Food for the Future: Conserving Crop Wild Relatives
What are crop wild relatives?
As the name suggests, a crop wild relative (CWR) is a wild plant species related to a domesticated crop. For centuries crop wild relatives have provided farmers with the genetic material to improve the nutritional quality of crops, enhance productivity, and provide cultivated varieties with resistance to pests and diseases. Their value in increasing crop yields worldwide has been estimated at as much as US$ 115 billion per year.
In addition, the conservation of crop wild relatives has become even more critical during a period of climate change. Also, he genetic diversity of these wild species gives breeders and farmers the resources they need to ensure that agricultural ecosystems can adapt to changing conditions and remain productive.
Falling through the cracks
Despite their importance, the in situ conservation of CWRs has been neglected. This is partly because they fall between two conservation sectors. Traditional biodiversity conservation efforts tend to focus on habitats or on rare and threatened wild species, while agricultural conservationists tend to focus on already domesticated crops. As a result, CRWs have rarely been targeted for in-situ conservation. Without active in situ management, genetic diversity within and between individual crop wild relative populations could be eroded and entire populations could even go extinct.
A global project, “In-situ Conservation of Wild Crop Relatives through Enhanced Information Management and Field Application”, developed by UNEP and executed by Biodiversity International and other partners , has united national agencies in Armenia, Bolivia, Madagascar, Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan - all centers of CWR diversity - to improve conservation of this neglected component of biodiversity.
Managing Water Wisely to Save Wetlands and Waterbirds
Human civilizations have risen by the shores of seas, rivers, and wetlands, the latter being remarkably productive ecosystems, teeming with biodiversity such as waterbirds and fish. Yet, where water has been abused and lost, wildlife and civilizations too have vanished. Now, more than ever, as human population increases and water demands grow, people and wildlife need secure and adequate sources of water for survival. The Siberian Crane Wetland Project, implemented by UNEP and executed by the International Crane Foundation, demonstrated that the delicate inter-connections between water, wetlands, wildlife and human welfare can be successfully managed to the benefit of people and biodiversity.
By the 1970s, seven of the world’s fifteen crane species were threatened with extinction and 11 remain threatened with risk. Similar negative trends appear in Asia among the other waterbird groups: 59% of known waterbird populations are declining, 27% are stable and only 10% are increasing. Meanwhile escalating human demand on limited water supplies and arable land is accelerating the loss and degradation of wetlands in Asia.
To help reverse these trends, the Siberian Crane Wetland Project aimed to secure the ecological integrity of a network of 16 critical wetlands needed for the survival of the Siberian Crane and other migratory waterbirds along their annual migration route of 5,100 km from breeding to wintering sites, through, the Russian Federation, China, Iran and Kazakhstan. The flyway wetland sites used by the Siberian Crane are shared by at least 27 globally threatened waterbird species and sustain millions of migratory waterbirds along their migrations across the Asian continent. For example, Poyang Lake in Jiangxi Province, China is internationally famous for its birdlife with over 300 bird species of which at least 16 are globally threatened. Winter surveys at Poyang have recorded 425,000 waterbirds on average, with a peak count of 726,000 birds in 2005. At least 11 globally threatened waterbird species have been recorded, several of which breed in Russia with significant proportions of their global populations depending on Poyang Lake. For example, in recent years over half of the world’s Swan Geese Anser cygnoides and White-naped Cranes Grus vipio migrate to the lake and over 95% of the world’s Oriental Storks and Siberian Cranes depend on Poyang during winter months. These wetlands are also of considerable socio-economic and cultural importance, supporting the livelihoods of local communities, as well as contributing to regional development.