The FAO, Tuesday, in Rome,launched the second edition of the ‘State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture Report’. The UN agency said in a statement that genetic diversity of the edible plants and their “wild relatives” could be lost forever.

It said the situation would threaten future food security, unless special efforts were stepped up to conserve and utilise them, especially in developing countries. The warning was one of the key messages contained in the 350-page report, which covered all aspects from gene bank collections to the effects of climate change on crop diversity.

“The loss of biodiversity will have a major impact on the ability of humankind to feed itself in the future; all nine billion of us by 2050, with the poorest in the world most affected,” the statement quoted the report as saying. It said that genetic information held in certain crop varieties was crucial to the development of heat, drought, salinity, pests and  diseases-resistant, fast-growing, high-yielding new varieties, necessary to combat food insecurity in the face of climate change. The FAO Director-General, Dr Jaques Diouf, was also quoted in the statement as saying that “increasing the sustainable use of plant diversity could be the main key for addressing risks to genetic resources for agriculture.

“There are thousands of crop wild relatives that still need to be collected, studied and documented because they hold genetic secrets that enable them to resist heat, droughts, salinity, floods and pests.” The statement furthers said that 50 per cent of the increase in crop yields in recent years came from new seed varieties while irrigation and fertiliser  accounted for the other 50 per cent.

“A recent good example is the fast-maturing New Rice for Africa (NERICA) that has transformed local economies in several parts of Africa,” the statement said. It noted that since the first State of the World”s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture was published 12 years ago, the global food landscape had changed “drastically.”

FAO estimates that 75 per cent of crop diversity was lost between 1900 and 2000.A recent study, highlighted in the State of the World”s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, predicted that as much as 22 per cent of the wild relatives of important food crops of peanut, potato and beans would disappear by 2055 due to the changing climate. A broader and better use of genetic resources and biodiversity in food crops would stimulate conservation, the report stated.

It, however , added that adequate systems needed to be in place to get new varieties into the hands of farmers both through the public sector and other players. Meanwhile, the UN has declared 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity.


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