Why genetic diversity matters

A single variety of corn as far as the eye can see? Or a home garden in which more than 350 different plant species all play a part? Scientists from around the world will explain during a Nov. 4 symposium, how agricultural biodiversity -- especially the hugely variable treasure trove hidden within almost all the plants people depend on -- is a powerful force not only for higher yields but also to give millions of poor people around the world a more secure food supply. This symposium is part of the ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meetings in Denver, CO. The symposium will be held from 8 to 11 am in the Colorado Convention Center, Room A209, Street level.

In Nepal, farmers are keen to adopt new high yielding rice varieties to be grown on good land. But they also hang on to their traditional rice types, because they realize that these older varieties give them a dependable harvest in marginal conditions, such as water-logging, that modern varieties simply cannot cope with. And farmers take the diversity contained in modern varieties and breed with it to enhance the performance of their own traditional varieties.

In the developed world biodiversity is seen as the raw material from which breeders craft more productive varieties. By unlocking the genetic riches of old traditional landraces and the wild relatives of crops, breeders can find the qualities needed to respond to changing growing conditions and market demands. That raises questions of who should benefit from the genetic resources. The meeting will be hearing about initiatives to grapple with the formidable policy challenges to achieve fair sharing of the access to and the benefits from biodiversity.

Beyond breeding, however, diversity is proving its worth in farmers' fields around the world. Breeders and farmers have always known that they can protect themselves from pests and diseases by the astute use of crop diversity. Crop rotation makes use of diversity in time. Planting mixtures or variable varieties

Contact: Sara Uttech
American Society of Agronomy

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