The diversity of local crops and their wild relatives plays a significant role in the livelihoods of many smallholder farming communities in developing countries.
Smallholder farmers can use diversity of crops as a resource to adapt their crops to environmental changes. In their fields and in the nearby wild areas, there is a huge diversity of plants, which continue to evolve and adapt to changing conditions and so can be used to provide useful genes for new crops.
Genebanks – where seeds and other planting materials are safely managed and stored – are also a crucial back-up system. However, the sheer numbers of species and varieties in the world means that genebanks alone cannot safeguard crop diversity for future use. Protecting the world’s agricultural biodiversity resources in the places where it continues to evolve is both an outcome in itself and a crucial resource for the future.
Unfortunately, the diversity of local crops and their wild relatives is being lost at an alarming pace as a result of changing markets, farming practices, environmental degradation and many other factors. Often they are being lost even before they are completely documented, and certainly before they have been studied by formal research, leading to their name ‘neglected and underutilized species’.
Understanding the status of the diversity of local crops and their wild relatives on farms and in wild areas and how they are used and managed by men and women is a priority research task for Bioversity International, in collaboration with other CGIAR and national partners, in order for these resources to be effectively and efficiently valued, used and conserved. Our research will help ensure that these key resources remain available for smallholder farmers and breeders both now and in the future.