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Bridging agriculture and environment: Southern African crop wild relative regional network

Ipomoea robertsiana, wild relative of the sweet potato. Credit: P. Moila
Ipomoea robertsiana, wild relative of the sweet potato. Credit: P. Moila

A new project funded by the Darwin Initiative is bringing together Southern African countries and international research organizations to establish a regional network that enhances crop wild relative conservation and use in Southern Africa.

The Southern African region hosts a rich diversity of crop wild relatives, with over 1,900 species that are cultivated for food, beverage, forage, fodder, forestry, ornamental, medicinal, environmental and other uses. These species related to crops are vital for the food security and lives of 130 million poor people in the region. Yet, crop wild relatives are threatened, poorly conserved and barely accessible to breeders and farmers who should benefit from their use.

A new project funded by the UK Government through the Darwin Initiative is bringing together Southern African countries and international research organizations to establish a regional network that enhances crop wild relative conservation and use in Southern Africa.

The project will establish strategic partnerships and networks of protected areas for crop wild relative conservation and use; design mechanisms to enhance the benefits farmers derive from conserving these species; increase access to germplasm, and build gender equality, underpinning Southern African food security and poverty reduction.

From 5–8 August 2019, 29 participants from 16 countries of the Southern Africa region and international research organizations met in Johannesburg, South Africa, to launch the project ‘Bridging agriculture and environment: Southern African crop wild relative regional network’. A collaborative endeavour led by Bioversity International and involving five partners (University of Birmingham, SADC Plant Genetic Resources Centre (SPGRC), Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia), the project will benefit all the countries in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region.

The inception workshop was jointly organized by Bioversity International and SPGRC. It aimed at providing a common understanding about the project and its objectives, clarification on the partners role and responsibilities, discussing communication and data management plans and clarifying administrative and management procedures.

During the inception workshop, the Steering Committee was established. Dr Lefulesele Lebesa from the Department of Agricultural Research of Lesotho and chair of SPGRC board, was elected as Steering Committee chair, and Dr Chikelu Mba from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations was elected as the deputy chair. The other Steering Committee members are Dr Michael Abberton from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and Dr Hannes Dempewolf from the Crop Trust. Members from the environment sector have also been solicited to join the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee members participated in the inception workshop to get a full insight of the project. In their first meeting, they came up with a set of recommendations to help the team address the project challenges and ensure its sustainability.

Participants received the project positively and understood its importance, especially regarding the establishment of a regional network for the in situ conservation of crop wild relatives and the enhancement of access and sharing of the benefits derived from plant genetic resources.  

“The launch of the Darwin Initiative Project within the SADC region is a great step towards rescuing the threatened crop wild relatives of the region and making them readily available for use in crop improvement programmes. We are so excited,” said Justify Shava, Head of SPGRC. The project partners are equally enthusiastic about the project. For instance, Godfrey Mwila, Deputy Director of Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI) highlighted that, “Following the launch of the Darwin Initiative SADC Crop Wild Relative Network project, I feel more optimistic that the set goal is achievable.” Dr Ehsan Dulloo, Bioversity International scientist and project coordinator said: “The project is now all set for a great start, participants were highly motivated and committed to provide their full support to realize the objectives of the project”.


For more information, read the project brochure


The project ‘Bridging agriculture and environment: Southern African crop wild relative regional network’ is supported by the Darwin Initiative and funded by the UK Government.

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