Supporting Crop Conservation

An estimated 20% of plant diversity is under threat from habitat degradation, invasive alien species and over-exploitation; this is likely to be exacerbated by climate change.

This threatened diversity is likely to hold the key to solving some of this century’s major challenges in the areas of food security, energy availability, water scarcity, climate change, and habitat degradation.

Despite its importance to food security, much of the world’s crop diversity is neither safely conserved, nor readily available to scientists and farmers who rely on it to safeguard agricultural productivity. Crop diversity is being lost, and with it the biological basis of our food supply.

The Convention on Biological Diversity, to which 194 countries are party, calls for: the conservation of biological diversity; the sustainable use of its components; and the fair and equitable sharing of its benefits. The CBD’s Strategic Plan and Global Plant Conservation Strategy call for the conservation and safeguarding of crop genetic diversity.

The 2nd State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources in Food and Agriculture Report (2010) concludes that the loss of plant genetic resources in food and agriculture (PGRFA) has reduced options for the agricultural sector, and calls for better communication, collaboration and partnerships among institutions dealing with PGRFA management – from conservation to plant breeding and seed systems.

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources in Food and Agriculture, to which 144 countries are now party, has established a global Multilateral System to provide farmers, plant breeders and scientists with access to plant genetic materials and to ensure that recipients share benefits they derive from the use of these genetic materials according to agreed procedures.

The Plant Treaty has established a list of crops important to global food security and for which there is strong interdependence among countries. These are listed in the Plant Treaty’s Annex 1, and it is specified that collections of these crops are also to be included in the Multilateral System. In addition, a number of international ex situ collections of major crops, particularly those of the CGIAR, are given special status by the Plant Treaty under its Article 15.

The Crop Trust will focus its activities in the next ten years, including and beyond those mandated under Article 15, to collections of the 25 Annex 1 crops, which are most important in Least Developed Countries (LDCs), as reflected by production statistics in these countries in 2010. This will also include the wild relatives of these crop species, where these fall under Annex 1 of the Treaty. This list and the Crop Trust’s coverage will be re-evaluated every ten years.

The core activities of the Crop Trust fall into four mutually reinforcing areas:

  • Sustainable grants provided forever, funding the backbone of the global crop conservation system;
  • Shorter-term, carefully targeted project work to upgrade and build the capacity of key genebanks around the world;
  • Building partnerships and raising funds for the endowment and essential projects, and
  • Managing the endowment itself, investing in accordance with objectives and policies approved by the Executive Board as documented in the Investment Policy Statement.

In its Fund Disbursement Strategy, the Crop Trust has adopted four basic principles for eligibility for funding support: crop collections must be

  • Of global significance;
  • Accessible under the Multilateral System;
  • In institutions committed to conserving and making collections available in the long term, and;
  • In institutions committed to developing an efficient and effective global conservation system.