The Doomsday Vault near Svalbard in Norway, which stores seeds of vital crops in an underground vault, marks its 10th anniversary. In a quest to end all famines, botanist Nikolai Vavilov travelled to more than 60 countries, gathering information from farmers and collecting seeds with an eye to their potential to contribute to hardier crops in a changing world.

While the focus on conservation in gene banks is necessary, many of the genetic resources needed to underwrite sustainable food systems are found on-farm as well as in the wild. Wild plants, notably those related to edible mainstays, are increasingly under threat and warrant increased efforts for their conservation and utilisation.

Many locally important food crops grow in parts of the world facing rapid change and high levels of food insecurity. To help countries in the daunting task of protecting the species relevant to their food supply in their natural habitats, where they would continue to evolve important traits for adaptation to changes, FAO recently published Voluntary Guidelines for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Crop Wild Relatives and Wild Food Plants. 

Conservation efforts need to be accelerated now as climate change, urbanisation and shifting land-use patterns all pose increasingly imminent threats to the survival of many of these relatively unsung species. Bolstering public support for such initiatives is easier if they are shown to “benefit humans in a tangible manner,” says Hans Dreyer, director of FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division. “Conservation and sustainable use go hand in hand.” – Bizcommunity

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