Developing countries need help in preserving vital agricultural biodiversity – UN study

3 July 2006

With crucial agricultural genetic resources at risk, developing countries should be enabled to fully exploit biotechnology tools to stop the decline of biodiversity and use their wealth of such resources as an insurance against climatic and other changes, according to a new United Nations study released today.

“The ability to apply these biotechnologies in developing countries is currently limited by the lack of sufficient funds, human capacity and adequate infrastructure,” says the study, edited by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Working Group on Biotechnology.

Crop, forest, animal and fish genetic resources represent an insurance against future changes in production and climatic conditions or in market needs, but they are endangered by such factors as overexploitation, replacement of local crops and livestock with foreign species or breeds and habitat change and destruction, FAO notes.

The need to conserve genetic resources for food and agriculture is essential and was recently highlighted at the first meeting of the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture last month. They are also a source of material for scientific research as well as a cultural and historical part of mankind’s heritage.

The study seeks to shed light on the potential role and importance that biotechnology tools, in particular the use of molecular markers, may have for agricultural genetic resources in developing countries.

Numerous new and old biotechnologies provide a broad collection of tools that can be applied for a range of different purposes such as genetic improvement, disease diagnosis, and vaccine development. They include molecular markers, cryo-preservation and reproductive technologies that can be used directly for the characterization and/or conservation of genetic resources for food and agriculture.

The capacities of developing countries can be strengthened through greater collaboration among research institutions in different developing countries and also between industrialized and developing countries.

The FAO and the centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) as well as other organizations and non-governmental organizations could help to coordinate these collaborative efforts and support capacity-building activities.

 

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