Kazuo N Watanabe

Plant genetic resources (PGR) for food and agriculture are broadly defined to include resources which contribute to people's livelihoods by providing food, medicine, feed for domestic animals, fiber, clothing, shelter and energy, etc. The use of plant genetic resources to enhance crop productivity and sustainability is a high priority worldwide because of its:

1. Historical contribution;

2. Significance to environmental protection;

3. Balancing of socioeconomic and cultural aspects with development; and

4. Future potential.

PGR have contributed to the daily life of people in the world through the process of their domestication and through their involvement in the evolution of civilization. PGR should be regarded as essential subjects, the same as water, air, and soil, which are important components of the global environment. In the same way, PGR can easily deteriorate or be lost unless we use extra caution in how we live with them.

In olden times, more numbers of plant species were used for food, feed, fiber, remedy, energy, construction, manufacturing and/or environmental protection, compared with the limited number of species used at present. PGR have supported the development of traditional knowledge and culture; in contrast these are now diminishing very rapidly along with PGR.

With modern agriculture supported by plant breeding, many crop species have been modified for the needs of human beings, increasing their diversity. On the other hand, an extensive use of particular species and cultivars has caused a decrease in the diversity of plant species for use and for conservation in nature.

As science and technology are being further developed, there is a constant increase in possibilities for enhancing the potential capabilities of crop species to synchronize sustainability and productivity. On the other hand, without the contribution of PGR as a platform for application of such science and technology, there would not be much future, nor an outcome to be expected, for agricultural applications of modern science and technology. Learning from the past, the rejuvenation of traditional knowledge and cultural information, and the exploitation of under-utilized PGR from elsewhere, should alleviate the diverse spectra of pitfalls confronting the needs of human beings.

In this session, four topics will be covered by the distinguished speakers. Dr. Masaru Iwanaga of IPGRI overviews the management and uses of PGR associated with sustainable agriculture; Dr. Masahiro Nakagahara of NARC-Japan covers the issues associated with ex situ conservation, mainly those of genebank management; Dr. Ayfer Tan of AARI-Izmir, Turkey, presents a specific case in PGR conservation and utilization; and, finally, Professor K. V. Raman of Cornell University highlights the links between PGR and biotechnology applications, providing a specific example.

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