FAO moves to halt plant genetic erosion

New impetus for global plant diversity

1 December 2011, Rome - The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has adopted a new global framework for the conservation and sustainable use of the diversity of plants on which food and agriculture depend.

FAO’s governing Council last Wednesday approved the Second Global Plan of Action for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which represents a renewed international commitment to ensuring effective management of plant diversity as a key element in fighting poverty and achieving increased  food security in the face of climate change.

Erosion threat

Plant diversity is threatened by “genetic erosion”, a term coined by scientists for the loss of individual genes or combinations of genes, such as those found in locally adapted landraces.

One of the main causes of genetic erosion, according to FAO’s 2011 State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, is the replacement of local varieties by modern varieties. Other causes include environmental degradation, urbanization and land clearing through deforestation and bush fires.

Commitment confirmed

“Through the Second Global Plan of Action the world community confirms its commitment to halting genetic erosion and preserving the wealth of plant genetic resources’’ said Linda Collette, Secretary of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

“These resources provide valuable traits for meeting challenges of the future, such as adapting our crops to changing climatic conditions or disease outbreaks.“

The main focus of the Second Global Plan of Action is to strengthen conservation and sustainable use of plants and seed systems, and the crucial linkages between them, through a combination of appropriate policies, use of scientific information, farmers’ knowledge and action. 

Priority activities

It contains a set of 18 inter-related Priority Activities prepared on the basis of regional consultations and the gaps and needs identified by the Second Report on the State of  the Worlds Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

The Second Global Plan of Action urges all countries to better manage crop diversity in farmers’ fields; develop strategies to protect, collect and conserve crop wild relatives and wild food plants that under threat, support use of a wider range of traits for plant breeding and strengthen seed systems especially of locally adapted varieties.

Call to donors

The Plan also calls on the donor community to boost national and international efforts to strengthen institutions and capacities to address these globally agreed priorities.

“This is a major accomplishment” said Mr. Modibo Traore, Assistant Director General, of Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department.  “I thank our members for putting their faith in FAO. Together we will need to make concerted efforts in achieving the goals.”

The original Global Plan of Action was adopted through the Leipzig Declaration in 1996.   

Photo: ©FAO/Greg Ahrens
Plant diversity keey in food security