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Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

Biodiversity is being lost at an exponential rate. Approximately seventeen percent of livestock breeds face extinction and of the thousands of cultivatable plants species, just thirty produce ninety-five percent of our food-energy.

Genetic resources for sustainable food production.

Conserving by using agrobiodiversity (e.g. plants, animals, aquatic resources, forests, microorganisms, invertebrates) is critical for food production, rural development and the environment. Genetic diversity allows farmers to adapt their produce to climate change and consumer preferences. It also reduces the impact of pests and diseases, provides more nutritious diets, and conserves habitats and soils.

FAO hosts the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which strive to sustainably use and conserve genetic resources and fairly and equitably share benefits derived from them. The Commission guides the development of State-of-the-World assessments and, in response, agrees on Global Plans of Action.

Key policy messages

  • There is an urgent need to halt the loss of agricultural biodiversity. Food security and nutrition policies must include and address the sustainable use and conservation of genetic resources for food and agriculture.
  • Conserving genetic resources for food and agriculture requires complementary policies. The diversity of ecosystems needs to be maintained. Genetic resources need to be conserved in situ (i.e. cultivated or maintained in their natural and socio-economic original environment) and ex situ (i.e. through genebanks). Policies need to facilitate and, where necessary, actively support the continued and sustainable use of biodiversity and farmers. Breeders and other stakeholders need to participate in making decisions on matters related to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
  • Cross-sectoral approaches are needed to ensure policies addressing genetic diversity are aligned across sectors. Coordination between Ministries responsible for agriculture, fisheries, forestry, environment, education, economy, trade and social affairs is needed. Policies should be inclusive, involving producer organizations, civil society and the private sector.
  • Research, education and capacity building are needed to increase understanding and awareness of the importance of agricultural biodiversity. Policies should seek to improve scientific knowledge, harness traditional knowledge and effectively communicate the need to utilize and conserve species, breeds and varieties for now and the future.
  • The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) highlight the importance of biodiversity, particularly in relation to ending hunger (Goal 2), and preserving life on earth (Goal 15) and in oceans (Goal 14). FAO plays a key role as a global forum, source of knowledge, custodian of international treaties/bodies and the SDG indicators on genetic resources, and as a longstanding partner of relevant conventions and instruments, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

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