus on 3 November 2001, and it entered into force on 29 June 2004 (FAO, 2001).

The Treaty provides an internationally agreed framework for the conservation and sustainable use of all PGRFA. Its objectives are “the conservation and sustainable use of PGRFA and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of their use, in harmony with the CBD, for sustainable agriculture and food security” (Article 1). All of the Treaty's provisions are consistent with the Convention. In Article 9, the Treaty recognizes

“the enormous contribution that the local and indigenous communities and farmers of all regions of the world, particularly those in the centres of origin and crop diversity, have made and will continue to make for the conservation and development of plant genetic resources which constitute the basis of food and agriculture production throughout the world”.

A cornerstone of the Treaty is a Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-Sharing (Part IV: art. 10–13). The Multilateral System covers a list of crops established according to criteria of food security and interdependence. These crops provide about 80 percent of the food derived from plants. Governments will bring into the Multilateral System all the genetic resources that are under their management and control and in the public domain. They will encourage other holders of PGRFA within their country to place the resources they hold into the Multilateral System, including those kept by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

The Treaty recognizes that facilitated access to these PGRFA is in itself a major benefit. This will ultimately benefit consumers by providing a stream of improved and varied agricultural products. The Treaty also identifies and makes provision for a wide range of other forms of benefit-sharing, including information exchange, access to and transfer of technology, capacity-building, and sharing the financial and other benefits of commercialization.


Since 1983, the world has a permanent forum where governments discuss and negotiate matters relevant to genetic resources for food and agriculture. The main objectives of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) are to ensure the conservation and sustainable utilization of genetic resources for food and agriculture (not only plants), as well the fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from their use, for present and future generations. The Commission aims to reach international consensus on areas of global interest. At present, 167 countries and the European Community are members.

Since its establishment, the Commission has overseen the development of a series of international instruments and global mechanisms (see overview in FAO, 2004b). Many of these were integrated into the International Treaty as “supporting components”. The first SoW Report was the basis of the rolling Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (the Global Plan of Action). These two important components of the Commission's activities are related according to the 10–15 year cycle shown in Figure 7.

10–15 year cycle of information-gathering, planning and action in global crop genetic resources


3.5.1 Global Plan of Action

The Global Plan of Action provides a comprehensive scientific and technical framework for international and national action at the global level. It was adopted by 150 countries in 1996 through the Leipzig Declaration and was endorsed by the World Food Summit Plan of Action and the CBD (FAO, 1996b).

The Global Plan of Action presents 20 Priority Activity Areas (PAA) organized in four main groups: in situ conservation and development; ex situ conservation; utilization of plant genetic resources; and institutions and capacity-building. Each PAA includes a section on Research/Technology where areas of scientific, methodological, or technological research or action relevant to the implementation of the priority activity are identified, including technology development and transfer.

The Global Plan of Action identifies a role for biotechnologies in PAA 11: “Promoting sustainable agriculture through diversification of crop production and broader diversity in crops”. One of its objectives is: “to promote the goal of higher levels of genetic diversity consistent with productivity increase and agronomic needs, including in crop production, plant breeding and biotechnological research and development settings”. Regardy capacity: “governments, and their national agricultural research systems, supported by the International Agricultural Research Centres, and other research and extension organizations should: ... (e) make use of modern biotechnological techniques as feasible, to facilitate broadening of the genetic base of crops”.

Biotechnologies have a role in realizing other priority activities of the Global Plan of Action, in particular, but not exclusively PAA 5: “Sustaining existing ex situ collections”; PAA 8: “Expanding ex situ conservation activities”; PAA 9: “Expanding characterization, evaluation and number of core collections to facilitate use”; and PAA 10: “Increasing genetic enhancement and base-broadening efforts”.


3.6.1 The Leipzig Conference took place in 1996. What has happened more recently?

The Leipzig Conference agreed that overall progress in the implementation of the Global Plan of Action and the related follow-up processes would be monitored and guided by national governments through the Commission. Global surveys to monitor implementation of the Global Plan of Action were conducted in 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2004 using an open-ended narrative format with some tabular, yes/no and multiple choice answers. The degree of participation was relatively high in the first two surveys and somewhat lower in 2004.

