Establishing the European Network for In Situ Conservation and Sustainable Use of Plant Genetic Resources
There is a myriad of organizations and individuals involved or with an interest in the in situ conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources. However, there is currently no regional mechanism to enable knowledge sharing and to open up opportunities to establish multi-actor partnerships.
In the Farmer’s Pride project, we are using survey tools and other outreach mechanisms to gain a better understanding of the roles and interests of the people and organizations involved or with an interest in the in situ conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources in Europe and establishing a stakeholder communication and collaboration platform to engender cross-sector partnerships.
In situ management of plant genetic resources across the region is currently ad hoc and uncoordinated. To streamline and strengthen conservation efforts, a Europe-wide site network is needed to safeguard plant diversity for the future.
By combining the knowledge of the identified stakeholders with the results of analyses using geographic information system technology, we are identifying a series of specific locations where wild and cultivated populations are managed to agreed standards and designating the first formally recognized sites of the European Network for In Situ Conservation and Sustainable Use of Plant Genetic Resources.
Improving and promoting best practices
A critical aspect of enhancing in situ conservation of plant genetic resources is to improve and promote knowledge of how to optimize their management.
We are defining the management practices needed to ensure that the goals of conserving genetic diversity in wild and cultivated plant populations are met within the European Network and using showcases to demonstrate best practices—for example, to show how the conservation of populations of multiple species at various locations, and in different environmental conditions and stakeholder management contexts, can be efficiently managed.
To reduce the risk of loss of diversity, a more efficient and effective system of plant genetic resources management in Europe can be developed and sustained by creating closer alliances between ex situ and in situ resource managers and improving synergies between the management of the populations in their care.
The Farmer’s Pride project is showcasing how ex situ conservation efforts (that is, the conservation of plant genetic resources in off-site facilities to conserve seeds and other plant materials) can be integrated with in situ conservation activities. We are also creating and making available tools to manage the complex information associated with in situ conservation of plant genetic resources.
Enhancing the use of conserved plant genetic resources
Conservation of plant genetic resources is not an end in itself. The reason for conserving these resources is to ensure the continued availability of a wide range of genetic diversity for crop diversification and improvement.
We are engaging with plant breeders, farmers and other users of plant genetic resources to determine which traits are likely to be most important to meet future agricultural and market needs. Using geographic information system technology, we are undertaking analyses to predict which populations are most likely to contain these traits to make sure they are conserved for their future potential use for crop improvement.
Currently, ex situ conservation facilities are the primary source of plant genetic diversity for the research and plant breeding community. For in situ conservation of plant genetic resources to be sustainable, access to the conserved diversity needs to be facilitated.
In the Farmer’s Pride project we are creating an infrastructure to promote and facilitate access to in situ conserved diversity and demonstrating its functionality with case studies in two partner countries.
A vital aspect of our efforts to enhance the conservation and use of plant genetic resources is also to better understand existing systems of direct use of crop material involving local seed systems—often characterized by the use and exchange of self-saved seed within and between local communities—and how they interact with national gene banks and authorities, and private seed companies.
By improving the management of community seed banks and by defining the roles of these different stakeholders—for example, in ensuring seed quality, good information management, and in developing national cooperation projects—we are working to create stronger and long-lasting local, national and international networks.
Influencing the policy environment
The European Network for In Situ Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources requires a governance structure to ensure its effective operation and to permanently embed it within the broader, existing conservation framework in Europe.
In the Farmer’s Pride project, we are beginning to build this governance structure using existing organizations with mandates to conserve genetic resources in situ. We are also investigating the suitability of the current policy environment to support the governance structure, as well as identifying gaps and needs for policy change.
The availability of and access to a wide range of plant genetic resources for use by farmers, gardeners, researchers and plant breeders also demands a review of existing policy to improve the enabling environment.
We are working to identify cost-effective strategies and policies to improve the plant genetic resources conservation and use system in Europe and establishing a dialogue to communicate our recommendations to policy-makers. A fundamental element of these investigations is to improve our understanding of the public and private benefits associated with plant genetic resources conservation and use, with a view to stimulating greater efforts to bring about the step change needed to secure these resources for the future.