Bioversity International: research for development in agricultural and tree biodiversity

Making best use of Asia’s tree diversity

21 Mar 2016

Forests’ role in mitigating climate change, productivity of indigenous timber and non-timber species, and success rates in forest restoration all depend on one thing – the genetic diversity of tree species. However, forest genetic resources are often overlooked in natural resource management and related policies and strategies which limit their contribution to environmental and socio-economic goals.

A network of forestry organizations in Asia-Pacific countries took up the challenge and decided to initiate a Regional Training Centre on Forest Genetic Resources, to strengthen the capacities of forestry practitioners, educators and policy-makers in addressing genetic diversity in their work.

The group now calls for contributions to an online survey (take the survey in six languages, links at the end of this blog post), to assess actual training needs and fine-tune a training programme that can effectively meets these needs.

When Asian countries developed their country reports for the first-ever State of the World’s Forest Genetic Resources published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN in 2014, they agreed on a number of general gaps that hamper the effective management of forest genetic resources:

  • Conservation policies emphasize ecosystem conservation, overlooking the viability of the populations that make up the system
  • There are no species management programmes that would look at management and conservation across the species’ range
  • Socio-economical, cultural and ecological values of forest genetic resources are poorly understood and hence underappreciated
  • There is no legislation specifically governing forest genetic resources
  • Forest genetic resources are not covered in curricula
  • Capacities, facilities and funding are limited across the board.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) picked up on these concerns when developing the Global Plan of Action on Forest Genetic Resources (FAO 2013), and included reinforcing “regional and international cooperation to support education, knowledge dissemination, research, and conservation and sustainable management of forest genetic resources” as one of the strategic priorities. Rather than managing forest genetic resources in isolation, the purpose of the Global Plan of Action is to support the integration of these issues in broader environmental and development policies and programmes – an approach that will both ensure better conservation of vital genetic resources and increase benefits from these resources to the society.

“The Regional Training Centre on Forest Genetic Resources will importantly support the implementation of the Global Plan of Action in Asia-Pacific, allow sharing of knowledge on common issues affecting forest genetic resources and harmonizing interventions according to recognized best practices”, says Dr Zheng Yongqi, Research Professor at the Chinese Academy of Forestry, who came up with the idea of the centre.

“In China, training needs on forest genetic resources of government and industries are really growing, and the Central Government is now investing in genetic resource inventories in all provinces as the first step for improved management. Guidelines and information management systems developed for such inventories are examples of good practices that we would be happy to share through the Regional Training Centre”.

Establishment of the Regional Training Centre on Forest Genetic Resources is collaboration between the National Forest Genetic Resources Platform of China, the Chinese Academy of Forestry, the Asia Pacific Forest Genetic Resources Programme (APFORGEN), the Asia Pacific Association of Forestry Research Institutions (APAFRI) and Bioversity International. China Happy Ecology, a private company working on tree breeding and ecological restoration has expressed interest in funding regular training courses on forest genetic resources under the prospective training centre, and hosted a regional planning workshop to develop the concept for the centre in Binzhou, China, in December 2015.

Take the Needs assessment for a Regional Training Centre on Forest Genetic Resources survey in Chinese, English, Indonesian, Hindi, Malay and Vietnamese

Photo: Forest patches on the lower hills of the Himalayas, Nepal. Credit: Bioversity International/G. Meldrum