A country progress report presented to the Commission in November 2004 (FAO, 2004a) provides an overview of the changes that occurred during 2001–2003 in the 77 countries that participated in the 2004 survey. The use of biotechnologies was reported in respect of PAA 8: “Expanding ex situ conservation activities”. Thirty percent of the countries published information on improved methodologies for ex situ conservation; micro-propagation was the new technology most widely applied. Examples of activities reported included the establishment of a cryo-bank to conserve vegetative tips of potato and hops in the Czech Republic, and the development of low-cost seed preparation and storage techniques for sorghum germplasm in the Sudan.

In respect to PAA 9: “Expanding characterization, evaluation and number of core collections to facilitate use”, greatly increased use of molecular methods for characterization was reported in some regions. Ninety percent of European countries and 77 percent of countries in Asia and the Pacific now employ these. Only 28 percent of the reporting African countries stated they used molecular methods for this activity area, although this percentage tripled since the previous survey in 2001.

3.6.2 A new approach to monitor the implementation of the Global Plan of Action

The Commission identified three limits to the global survey: lack of detailed information, which restricted the depth of analysis, lack of quantitative information, and an inadequate range of sources of information. Based on the guidance of the Commission, a new approach for monitoring implementation was developed starting in 2001.

Among the main considerations in designing the new monitoring approach were that it should directly benefit national programmes and be as participatory as possible. The new approach (FAO, 2005a) relies on four main components:

  1. a list of indicators for monitoring the implementation of all PAAs at the country level;

  2. a reporting format, which is a structured questionnaire based on these indicators;

  3. a computer application to facilitate and simplify recording, processing, analysis and sharing information;

  4. guidelines for initiating and coordinating this process, including the involvement of stakeholders and the establishment of a national information-sharing mechanism.

In 2002, the Commission highlighted the importance of monitoring the implementation of the Global Plan of Action through a country-driven and flexible system, while ensuring the necessary level of standardization. Representatives of countries participating in pilot testing found that the new approach entailed more work on their part, but that it resulted in much better information at the national level. Stakeholder participation was greatly enhanced and national information-sharing mechanisms were made accessible through Web sites managed by countries (see and compact discs distributed by the national focal points.

In November 2004, the Commission supported the application of the new monitoring approach to all countries, in view of the integration of the monitoring activities with the preparation of the second SoW-PGRFA Report. The results of the new approach are already significantly updating the knowledge of the state of the world's crop genetic resources at the national level.

3.6.3 Development of the second Report on the State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

In 2002, the Commission agreed to the preparation of the second SoW-PGRFA Report, giving priority to updating the first report and emphasizing the changes that occurred since its publication. The outline for the second SoW-PGRFA Report is shown in Figure 8.

The Commission also approved a list of thematic background studies (Figure 9), which will address issues that were not treated, or treated only superficially in the first SoW-PGRFA Report. There are biotechnology considerations present in each of the thematic background studies; studies B, C, D and J are of particular relevance.

In November, 2004, the Commission adopted steps for preparing the second SoW-PGRFA Report. These follow a bottom-up approach: first, preparation of country reports, then regional synthesis, followed by global synthesis. The Commission confirmed that the preparatory process should be fully integrated into the process of monitoring the implementation of the Global Plan of Action in order to minimize the reporting burden. It called upon donor countries and international organizations to assist by providing the financial resources required for the full participation of all countries.

Outline for the second Report on the State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
1.The state of diversity
2.The state of in situ management
3.The state of ex situ conservation
4.The state of use
5.The state of national programmes, training needs and legislation
6.The state of regional and international collaboration
7.Access to plant genetic resources, sharing of benefits derived from their use, and farmers' rights
8.The contribution of PGRFA management to food security and sustainable development
Annex 1The state of the art: methodologies and technologies for the identification, conservation and use of PGRFA
Annex 2The state of diversity of major crops and other PGRFA
Table 1Status by country of national legislation, programmes and activities for PGRFA

FAO and International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) presented Guidelines for Country Reports (FAO, 2005b) to the Commission's Working Group on Plant Genetic Resources in October 2005. The guidelines point out that countries should assess the current contribution of PGRFA, the state of PGRFA in the country and their role in production systems. This includes associated biodiversity, the factors driving change, and how the contribution of PGRFA can be enhanced, identifying opportunities and obstacles as well as strategies to realize the opportunities and overcome any obstacles.

