The introduction of increasingly genetically uniform crop varieties has resulted in a decline of genetic variation worldwide. However, novel genetic diversity can still be found in crop wild relatives (CWR) and landraces (LR). Many CWR and LR are threatened or endangered by changing and intensifying land use and agricultural practices, among other factors. This makes in situ and complementary ex situ conservation of CWR and LR essential for the preservation of their gene pool and to make sure that these diversity is available for use. In situ conservation is important as it facilitates gene flow between species and populations while enabling them to adapt to environmental- and climatic changes.
Even though modern crop cultivars may have significantly higher yields than traditional LR, CWR and LR have a wealth of adaptive traits to offer for crop improvement. First, they provide an important value as a genetic resource, the so-called provisioning service: CWR are potential gene donors for current crop improvement and LR can be directly consumed for food. They also provide a reserve of adaptive diversity that is available to meet the as yet unspecified future demands of crop improvement. Second, they provide regulating services such as pest and disease control, erosion control, pollination efficiency and soil processes (nutrient cycling, decomposition and erosion control), air quality and carbon sequestration. Third, as a supporting service, CWR and LR contribute to the maintenance of genetic diversity in the ecosystem. Fourth and last, they provide a certain cultural service as part of our natural heritage and upon which ecotourism can be developed.
Given the fact that CWR and LR provide numerous ecosystem services, an ecosystem services approach to estimate the real value of these resources should be undertaken in order to mainstream their conservation and sustainable use. Well known examples of ecosystem services approaches include: payments for ecosystem services, community-based conservation or ecosystem-based management. Although there have been some valuation studies for CWR and LR based on the current value of used adaptive traits, there haven’t been real life examples of an implementation of ecosystem services approaches to the conservation of CWR and LR in existing biodiversity conservation projects.
The Task Force on Agrobiodiversity (TFA) aims to enhance the conservation and sustainable utilization of CWR and LR through valuation of all the services they provide and the development of effective ecosystem services approaches to their conservation.
The TFA has three primary objectives:
- Assign the value of CWR and LR and develop ecosystem-based approaches for the conservation and sustainable use of CWR and LR.
- Build capacity for ecosystem services approaches to the conservation and sustainable use of CWR and LR in the (scientific) community by training staff/students.
- Communication with policy-makers, NGOs, the private sector and the general public to create awareness and support.