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Research Project: Management of Temperate-Adapted Fruit, Nut, and Specialty Crop Genetic Resources and Associated Information

Location: National Clonal Germplasm Repository

Title: Relationship between humanity and plant natural resources – in the context of food and agriculture

Author
item Hummer, Kim
item Volk, Gayle
item Preece, John

Submitted to: Foreign Agriculture Organization Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/10/2015
Publication Date: 2/1/2016
Citation: Hummer, K.E., Volk, G.M., Preece, J.E. 2016. Relationship between humanity and plant natural resources – in the context of food and agriculture. Foreign Agriculture Organization Proceedings. Humanity and Plant Genetic Resources: Fruits through the Ages. p. 274-308.

Interpretive Summary: Agriculture, the domestication, culture, and management of plants and animals, has led to profound social changes in human evolution and development; it can be considered as the basis for civilization. Roughly 12,000 years ago agriculture appeared independently in several parts of the world. A naturally rich flora supported each of the regions where technology advanced from hunting and gathering to primitive farming. Thus, early communities took advantage of the natural resources available to them. The development of early agriculture may be in part due to the use of agricultural products in religious rites and ceremonies, considering that many early societies thought of agriculture as a divine gift. In addition, population pressures of human communities required efficient food production in quantity, leading to production agriculture. Resulting food surpluses allowed for community development and new social structures. Domestication of a crop involves two components, 1) “taming” the wild and 2) changing the genetics from wild phenotypes to something with more desirable traits. While many of the world’s economically important animals and staple crops were domesticated by Neolithic farmers prior to recorded history, horticultural and fruit crops have been developed more recently and continue to be improved. The goal of this chapter is to discuss the intertwining of agricultural and horticultural natural resources, particularly fruits, with human civilization. Diverse fruit crops have provided nourishment and healing to ancient as well as modern people. The origins for 15 selected fruit crops are described. Because wild relatives for these and other crops are often native to geographical regions that transcend political boundaries, a brief history of plant exploration is presented. The collection and exchange of plant genetic resources is now governed by international treaties that recognize that plant resources are the sovereign property of the region where found, so these treaties and their implications are described. The preservation of natural genetic resources occurs in ex situ genebanks for continued availability to breeders and other scientists for crop improvement. In situ preservation is a second critical method to be encouraged for the preservation of natural resources. Finally, this paper describes the continuum from traditional breeding to newer biotechnological techniques. Today and for the future, humanity’s success depends on retention of natural resources and provisions for accessibility so that crop improvement techniques can help address the world’s nutritional challenges.

Technical Abstract: Agriculture, the domestication, culture, and management of plants and animals, has led to profound social changes in human evolution and development; it can be considered as the basis for civilization. Roughly 12,000 years ago agriculture appeared independently in several parts of the world. A naturally rich flora supported each of the regions where technology advanced from hunting and gathering to primitive farming. Thus, early communities took advantage of the natural resources available to them. The development of early agriculture may be in part due to the use of agricultural products in religious rites and ceremonies, considering that many early societies thought of agriculture as a divine gift. In addition, population pressures of human communities required efficient food production in quantity, leading to production agriculture. Resulting food surpluses allowed for community development and new social structures. Domestication of a crop involves two components, 1) “taming” the wild and 2) changing the genetics from wild phenotypes to something with more desirable traits. While many of the world’s economically important animals and staple crops were domesticated by Neolithic farmers prior to recorded history, horticultural and fruit crops have been developed more recently and continue to be improved. The goal of this chapter is to discuss the intertwining of agricultural and horticultural natural resources, particularly fruits, with human civilization. Diverse fruit crops have provided nourishment and healing to ancient as well as modern people. The origins for 15 selected fruit crops are described. Because wild relatives for these and other crops are often native to geographical regions that transcend political boundaries, a brief history of plant exploration is presented. The collection and exchange of plant genetic resources is now governed by international treaties that recognize that plant resources are the sovereign property of the region where found, so these treaties and their implications are described. The preservation of natural genetic resources occurs in ex situ genebanks for continued availability to breeders and other scientists for crop improvement. In situ preservation is a second critical method to be encouraged for the preservation of natural resources. Finally, this paper describes the continuum from traditional breeding to newer biotechnological techniques. Today and for the future, humanity’s success depends on retention of natural resources and provisions for accessibility so that crop improvement techniques can help address the world’s nutritional challenges.