List of thematic background studies contributing to the second SoW Report
APlant genetic resources of forage crops, pasture and rangeland.
BThe conservation of crop wild relatives.
CIndicators of genetic diversity, genetic erosion and genetic vulnerability.
DMethodologies and capacities for crop improvement; the use of PGRFA in base-broadening and crop improvement, including new approaches to plant breeding and new biotechnologies.
ESeed security for food security: the management of plant genetic resources in seed systems.
FThe contribution of plant genetic resources to health and dietary diversity.
GManaging plant genetic resources in the agro-ecosystem; global change, crop-associated biodiversity and ecosystem services.
HInteractions between plant and animal genetic resources, and opportunities for synergy in their management.
IThe impact of national, regional and global agricultural policies and agreements on conservation and use of PGRFA.
JBiosafety and biosecurity issues related to the conservation and sustainable utilization of PGRFA.

Questions and tables generated by monitoring implementation of the Global Plan of Action are cross-referenced under each of the relevant chapters of the Guidelines for Country Reports. The monitoring provides data and information -the country reports analyse and synthesize. The Guidelines for the Country Reports encourage countries to take a strategic and forward-looking approach, which should prove useful for national planning. Recommendations are provided on how to use a participative approach in preparing country reports.

The Commission requested that the second SoW-PGRFA Report be submitted for adoption to its Twelfth Regular Session in late 2008. In order to meet this deadline, all countries will need to monitor their implementation of the Global Plan of Action by April 2007 and prepare their country reports by the end of June 2007. Regional discussions would take place during the latter half of 2007, followed by drafting and discussion of the final Draft Report during the first part of 2008.

In summary, tools are now available to monitor implementation of the comprehensive Global Plan of Action. They allow for greatly enhanced involvement of stakeholders and culminate in the creation of national information-sharing mechanisms. Since the Global Plan of Action involves biotechnologies, monitoring its implementation includes taking stock of their use over the past ten years and their potential further use. The guidelines integrate the preparation of country reports with the monitoring. The country reports provide an opportunity for countries to strategize their future use of new biotechnologies. These activities will lead to the elaboration of a second authoritative Report on the State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.


Policies and forums support the conservation and sustainable use of crop genetic resources at the global level, in particular the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and the CGRFA. There are also global instruments and institutions such as the Global Plan of Action, Reports on the State of the World's PGRFA, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research and others. Activities are taking place at many levels.

Crop genetic resources are managed at the intersection of agriculture, food security, environment and trade. Genetic erosion and genetic vulnerability continue to threaten crop diversity, but they can be overcome with good science, adequate resources, cooperation and political will.


FAO. 1996a. First Report on the state of the world's plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (first SoW-PGRFA Report), prepared for the International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources, Leipzig, Germany, 17–23 June 1996, Rome. (available at

FAO. 1996b. Global Plan of Action for the conservation and sustainable utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the Leipzig Declaration, adopted by the International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources, Leipzig, Germany 17–23 June 1996. (available at

FAO. 1997. First Report on the state of the world's plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, extended version (first SoW Report, extended version), Rome, (available at

FAO. 2001. International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, (available at

FAO. 2004a. Country 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. Document CGRFA-10/04/Inf.6. Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, 10th Regular Session, - November 2004. (available at

FAO. 2004b. Overview of the FAO global system for the conservation and sustainable utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and its potential contribution to the implementation of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. 10th Regular Session, 8–12 November 2004. Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. (available at

FAO. 2005 a. Monitoring the implementation of the Global Plan of Action and preparation of the second Report on the state of the world's plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Document CGRFA/WG-PGR-3/05/3. Intergovernmental Working Group on Plant Genetic Resources of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. 2005. 3rd Regular Session, 26–28 October 2005. (available at

FAO. 2005b. Preparation of the second report on the state of the world's plant genetic resources for food and agriculture: guidelines for country reports. Document CGRFA/WG-PGR-3/05/Inf.5. Intergovernmental Working Group on Plant Genetic Resources of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. 3rd Regular Session, 26–28 October 2005. (available at

National Academy of Sciences. 1972. Genetic vulnerability of major crops. Washington, USA. Cited in the first SoW Report.

