Jan Engels:
Managing Plant Genetic Resources in a Sustained Manner in a Quickly Changing Environment


International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Italy

Approaches to the conservation and use of plant genetic resources have vastly changed over the past twenty years or so. While until the early 1990's the focus was strongly on ex situ conservation with a clear emphasis on technologies and the use of conserved germplasm by plant breeders, thereafter this dramatically changed, and people became gradually the focal point of conservation and use activities. Participatory approaches started to become important and a clear shift could be observed with regard to questions related to ownership over the germplasm.

Whereas the common heritage principle was the basis for the exchange of genetic resources until the early 1990's this changed drastically thereafter, triggered by the negotiations of the Convention on Biological Diversity as well as the International Treaty. In both conventions national sovereignty over genetic resources is the basis. The International Treaty stresses the importance that plant genetic resources for food and agriculture are readily available to the users, based on their specific characteristics compared to biodiversity at large, and agreed on the establishment of a multilateral system.

Due to the aforementioned developments national plant genetic resources programmes, including genebanks, started to re-think their role and responsibility in conserving and facilitating the use of genetic resources, in particular by placing the efforts in a much broader context and trying to link conservation efforts with development. The important role of farmers in managing geneex situex situ activities. In addition, new technological developments facilitated conservation programmes to adjust to changing environments.

The abovementioned broad changes will be illustrated with concrete examples to demonstrate how the management of plant genetic resources is evolving and in which way sustainability is being addressed, strengthened and/or weakened.

Keywords: Conservation and use, ownership, participatory approaches, plant genetic resources, sustainable management


Contact Address: Jan Engels, International Plant Genetic Resources InstituteRome, Italy, e-mail: j.engels@cgiar.org
Andreas Deininger, September 2004