The increasing demand for food production has decreased our biodiversity and altered the landscape and environment. As food production is population driven, the demand for increased productivity can come by augmenting existing yields through conventional or non-conventional methods of plant breeding. The global community depends on PGRFA as a least expensive input to increasing crop plant productivity. More than ever before, international efforts are required to help slow genetic erosion, establish and encourage activities of international genebanks, and help prevent epidemics of plant diseases, pests and other abiotic factors in the developing countries where the greatest threats of genetic vulnerability and germplasm erosion now exist. Networking and cooperation at the global level to promote effective use of plant germplasm from diverse breeding programs, and from centers of origin of plant species, to develop new crops and crop varieties to support low-input agricultural and agro-forestry programs should receive high priority. The Global Plan of Action (GPA) for PGRFA aims to promote the conservation, sustainable utilization, and fair and equitable sharing of benefits of plant genetic resources. It is designed to contribute to the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in the field of food and agriculture. Major issues such as intellectual property rights, farmers' rights, biosafety, food safety and socioeconomic issues are further discussed in this GPA and in several forums related to the CBD. It is hoped that these debates will finally develop a clear consensus in these areas.
How to conserve invaluable PGRFA from around the world, while promoting their widespread and effective use to feed a hungry world today and provide food security for the future, continues to be a challenge of many national and international programs. International collaborations and networking on PGRFA are now being promoted by International Centers such as the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) in Rome, Italy. Most of the activities funded in this area are restricted to specific crops and do not include activities in the human resource development area.26
In the case of the potato, many national programs worldwide depend on genetic resources maintained in gene banks. One important gene bank is the one currently maintained at the N. I. Vavilov All -Russian Research Institute of Plant Industry (VIR), in Russia. VIR is the world's oldest plant genetic resources institute and holds one of the world's largest national genebank collections, containing over 345,000 accessions of cultivated plants and their wild relatives. Unfortunately, economic difficulties in recent years have led to a severe reduction in staff and lack of funds with which to renew old equipment and facilities. The more recent changes that have occurred in Eastern Europe have also threatened the security of the collection. One significant problem caused by the breakup of the Soviet Union means that six of the 17 former VIR experimental stations are now located in the Newly Independent States (NIS). Work on maintenance of VIR collections is now affected. To alleviate this situation, some emergency assistance has been allocated by IPGRI to VIR, and further support is still needed for germplasm conservation and utilization at VIR.32
The CEEM project is an example that encourages germplasm sharing, testing and evaluation among programs in Russia, Mexico, Poland and the USA to produce potato varieties with durable resistance to late blight. It also tries to promote training and research activities in potato germplasm conservation and use for developing late blight resistance. At VIR, some moderate support is being provided to rescue important wild potato germplasm of use to developing late blight resistant cultivars.
Global and national programs, such as those being promoted by CEEM, GILB, PICTIPAPA and others, who have broad participation from International Agricultural Research Centers (IARCs), allow research and technology transfer to take place in a cost effective manner. Participants in such programs benefit in many ways, including:
1. Global prioritization of research needs;
2. Improved possibilities for funding for program participants through the recognition of the program by donor agencies;
3. Close interaction with, and knowledge of, other research teams within their area of specialization;
4. Opportunities for interdependent research projects (i.e., projects requiring interdisciplinary and complementary partnerships);
5. Improved access to information and resources; and
6. Participation in program meetings and conferences.31
The development of cultivars durably resistant to pathogens and pests should be a high priority. With late blight, despite phytosanitary hygiene and good agronomic practice, sources of inoculum have never been entirely eliminated, even in the sophisticated farming systems of Europe and the USA, where late blight remains an annual problem and fungicides are the only effective control. A combination of conventional and molecular techniques should enhance the development of durable resistance.
The use of novel approaches such as DNA fingerprinting and the development of resistant plants through genetic engineering needs collaboration with the private sector. Private and public partnerships need to be further fostered. The link between world food security and the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources is important. The development of an endowment fund exclusively for research and technology transfer to promote late blight control is a high priority of CEEM. The development of such a fund will contribute to increased research in the maintenance of useful potato germplasm, the development of late blight-resistant cultivars, and the use of integrated pest management strategies to control late blight on a global scale. The participation of companies such as Toyota and others in these efforts should strengthen germplasm conservation and utilization efforts on a global scale.
Global programs serve as a valuable mechanism for universities and other public and private sector organizations to increase their involvement. Programs such as the one on late blight promote innovative and worthwhile approaches to resolving global problems. The advantages are considerable.
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