4. Efforts towards assessing the global status of forest genetic resources

Pierre Sigaud


Developments and applications of forest genetic resources (FGR) are becoming wider in coverage, more specialized and more accessible throughout the world. Efforts to assess, monitor and report on the state of the world's forests and biological diversity have so far only partially addressed the genetic level, although several frameworks exist for a global assessment of FGR. Such an assessment presents special challenges. This chapter reviews past and ongoing efforts to review the status and trends of forest tree genetic resources, and provides options for future developments.


Forests are the single most important repositories of terrestrial biological diversity. Forest trees and woody plants have developed complex mechanisms to maintain high levels of genetic diversity. This genetic variation, between and within species, is mainly conserved on site (in situ), and allows tree and shrub species to react against variations in the environment, pests, diseases and climatic change. It provides the foundation for future evolution, selection and breeding. In addition, at different levels, it supports the aesthetic, ethical and spiritual values given to forests and trees by human beings.

Although anthropological influences are found in most of the world's forests, trees have only been partly domesticated in the past half-century. In effect, very few trees are more than one or two generations removed from their wild congeners, unlike most agricultural crop plants. FGR have traditionally been associated with the provision of forest reproductive material, through tree selection and improvement. In the past two decades, the FGR field has increasingly integrated genetic conservation and management considerations. The scope of FGR is now rapidly expanding to include advances in biotechnology, biosecurity (management of biological risks) and legal developments concerning access rights and benefit-sharing.

The FGR field is mainly driven by three technical sectors, namely, forestry, the environment and agriculture. (Policies related to FGR trade and technological and regulatory developments are often dealt with under crop genetic resources.) The relative importance of these three driving sectors varies over space and time. (Figure 10).

FGR are the subject of active scientific and technical research worldwide. However, information on applications of the research to forestry or biodiversity management is generally patchy and inconsistent. FGR research can find broad application in:

  1. Commercial plantations. Forest plantations tend to follow an agricultural model, with significant private sector investment, a focus on just a few species, best sites and short rotations for the provision of wood for industrial purposes. Commercial plantations cover 3 percent of the global forest area and already provide 35 percent of the global industrial wood. Their share of industrial wood products is expected to increase in the next decades.

  2. Specific niches, including tree domestication for agro-forestry, applications for species survival, soil conservation, habitat restoration and urban and amenity forestry.

  3. Natural and semi-natural forests. Significant research efforts use biotechnology but few applications have so far been reported. Research areas include ecosystem functioning, tree biology and patterns of genetic variation. Integrating FGR in management policies and plans will be a global challenge.

The main sectors driving policy, regulatory and technical developments in FGR



4.3.1 Global assessment of crop genetic resources

There is no forestry equivalent to the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Use of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture that focuses on agricultural crops. The Global Plan makes reference to wild relatives of cultivated plants, often found in forest ecosystems, and to domesticated trees such as fruit trees and rubber, but explicitly excludes forest tree genetic resources.

The first SoW-PGRFA Report, published in 1997 by FAO is currently being revised and updated. The 1997 edition makes several references to forest tree genetic diversity and to methodologies developed for in situ conservation. In the second version, planned for 2006, several developments related to trade, biotechnology, genetic modification, and regulatory frameworks on biosecurity and biosafety are likely to apply to forestry.

4.3.2 Global assessment, monitoring and reporting on forests

The high-level international forest policy dialogue initiated after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), and now continued through the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF), has generated more than 270 proposals for action towards sustainable forest management. Few references are made to FGR (mainly on intellectual property issues), and there is no reference to forest genetic resources assessment. However, the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, gathering 14 forest-related international organizations, institutions and convention secretariats to support the work of the UNFF, has set up a portal on streamlining forest-related reporting. The portal is designed to help users access country reports, some of which address genetic diversity.

