GRDC joins rescue effort to conserve global plant resources

THE GRDC has joined forces with the Federal Government and international donors in an urgent bid to conserve the world's plant genetic resources.

Speaking on behalf of the GRDC Board, Managing Director John Lovett said the GRDC has made an initial 'in principle' commitment of$1.6 million to the Global Conservation Trust (GCT), a $US260 million global effort to protect collections of crop plant germplasm. The Australian Government, through AusAID, is contributing a further $16.5 million.

Australian cereal- and pulse-breeding programs and growers' varietal choice have benefited greatly from international, non-profit plant-breeding organisations. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Mexico - the source of our semi -dwarf wheat breeding stock - alone has delivered an estimated $147 million annual net benefit to growers.

Other international collaborators include the Vavilov Institute in St Petersburg, Russia, which has been a recent source of valuable cereal and pulse germplasm for Australian breeders.

At the heart of these centres are invaluable repositories of biodiversity in agricultural breeding material - both 'wild relatives' and traditional crop lines.

The Global Conservation Trust is a partnership between the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the 16 Future Harvest Centres (e.g. CIMMYT or ICARDA) which are part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The Trust was set up following a series of reports indicating that the world's 1,470 gene banks are either seriously under-funded or jeopardised in politically unstable parts of the world.

Professor Lovett said the GRDC is developing a strategic approach to supporting the raw materials of crop improvement.

In our next issue, Ground Cover Will present a special feature on the challenges facing the Global Conservation Trust and the GRDC's contribution.

Contact: Prof John Lovett 02 6272 5525