Asian countries help safeguard food security with new regional network to preserve, inform and utilize plant genetic resources

Allan Dow, Communication Officer

25/04/2015 Bangkok, Thailand

Representatives and scientists from 15 countries in Asia have agreed the establishment of a regional network to exchange information on conservation, preservation and utilization of Plant Genetic Resources (PGR), the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has announced.

The plan to establish the network was revealed during the final meeting of a three-year project on Enhancing Understanding and Implementation of the International Treaty of Plant Genetic Resources (ITPGRFA) that entered into force in 2004. The project was implemented by FAO and was funded by the Government of Japan.

“The future of the world’s food security hinges on many approaches, from supporting smallholder farmers and their resilience to climate change, to new scientific advancements in food production, and of course by safeguarding the main plant species of human consumption and their environment that are critical to our survival,” said Hiroyuki Konuma, Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific. “Learning from each other’s experiences in the conservation, preservation and utilization of plant genetic resources through a dedicated regional network is a major step forward.”

Presently, only about 30 crops provide 95 percent of human food energy needs, four of which (rice, wheat, maize and potato) are responsible for more than 60 percent of our energy intake.

“Due to the dependency on this relatively small number of crops for global food security, it will be crucial to maintain a high genetic diversity within these crops to deal with increasing environmental stress and to provide farmers and researchers with opportunities to breed for crops that can be cultivated underunfavourable conditions, such as drought, salinity, flooding, poor soils and extreme temperatures,” Konuma said.

In Asia, national genebanks have continued to upgrade in VietNam, Nepal, Malaysia and Japan. Genebanks have also played an increasing role in helping farmers replenish seed stocks afternatural disasters in countries such as Pakistan and Myanmar. “The rapidly growing number of Community Seed Banks is another excellent example of grass roots activities,” Konumaadded.

The aim of the ITPGRFA Treaty is to allow equitable access and sharing of the benefits from use of plant genetic resources and it has resulted in significant advances in PGR worldwide, not least of which relates to the sharing of germplasm from country to country.

“Central to the cuisine of Thailand and Sri Lanka is the chili pepper but it is a food that evolved in Mexico,” said Konuma.“The main staple of Asia, rice, is now grown worldwide and is now a staple in many countries of Latin America where “rice and beans” is a common dish.”

The importance of international sharing and access to well characterized plant genetic resources will be an important key to future increases in crop productivity as the world struggles to increase food production by 60 percent (77 percent in developing countries) to meet the food and nutrition needs of more than 9 billion people by 2050.

FAO continues to play a leading role in PGR advancements andhas partnered with other organizations in the Global Initiative onPlant Breeding (GIPB) that promotes use of plant genetic resources.