The FAO Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) programme regularly gathers, compiles and publishes global statistics and analyses on forest cover and related fields. The FRA 2000 made a first attempt to review information on forest biological diversity and its links with FRA. While useful indications were given on the extent of information available by species groups (Table 7), it was recognized that assessing biological diversity at the global level represents a major challenge. FRA 2000 highlighted that no single, objective measure of biological diversity could be used, but only complementary measures appropriate for specific and restricted purposes. Equally important, no agreed methodology was identified for linking changes in forest area, structure and composition to their impacts on forest landscapes, species, populations and genes, especially when information was aggregated at the global level. More generally, the introduction of complex and intangible values, such as biological diversity, raises the need for a review of concepts and themes to be covered in global forest assessments.

Data availability by species group in Forest Resources Assessment 2000

Group All species occurring in countryForest-occurring species
 All speciesEndemic speciesAll speciesEndemic species
TreesNo dataGood1LimitedGoodNo dataGood1LimitedGood
AmphibiaGoodGoodPartialGoodNo dataNo dataNo dataGood
ReptilesGoodGoodPartialGoodNo dataNo dataNo dataGood
BirdsGoodGoodPartialGoodNo dataNo dataNo dataGood
MammalsGoodGoodPartialGoodNo dataNo dataNo dataGood

1 for most countries
Source: FAO, 2001

The next issue of FRA, planned for release in 2006, will include country-based information of relevance to biodiversity, including forest extent, categories and characteristics, tree species occurrence, and tree species abundance, composition and vulnerability.

The State of the Art Report on the Research on Forest Tree Genetic Diversity was prepared for the XXI International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) World Congress by the IUFRO Task Force on Management and Conservation of FGR in 2000. The report concluded that, in general, the state of scientific knowledge on the importance of FGR in various research areas, and in particular in forest management, was far from satisfactory. Conservation and utilization of gene resources were reported as being perceived as mainly biological and ecological issues, with limited linkage to policy and land use, economy and other issues.

4.3.3 Global reporting on biological diversity

The legally binding Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which entered into force in 1993, adopted an expanded work programme on forests at the Sixth Conference of the Parties in 2002. The programme (VI/22) makes specific reference to the genetic level and includes activities to: (i) develop, harmonize and assess the diversity of FGR; (ii) provide guidance for countries to assess the state of their FGR; and (iii) develop a holistic framework for the conservation and management of FGR at national, subregional and global levels. The formal inclusion of forest genetic diversity in a work programme of the CBD provides an important vehicle for national institutions to further justify and strengthen activities on FGR assessment, monitoring and reporting.

A preliminary assessment of the status, trends and identification of options for the conservation and sustainable use of forest biological diversity was carried out under the CBD in 1999. Information was used in the Global Biodiversity Outlook compiled by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)/CBD in 2001. The genetic level was addressed, mainly through qualitative statements and case studies.

The work of the Convention has more recently focused on the development of targets and indicators for assessing progress in the various work programmes. Some targets are of relevance to genetic resources. In 2002, for example, the target of “70 percent of the genetic diversity of crops and other major socio-economically valuable plant species conserved, and associated indigenous and local knowledge maintained” was adopted for the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. Specific targets for forest biological diversity, which will include genetic-level indicators, are still under development.

Efforts by the CBD to review trends in genetic diversity of domesticated animals, cultivated plants and fish species of major socio-economic importance concluded in 2004 that “[t]here are very rarely many, if any, quantitative data on population size changes upon which to monitor variations in the genetic diversity of forest tree species, at least in tropical areas, which account for 80 percent of the world total forest tree species.” Other reviews have recognized that most of the approaches to genetic diversity monitoring have problems in being too complex or not sufficiently representative of the global status, or involve too many measures. A major difficulty is that the analytical work needed to combine different measures into one or two simple and understandable indicators has yet to be done.


