Submitted to: Advances in Agronomy
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/1/1997
Publication Date: N/A
Interpretive Summary: Plant germplasm (also termed genetic resources), a crucial part of the renewable resource production system that sustains humanity, serves as a shield against crop failures, and as experimental material for scientific research and crop improvement. Germplasm is conserved in "seedbanks," in conservation reserves in nature, or where traditional farming practices persist. Crop germplasm conservation programs were surveyed (1) to identify cost-effective conservation methods; and (2) to compare the effectiveness of conservation in genebanks with conservation "on-farm" or in nature reserves. This survey was timely because some conservationists and countries are advocating greater reliance on nature reserves or "on-farm" conservation, rather than genebank conservation. The survey revealed that these approaches actually share many common objectives, despite the loose coordination of genebank and on farm conservation programs. Additional data are needed for rapidly locating high-yielding traditional crop germplasm because it should have priority for conservation. More comprehensive and sophisticated databases and information management systems should be developed. Strategic planning for conservation programs should incorporate the needs of a wider spectrum of germplasm users. Managerial practices that better coordinate conservation of the process of crop evolution on-farm with conservation in genebanks should be adopted. The preceding actions may have the impact of enabling conservation programs to safeguard more effectively the precious legacy of traditional crop germplasm and associated farming practices.
Technical Abstract: Plant genetic resources, key components of a sustainable renewable resource production system, are conserved in germplasm "banks," in conservation reserves, or where traditional farming practices persist. More effective germplasm conservation methods would be highly desirable, given the current debate among conservationists and nations about the relative utility of conservation "on-farm" as compared to conservation in genebanks. This paper reviewed the current state-of the-art for dynamic conservation, which seeks to protect not only germplasm, but also the processes that maintain its genetic variability. It was found that dynamic conservation efforts actually share many programmatic objectives with genebank conservation programs, despite the often loose coordination among potentially complementary programs. Germplasm conservation might be improved by collecting additional data (especially regarding traditional farming) for rapidly locating where traditional crops and agriculture persist; developing more sophisticated information management systems; conducting strategic planning that incorporates the needs of a wider spectrum of germplasm users and that iteratively sharpens programmatic focus; and more closely coordinating programs for conserving the dynamics of crop evolution on-farm with those for conserving crop germplasm statically in genebanks. Conserving traditional high-yielding crop varieties, sustaining indigenous breeding programs for locally important crops, and establishing dual-mission crop improvement and conservation field stations may be high priority goals for future dynamic conservation programs.