NSP - Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources

Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

Plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) have been systematically collected and exchanged for some 500 years. Conservation focuses explicitly on maintaining the diversity of the full range of genetic variation within a particular species or taxa. Plant genetic resources can be conserved both in-situ and ex-situ.

The main reasons for conserving PGRFA are to ensure the future adaptability of cultivars and wild populations; to preserve data and traits that ensure sustainable agriculture; to promote the use of genetic resources in commerce and biotechnology; to conserve genetic diversity for cultural reasons.

Ex situ conservation entails conservation of biological diversity components outside their natural habitats. The main storage infrastructures for such conservation techniques are genebanks; millions of accessions are now stored in hundreds of genebanks around the world for conservation and utilisation purposes.

In situ conservation means the maintenance and recovery of viable populations of species in their natural surroundings and, in the case of domesticates or cultivated species, in the surroundings where they have developed their distinctive properties. Common approaches for in situ conservation are Genetic reserve conservation and On-farm conservation.

FAO plays a lead role in strengthening the conservation of PGRFA through policy assistance, technical support and awareness raising. In collaboration with international, regional and national partners, we are involved in multiple projects to strengthen capacities in order to address technical and policy aspects and prepare gene bank standards and technical guidelines for crop specific conservation techniques and other publications.

The adoption of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in 2001 was a major milestone in raising the profile of the value and need for plant genetic resources conservation and use. In 2004, FAO, together with Bioversity International acting on behalf of the international research organizations in this field (CGIAR), founded the Global Crop Diversity Trust to ensure the conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security worldwide.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Created and funded by the Government of Norway. GCDT funds the operation and management. It is an answer to the need for the best possible assurance of safety for the world’s crop diversity, made possible within the IT-PGRFA, as an agreed international legal framework for conserving and accessing crop diversity. For more information, go to this page.