Traditional Crops Well Preserved For 50 Years; Some Still Lack Protection

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In the last 50 years, traditional crops were well preserved in gene bank but important crops still lack protection as climate change, loss of traditional knowledge and urbanization threaten still remains a challenge.

A global analysis — State of ex situ conservation of landrace groups of twenty-five major crops – of traditional farmer varieties of 25 major crops in genebanks around the world showed that tremendous progress has been made over more than a half-century toward their conservation, while important gaps remain to be filled.

The study was published in the journal Nature Plants, “What we now know is that almost two thirds of the diversity of traditional farmer crop varieties on average across the 25 crops we studied is already represented in ge nebanka,” said Colin Khoury, a lead author on the paper.

Khouryis a researcher at the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (LAT), and Director of Science and Conservation at theSan Diego Botanic Garden.  


The study found that crops such as breadfruit, bananas and plantains, lentils, common beans, chickpeas, barley, and bread wheat are among the most fully represented in genebanks in terms of landrace diversity, while the largest conservation gaps likely persist for crops such as pearl millet, yams, finger nillet, groundnut, potatoes and peas.


The study also identified areas in the world with the greatest diversity in landraces of these 25 crops, which included parts of Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Nepal and Pakistan, as well as areas in Southern Africa, Central Asia, the Mediterranean, West Asia, West Africa, the Andean mountains of South America, and Mesoamerica “The world’s crop conservationists have done a lot of work over the last half century and there’s a lot of work still to be done, but for me it was a relief to know that conservation of crop diversity in genebanks is further along than we might have thought,” Khoury said,

Noting that just storing crops in genebanks is not enough, the author said that crop diversity need to be cultivated for them to continue to evolve with pests and diseases and climate change. He said that the study was possible only through collaboration, both across the network of CGIAR international agricultural research centers located around the world, as well as among a range of academic, nonprofit, and government institutions.

A core group of authors spent three years travelling to the CGIAR centers – each of which maintains vast genebank collections of crops such as wheat, rice, maize, potatoes, beans, and cassava – to assess the degree to which such collections represent the diversity of landraces that farmers cultivate in their fields.


These landraces, along with their wild relatives, are important resources used by crop breeders, as each has a different combination of traits, including resistance to particular pests and diseases tolerance to drought or heat or cold or salty soils, and different flavour and nutrition. Due to the enormous environmental and social change that has occurred worldwide over the past hundred years, many farmers no longer grow these varieties and many habitats where their wild relatives once lived are now gone or have totally changed.

Global Crop Diversity Trust Director of Science Luigi Guarino said that the Trust had been working on analyzing gaps in genebank collections, in collaboration with CIAT and others in CGIAR, for over a decade, starting with crop wild relatives and now moving on to landraces.

Minding the gaps Hamidou Falalou, a senior scientist and genebank manager at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Niamey, Niger, said that to identify the remaining gaps in genebank conservation, “passport data” of collections currently conserved in genebanks are used.

“Before embarking on collecting expeditions, we need to know where we have already collected, and where gaps in the diversity of crops still remain,” he said. ICRISAT in Niger is located in a region with tremendous diversity in cowpea, pearl millet, and sorghum landraces, among other crops.

Falalou noted that there were other challenges to overcome in the process of searching for landraces. “Even after all permission and authorisation documents are obtained, some challenges include embarking on the collecting trip at the right stage of growth of the crops, cultural and/or social differences, and insecurity in some areas.

Julie Sardos, a genetic resources scientist at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, who has been running banana collecting missions for over six years, said; “Many farmers we meet are well aware that some of their traditional landraces are progressively being lost, mostly from changes associated with climate and from social factors.”


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