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The state of the world's forest genetic resources

Genetic diversity a hidden tool in coping with climate change (FAO). Knowledge of agricultural genetic resources needs to grow more quickly because of the critical role they have to play in feeding the world as climate change advances faster than expected.(January 19th 2015)

As the FAO's Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture starts its biennial meeting today, the Organization has sounded a warning that much more must be done to study, preserve and use the biological diversity that underpins world food production.

  • Genetic diversity a hidden tool in coping with climate change
  •  Raw material of food systems are key to helping agriculture adapt to volatile weather and rising temperatures
  • “In a warmer world with harsher, more variable weather, plants and animals raised for food will need to have the biological capacity to adapt more quickly than ever before,” said FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo.
  •  “Preventing further losses of agricultural genetic resources and diverting more attention to studying them and their potential will boost humankind's ability to adapt to climate change.”

During its meeting, the Commission will consider adopting guidelines for integrating genetic resources into climate change adaptation plans that the FAO has developed in line with guidance from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The draft guidelines argue for an increased and explicit use of genetic resources as a part of :

I. overall adaptation measures needed to assure food security – in recognition of the critical role that genetic diversity must play there – and

II. contain a range of recommendations aimed at helping countries implement policies and strategies for studying, preserving, and utilizing genetic resources to adapt to climate change.

  •  The aim is to support Governments' use of genetic resources – ranging from seed varieties of major staple crops to the millions of microbes living in the soil, an area where expertise is relatively thin – in their national plans for coping with climate change. “We need to strengthen the role of genetic resources and help farmers, fishers and foresters cope with climate change,” says Linda Collette, Secretary of the Commission and lead editor of a book released by the FAO on the subject of genetic resources.

The new book, Coping with climate change: the roles of genetic resources for food and agriculture, says it is vital for the world to build its knowledge of genetic resources for food and agriculture and their characteristics such as resistance to drought or disease. ( full text , 130 pages , follow the link here : http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3866e.pdf)

  • Documentation of locally adapted varieties and breeds of crops and livestock are poorly documented and may be lost before their potential roles in climate change adaptation are recognised.
  • “Time is not on our side” it argues. “In the coming decades, millions of people whose livelihoods and food security depend on farming, aquaculture, fishing, forestry and livestock keeping are likely to face unprecedented climatic conditions.”
  • Crops, livestock, forest trees and aquatic organisms capable of surviving and producing in a changing climate will be needed.

Building our knowledge of genetic resources for food and agriculture - where they are found, what characteristics they have (e.g. resistance to drought or disease) and how they can best be managed is also critical, the book says.

 

The effects of climate change also mean that it is more important than ever to intensify the exchange and sharing of agricultural genetic resources. Local and national seed fairs do exist, but will need to expand and go international as climate change accelerates.

page 29 : Some progress has been made in identifying development measures for dryland grazing systems that address both the need to improve local livelihoods and the need to improve the rate of carbon sequestration vs. carbon loss from the soil (FAO, 2009a). However, implementing such measures is challenging. Key barriers to success include: “ land tenure, common property and privatization issues; competition from cropping including biofuels and other land uses which limit grazing patterns and areas; lack of education and health services for mobile pastoralists; and policies that focus on reducing livestock numbers rather than grazing management” (ibid.).