Favorable Agricultural Production Area Systems

Ex Situ Conservation

To support favorable agricultural areas, germplasm is stored in ex situ genebanks where diversity can be conserved under controlled conditions and protected from the stresses and pressures encountered in their native habitats. The germplasm stored in genebanks also provides the raw material for breeders to use in developing crop varieties with traits selected for their adaptive value to specific biotic and abiotic conditions and market needs. There are more than 1300 genebanks worldwide, with total germplasm accessions numbering more than 5.5 million.9 The Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR) maintains approximately 500,000 accessions in trust for the world community.

Agricultural Research Systems

Methods and technologies for the conservation and use of genetic resources are being developed and improved by a range of agricultural research systems on both national and international levels. In favorable agricultural areas, the national agricultural research programs are often in the forefront of efforts to strengthen sustainable agriculture through the safe conservation and judicious use of genetic resources. On an international level, the 16 centers grouped together under the umbrella of the CGIAR are the most prominent agricultural research centers currently at work to develop practices and policies for ensuring sustainable agriculture. Essential for the continued safe conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources, agricultural research efforts are nevertheless often among the casualties when economic conditions dictate the reduction of public funding.

Private and Formal Sector Crop Improvement Programs

Crop improvements are carried out by public sector germplasm improvement programs throughout the world in national agricultural research units, in universities, in regional agricultural research institutes such as AVRDC in Taiwan and CATIE in Costa Rica, as well as in international agricultural centers such as those of the CGIAR. Crop improvement programs are also run by the private sector in efforts to develop new crops with traits which increase their yield and marketability.

Crop improvements have, since 1945, increased world crop yields between two- and four-fold depending on the crop. An estimated 20-40% of this increase has been achieved by genetic modifications and breeding.1,7 The contribution of genetic resources through the introduction of new genes and genetic modifications through crossing with wild relatives is approximately $115 billion per year worldwide in crop yield increases.10

Seed Supply Systems

Seed supply systems also serve to enhance the use of plant genetic resources and are concerned with the health of conserved germplasm and with the safe movement and exchange of germplasm. These systems are increasingly involved with deployment of new varieties developed by application of modern molecular genetics and transgenics and are increasingly controlled by large global companies. In consequence, there is a growing concern over future seed supply systems with respect to principles of equitable access and sharing of benefits.

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