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Introductory remarks - Dr V. Ramanatha Rao

Senior Scientist (Genetic Diversity/Conservation), IPGRI-APO, Serdang, Malaysia.

It is very heartening to welcome all of you to this workshop/training course in Kunming and Xishuangbanna of Yunnan, China, the deliberations of which would help all of us to continue our work on bamboo and rattan. In the past 3-4 years, we have covered many aspects of bamboo and rattan genetic resources and conservation, functioning as one of the Working Groups of INBAR-IPGRI.

The main objectives of the Working Group on Biodiversity, Genetic Resources and Conservation of Bamboo and Rattan are the following:

a) Assess the status of diversity of genetic resources of bamboo and rattan

b) Establish the knowledge base for the conservation and sustainable use of these resources through the development of research and training in national institutions.

c) Develop complementary conservation strategies for the use of BR genetic resources.

In spite of many efforts made in the last 2-3 decades both by individuals and institutions, there is no comprehensive and complete assessment of bamboo genetic resources in any Asian country. No doubt many aspects of bamboo biodiversity have been covered in several countries, especially the species diversity as recorded in well known taxonomic works of early and late 1900s. But still there are many areas that need to be either explored or re-explored to assess the past and present situations to record the changes of species distribution and genetic erosion.

Population genetic analysis is very basic to understand the genetic diversity of bamboos but we hardly have any information on the subject. Even all the species present in any given country are not totally accounted for; both big and small areas in each country are waiting to be explored. Good reliable data on quantitative and qualitative aspects are urgently needed. Taxonomists in the region are few but they continue to add new species to the list or revise the existing ones to streamline the taxonomic keys and to achieve better comprehension of the whole subject. In spite of these efforts, many taxa are identified only up to the genus level. In many Southeast Asian countries, a number of unidentified species are given tentative numbers like species 1, 2, 3 etc.; which shows, in addition to the extant taxonomic complexity, the paucity of knowledge about species composition of a genus and total genetic diversity of bamboos as a whole.

Northeast India and Himalayan mountains of Nepal, Myanmar and southwest China are rich with bamboo resources.

The high Himalayan mountains are the natural habitats of several indigenous bamboo species both at low and high elevations. In the last meeting on mountain bamboos in Pokhara, Nepal, we focused on the importance of several bamboo species that exist at 3000-4000 m sustaining the lives of both people and the livestock that manage to live in such marginal areas experiencing harsh climatic conditions.

In southwest China, the high Himalayan mountains gradually recede to form small chains of mountains and the land in Yunnan Province is covered by 80% of lower mountains and 20% of valleys with flat lands. Land topography is similar both in Nepal and Yunnan. The continuum of mountain chains also carries similar floral elements including the bamboos. The pioneering work of botanists in this part of China is well-known and you will have opportunity to meet many of them and get to know their research work. In Xishuangbanna Botanic garden, more than 80 bamboo species are conserved under ex situ conditions. Many more are growing naturally on the mountain tops and in valleys. In the next few days, you will have enough opportunity to see several of these species, which includes large number of the priority species that IPGRI-INBAR recognized three years back for further research. Size and form of many of these may vary.

Botanically too, the bamboo elements of southwest Yunnan bring a confluence of Indo-Malayan species along with Himalayan and Chinese elements, making this an ideal location to sort out the biogeographical problems and area limits of bamboo species. Both the variation of species distribution and their genetic diversity are important to identify and conserve the bamboo germplasm. A beginning has been made in Yunnan Province which include both sympodial and monopodial species. It is for this reason that the workshop was organized both at Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan and the Xishuangbanna botanical garden, the storehouse of more than 80 bamboo species. They provide excellent opportunity to stimulate our thinking on the biogeography and genetic diversity of bamboos and to know the methods they have used for ex situ conservation. As we move to eastern and northeastern part of China, the monopodial bamboos mostly Phyllostachys species predominate and are largely cultivated for food, timber, pulp etc. The bamboo industrial advancement made in China is very well-known and amply recorded.

It is not easy or common to visit the locations that we have chosen to conduct the present workshop. With definite purpose we have included many of the experts on bamboos in the group who have spent more than 2-3 decades working on various aspects of bamboo research. Now a further opportunity is created to meet the fellow bamboo researchers in Yunnan to exchange views and to broaden the vista for future. We have no doubt that this workshop will generate many more interesting ideas between and among the participants to plan and conduct research on bamboos. The occasion also provides you with abundant opportunity to simulate or repeat most of the experiences that you do undergo as a team during the workshop. Personal acquaintance also helps to enrich the international and regional contacts both for exchange of ideas and materials for future research on bamboos.

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