A blog maintained by Tevita Kete, PGR Officer
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji Islands
This weblog documents the activities of Pacific Agricultural Genetic Resources Network (PAPGREN), along with other information on plant genetic resources (PGR) in the Pacific.
The myriad varieties found within cultivated plants are fundamental to the present and future productivity of agriculture. PAPGREN, which is coordinated by the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), helps Pacific countries and territories to conserve their crop genetic diversity sustainably, with technical assistance from the Bioversity International (BI) and support from NZAID and ACIAR.
SPC also hosts the Centre of Pacific Crops and Trees (CEPaCT). The CEPaCT maintains regional in vitro collections of crops important to the Pacific and carries out research on tissue culture technology. The CEPaCT Adviser is Dr Mary Taylor (MaryT@spc.int), the CEPaCT Curator is Ms Valerie Tuia (ValerieT@spc.int).
PAPGREN coordination and support
Mr William Wigmore
Mr Adelino S. Lorens
Dr Lois Englberger
Mr Apisai Ucuboi
Dr Maurice Wong
Mr Tianeti Beenna Ioane
Mr Frederick Muller
Mr Herman Francisco
Ms Rosa Kambuou
Ms Laisene Samuelu
Mr Jimi Saelea
Mr Tony Jansen
Mr Finao Pole
Mr Frazer Bule Lehi
Interested in GIS?
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Posted 1:19 PM by Tevita
From : Global Crop Diversity Trust
Admit it. Together with a cup of coffee, the daily headlines – murders, wars, scandals and the like – pump us up. We are addicted to the drama of it all.
We're not alone. Animal communication, as Prof. Ray Jackendoff of the Center for Cognitive Sciences at Tufts University observes, focuses on the immediate and pressing as well: food, danger, threat, reconciliation.
Chimpanzees, born in captivity, react with terror upon first seeing a snake. No teaching, no learning required. Like other animals, we as a species are hard-wired to respond to imminent threat. Literally hard-wired, according to psychologist Stephen Pinker of Harvard University. We are programmed to react and react quickly to a punch being thrown in our direction, as well as to something that jumps out of the dark and startles us. We have reflexes, physical, mental and social.
We are not hard-wired, it seems, to respond so quickly or appropriately to threats that are around the corner, regardless of their size, certainty or deadliness. Armies can be mobilized over night to counter threats, real or perceived. Climate change, on the other hand, engenders debate and careful consideration as if the biggest danger it poses lies in quick and decisive action. Mobilization takes time.
Politicians dealing with crop diversity are similarly inclined to deal with immediate and flashy issues while underestimating the importance of even larger chronic problems. Focused on financial and legal matters, delegates to a recent meeting of the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources scarcely uttered the phrase "climate change". Lost in earnest discussions of "benefit sharing" was the fact that some 50% of crop diversity collections held in developing countries are in urgent need of rescue and regeneration after years of slow deterioration. The problem was first noted in 1996.
A crop diversity crisis?
Most unique samples could rot and die without an emergency or crisis being proclaimed. We don't immediately feel pain by not conserving crop diversity.
Agricultural crises will occur (that's a certainty), but we will probably never have a "crop diversity crisis", because of the lag time between cause and effect. Today's oversights in caring for this resource provoke tomorrow's emergencies, but at most we are hard-wired only to deal with the latter.
What would constitute a crisis or an emergency for crop diversity? Obvious answer: A big, valuable, unique collection could be wiped out.
But wait; isn't this exactly what is happening? Consider the 50% regeneration figure cited above, based on data supplied by the countries themselves. We are losing diversity. The loss is just not happening quickly enough to be defined, like a punch being thrown at our face, as an imminent threat. That's the good news, I suppose. It's also the bad news.
Hard choices are only made when no other options remain.
For the moment, too many of us are still exploring the option of "business as usual". In international arenas, this manifests itself as old "us versus them" politics as countries jockey for position. They curse and cajole rather than collaborate.
We will have reached a different plane in the decades-old debate over plant genetic resources when our bio-politicians recognize the threat around the corner and start to enunciate and support strategies for dealing with it - when they realize that positioning agricultural systems to provide food security in a climate changed world is the supreme benefit to be generated from crop diversity.
In the plant genetic resources world, neither donor nor recipient is hard-wired to respond to unarticulated threats with unarticulated remedies. But in the absence of such a shared vision, political and financial support is inadequate. Should we be surprised?
Clear and present danger
This does not mean that threats and dangers are not out there, or that plans don't exist for dealing with them. By 2050, the world's population will increase by 37% to 9.2 billion, resulting in a commensurate need for more food. Rising incomes are likely to generate even greater demand. Currently yields of crops that the poor depend upon, such as roots and tubers (cassava, yam, sweet potato, taro) are on track to provide just a 29% increase by 2050, meaning that an already bleak situation will get worse. More frightening, that 29% does not factor in a changing climate and the multitude of additional challenges that will pose to agriculture.
Producing more food will be especially challenging in developing countries, given the additional and negative impact climate change will have. Either we can cut the forests and bring more land into agricultural production - but at what cost? Or, we can try to increase crop yields on existing land. This cannot and will not be done without use of crop diversity.
So here's the threat: 800 million malnourished today, and a very uncertain ability to feed those people, plus many more tomorrow, in an environmentally sustainable manner.
What do we need to do with our collections of crop diversity to prepare for this?
• Identify and secure existing diversity in facilities capable of conserving and distributing it, quickly;
• Safety duplicate it in another genebank plus the Svalbard Global Seed Vault;
• Screen it for traits plant breeders and farmers need now and are about to need, and develop information systems to help users identify and deploy these resources;
• Guarantee funds to maintain a global system in which unique diversity is secured, and encourage countries to provide additional and adequate support to meet their specific national needs regarding conservation and use.
In short, make absolutely sure crop diversity is as safe, as financially secure, and as readily available for use as it can be. Accomplish this and humanity will benefit immeasurably. In the long run, this is the contribution the Trust hopes to make to implementation of the International Treaty, and to humanity.
Pinker and others think humans are hardwired not just to focus on present dangers but to cooperate. Who knows? If he is right, we should soon see some evidence in the field of crop diversity. Climate change and population growth are poised to throw a combination of punches that would impress even Mohammed Ali. But to escape those punches, we have to move now.
Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, Penguin. 2003.
See the website of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture: www.planttreaty.org
The Trust has initiated a massive global initiative addressing virtually all of the bullet points printed above. For more information, visit our website: www.croptrust.org
The Trust has moved into wonderful new offices overlooking the Circus Maximus at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, in Rome. We are grateful to FAO for their generosity and assistance.
Finally, we say "thank you" and bid farewell to our colleague Brigitte Laliberté, who headed our work developing regional and crop conservation strategies. Brigitte assumes a new position as coordinator of the Global Public Goods initiative with the genebanks of the CGIAR, based at Bioversity International. We look forward to continuing to work closely with her!
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