4.4.1 Criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management

Criteria define the concept and the main aspects of sustainable forest management as well as the related values. Indicators are quantitative and/or qualitative attributes of each criterion and are used to assess the current status and to monitor trends over time. Some 150 countries formally adhere to one of nine major inter-governmental criteria and indicators processes. Biological diversity indicators in general, and genetic diversity indicators in particular, have presented difficulties for all processes. Some processes assign more importance to quantitative indicators, while others have taken a more pragmatic approach and specified qualitative indicators (Table 8).

A study conducted for FAO in 2002 concluded that the issue of genetic diversity was not well addressed in any process, except perhaps in the pan-European initiative. Many indicators of genetic diversity were not effective or lacked practicality, and their relevance to sustainable forest management was tenuous. Further development and testing of different surrogate attributes were found necessary, but the impetus for this appeared to be waning.

Themes under which forest genetic resources issues are addressed according to criteria and indicators processes; broad categories of indicators assessed

African Timber OrganizationBiodiversity  
Asian Dry ForestsBiodiversity  
African Dry ZonesBiodiversity
International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO)
Lepaterique (Central America)Environment  
Montreal (temperate and boreal forests)
Near EastBiodiversity 
Tarapoto (South America)Biodiversity  

Workshops on forest tree genetic resources supported by FAO, IPGRI and DFSC from 1995 to 2003

Eco-regionNo. of countriesCountry statusPriority speciesRegional summaryRegional action plan
Temperate North America (1995)3 +++
Boreal Forests (1995)20 +++
Sahelian Africa (1998)15++++
Pacific Islands (1999)18*+++
Eastern, Southern Africa (2000)9++++
Southeast Asia (2001)8++++
Central America (2002)9++++
Central Africa (2003)6*++*
South Asia (2003)13++++

(+ indicates achievement;
* indicates work in progress)

4.4.2 Regional workshops on forest and tree genetic resources

A number of workshops on FGR have been convened with the support of FAO, the IPGRI, the Danida Forest Seed Centre (DFSC), Denmark, and many other organizations (Table 9). Regional workshops have supported the development of national status reports and regional action plans for conservation and sustainable use of FGR. During the process, methodologies for assessing the state of forest tree genetic diversity at the country level were developed by local experts to describe the genetic management of important species. In most regions covered, country-based status reports have been prepared and synthesized in regional syntheses. Summarized information on species management has partly been compiled in the FAO information system on FGR, REFORGEN.

The above information was gathered using methodologies developed with a regional objective. In some areas, countries have focused on native tree species, excluding introduced trees. Patchy data structure and data quality control represent major challenges for a global use of the dataset in a global FGR assessment.

Many other organizations have established information systems of relevance to forest/tree genetic resources, with different focus and purposes, including:

In summary, although rationales and frameworks exist for a global assessment of FGR, such an assessment is still to be undertaken.


In 2003, the FAO Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources recognized the relevance and discussed the feasibility of a global FGR assessment. As a source of official, harmonized and validated information, the assessment could guide national and international processes and institutions towards sustainable forest and biodiversity management. Further discussions highlighted that such assessment should include thematic issues and case studies, trends and options for the future, rather than being a mere assembly of baseline statistics. Follow-up action towards a global FGR assessment is currently being discussed.

It is generally acknowledged that the complexity of genetic diversity at the global level must be expressed in a simplified, uniform and easily understood set of variables that represent the major values. Such variables must by necessity be based on generalizations that use indirect (surrogate) measures, typically indicators based on the general (qualitative) condition of the resource.

Prerequisites to the assessment include clarification of the concept (FGR or forest genetic diversity?); harmonization of definitions to be used globally; scope of the assessment; development of agreed methodology; identification of value (utility) given to genetic resources by stakeholders/users; identification and ranking of important (priority) tree species (reference is often made to three groups - species of current socio-economic importance, species with clear potential or future value, and species of unknown value given present knowledge and technology); classification of management practices and threats; actual attributes and potential use of trees; and clarification of what can reasonably be done in a given time frame (four to five years).

