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New Global Assessment of Plant Genetic Resources Gets Underway

Stefano Diulgheroff, Bonnie Furman, Arshiya Noorani, Ndeye Ndack Diop, Wilson Hugo, Shawn McGuire, Lucio Olivero, Luigi Guarino and Chikelu Mba

Plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) are critical for achieving and maintaining global food security and nutrition. Their inestimable value resides in the diversity found among and within species of wild ancestors and relatives of crops, farmers’ varieties or landraces, improved varieties and other breeding materials. PGRFA have multiple uses. They directly provide food and feeds. They are harnessed to enable our crop production systems to adapt to changing climate and respond to evolving pests and diseases. They are also used to improve crops’ productivity, nutritional qualities and other end-use attributes.

However, over the past few decades, unsustainable practices and other factors, such as climate change, have posed an unprecedented threat to PGRFA diversity.

In order to monitor progress in the conservation and use of these essential resources, countries around the world have agreed to undertake periodic assessments of the status of PGRFA. Such assessments are prepared through a participatory, country-driven process. The first of these, the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (First Report), was presented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 1996 at the Fourth International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources held in Leipzig, Germany. Gaps and needs identified in the First Report triggered a policy response: the Global Plan of Action on PGRFA (GPA), a strategic framework for the conservation and sustainable use of the plant genetic diversity on which food and agriculture depend.

A Second Report on the State of the World’s PGRFA (Second Report), published in 2010, showed that although considerable progress had been made on a global level, significant gaps remained. The Second Report provided the basis for an update of the GPA, and the Second GPA was subsequently adopted in 2011. Articles 14 and 17.3 of the International Treaty on PGRFA recognize the importance of the rolling GPA and invite Parties to contribute to periodic global assessments of PGRFA.

The preparation of a new assessment, The Third Report on the State of the World’s PGRFA (Third Report), is now underway. Guidelines to assist country reporting are available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. National PGRFA programs and their stakeholders have the opportunity to highlight main accomplishments, changes, trends, gaps and needs with respect to PGRFA in situ and ex situ conservation, on-farm management and sustainable use, including plant breeding and quality seed production and distribution, as well as institutional and human capacities. Quantitative and qualitative data reporting is facilitated by the monitoring approach based on 58 indicators and an online reporting tool of the World Information and Early Warning System on PGRFA, as agreed by the FAO’s Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (Commission).

In this context, FAO is working with its members and several partners. The Crop Trust, in particular, is providing technical expertise on the conservation and sustainable use of crop wild relatives and ex situ conservation. As countries’ reports will be complemented by those of other relevant international and regional agricultural research centers, the Crop Trust is also liaising with regional and international genebanks to support them in providing information on their ex situ collections held in medium- and long-term storage.

A draft of the Third Report will be considered by the Commission’s Intergovernmental Technical Working Group on PGRFA in 2022, after which it will be presented to the Commission for endorsement and then publication in 2023. It is envisaged that the publication of the Third Report will provide the much-needed impetus for enhancing the conservation and sustainable use of PGRFA, especially with regard to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework.

Countries that have not commenced reporting for the preparation of the Third Report or have not yet nominated a National Focal Point for leading the process are encouraged to contact FAO at WIEWS@fao.org or ITWG-PGRFA@fao.org for more information and assistance as applicable.

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