Human activities are the main factors triggering biodiversity loss in West Asia. Habitat destruction and fragmentation due to urban expansion, tourism developments, dredging and reclamation of coastal areas are serious problems in the region, especially along the coasts.
Multilateral agreements to minimize these threats are gaining ground in the region. In 2004, Lebanon, Oman and United Arab Emirates joined the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which entered into force on 29 June 2004. Jordan, Kuwait and Syria had joined previously (FAO 2004).
Jordan and Syria also became parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in 2004 (SCBD 2004a). The West Asian countries face challenges in complying with the provisions of the protocol. For example, they lack expertise in the safe transfer and handling of genetically modified organisms and their products (SCBD 2004b). The capacity of national institutions in the region must be strengthened and national biosafety frameworks developed. Efforts must be made to avoid contamination of local crop varieties and wild relatives with genetically modified strains.
Box 3: Putting agrobiodiversity into practice
The UNDP/Global Environment Facility project on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Dryland Agrobiodiversity in West Asia aims to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity in ten major crops and their wild relatives (Valkoun and others 2004, UNDP 2003b).
For example 'Hourani', a wheat variety planted in Syria and Jordan for 1 000 years, nearly became extinct, replaced by highly productive Italian and Mexican wheat varieties in the 1970s. Now, genetic erosion has been slowed by promoting the reintroduction of local wheat varieties into farming systems (Charkasi 2000). Other species targeted by the project have been incorporated in reforestation programmes (ICARDA 2002 and 2004).
Poverty alleviation through income-generating micro-projects is another significant result. Bee keeping and production of organic products are becoming popular on project pilot sites.