FAO Guidelines Support Conservation of Crop Genetic Diversity
Photo by Arturo Rivera
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FAO launched 'Voluntary Guidelines for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Farmers Varieties,' which highlight how crop genetic diversity enables resistance to environmental, climactic and other shocks.

The Guidelines offer support, especially for the development of 'National Plans for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Farmers’ Varieties/Landraces.'

The lack of variety and increasing uniformity of crops may render food systems unsustainable, a new set of conservation guidelines by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) warns. Titled, ‘Voluntary Guidelines for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Farmers Varieties,’ the publication highlights how crop genetic diversity enables resistance to environmental, climactic and other shocks.

Launched at the Eighth Session of the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGR) on 14 November, the Guidelines serve as a tool for development practitioners, researchers, students and policymakers. They offer a systematic approach to on-farm activities to conserve crop genetic resources, and they complement the ‘Voluntary Guidelines for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Crop Wild Relatives and Wild Food Plants,’ published in 2018. The Guidelines also align with SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) target 2.5, which calls for, by 2020, maintaining the genetic diversity of seeds and cultivated plants and their related wild species.

FAO notes that almost all countries report the “genetic erosion” of crops, with maize, wheat and rice accounting for 51% of all plant-based food. It underscores that the loss of crop genetic diversity poses a “particularly severe” threat to global food security and nutrition – one that risks the achievement of SDG 2 on eradicating hunger and malnutrition by 2030. The Guidelines’ Foreword points out that, “for our food systems to be sustainable, farmers must, therefore, grow the most genetically diverse set of crops and varieties that are suited to their agroecologies, production systems and end-users’ preferences.”

The Guidelines also recommend documenting existing plant genetic resources for agriculture and mapping plant genetic resources’ actual and potential uses. They call for retaining genetic resources as well as providing farmers and local communities with information and support in relation to crop conservation and sustainable use, bearing in mind different countries and contexts. Overall, the publication offers guidance that countries can employ, especially in the development of ‘National Plans for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Farmers’ Varieties/Landraces.’ [UN Press Release] [FAO Press Release] [Publication: ‘Voluntary Guidelines for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Farmers Varieties’]

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