The assessment will likely be constrained by the availability of country-based statistics and rely on complementary thematic studies, including on species/genera of global importance. The assessment will also emphasize status and trends in major FGR issues. Very basic indicators on genetic diversity (for example, distribution of major tree species in different ecological zones) could then be considered. Both the genetic resources and their conservation and use are essentially dynamic; therefore underlying genetic processes may also have to be considered. Priority will be given to carefully defining the end result and using information sources and analyses in a scientifically sound and transparent way.


Global priorities in FGR have changed from an early focus on seed, species and provenance research of a few timber species in the 1960s and 1970s, to the wider management of genetic diversity of a range of trees and shrubs for a number of purposes and end uses in a variety of contexts. These developments are often led by and under the umbrella of agreements in other sectors, including trade and economics, agriculture and the environment, rather than being integral parts of forestry-led initiatives. Some developments may be anticipated to some extent. Globally, increased movement of people, goods, services, information and know-how contributes to a constant change in demands on and value of forests, wood and non-wood products and environmental services, and to shifts in the boundaries, and priorities of the FGR sector.

Themes that may be considered in a global forest genetic resources assessment
Concept, scope, definitions
Estimators and surrogates of forest tree genetic diversity
Important forest tree genera, species, provenances and varieties
State of conservation in situ, ex situ
State of use, selection and breeding programmes
Seed and reproductive materials: pathways, supply and demand
Legal issues, property rights, access, benefit sharing, material transfer agreements
State of biotechnology research and application
Economic rationales in conventional and biotechnology-based programmes
Biosecurity issues: invasive alien tree species, genetic pollution, GM tree deployment
Research and education, national/public/private capacities status and trends
Institutional framework, international and national programmes
State of diversity and vulnerability of major genera/species
Other thematic/case studies

The availability of reliable information is essential for the decision-maker, the manager and the scientist. Important parameters will condition the perception of forest genetic diversity and the degree of attention given to the subject, such as the type of resource that will be used, for which purpose, by which customer, in which region and over which period. While several initiatives have sought to better define FGR status and trends, a global assessment will bring added value to scattered efforts and help place genetic diversity issues in the local, national or global context in which they are best analysed and understood. A global perspective is increasingly necessary in some areas; industrial wood and wood products, and reproductive materials have become global commodities. However, a number of major challenges must be faced in designing such an assessment. In addition to biological and ecological features, the multiplicity of values and uses of forests, trees, biodiversity and genetic resources need to be considered with relevant stakeholders.

With the assistance of national partners and international collaborators, FAO will further elaborate on the foundation and process of a first global assessment of FGR.


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Convention on Biological Diversity. 1997b. Indicators of forest biodiversity. Working document. Prepared for the Meeting of the Liaison Group on Forest Biological Diversity. UNEP/CBD/SBSTTA/3/Inf.23.

Convention on Biological Diversity. 2004. Indicators for assessing progress toward, and communicating, the 2010 target at the global level. UNEP/CBD/SBSTTA/10/9.

Convention on Biological Diversity. 2004 Indicators for assessing progress towards the 2010 target: trends in genetic diversity of domesticated animals, cultivated plants, and fish species of major socio-economic importance. UNEP/CBD/SBSTTA/10/INF/14.

FAO. 1997. State of the world's plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Rome.

FAO. 2001. Global forest resources assessment 2000 (FRA 2000). FAO Forestry Paper 140. Rome.

FAO. 2002a. Criteria and indicators for assessing the sustainability of forest management: conservation of biological diversity and genetic variation. Forest Genetic Resources Working Paper FGR/37E, Forest Resources Development Service, Forest Resources Division. Rome.

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Heywood, V.H. 1995. Global biodiversity assessment. Cambridge, England, UNEP/Cambridge University Press.

Holmgren, P. 2002. Generic scope of global forest resources assessments - what are they about? Background Paper 7.3. Presented at Kotka IV, Global Forest Resources Assessments - linking national and international efforts. 1–5 July 2002. Kotka, Finland.

Namkoong, G. 1986. Genetics and the future of the Forests. Unasylva, 38: 152. 1986/2: 2–18.

UNEP/CBD. 2001. Global biodiversity outlook. Montreal, Canada, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

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