Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Present country Explosion on Plant Genetic Resource for Food and Agriculture in Pakistan

By: Muhammad Mahran Aslam- Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics, University of Agriculture Faisalabad

The conservation and sustainable utilization of plant genetic resources is key to improving agricultural productivity, thereby contributing to national development, food security and the relief from poverty.  Recognizing the importance of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA), an international process on the preparation of Country Report was initiated in 1992 under the auspices of FAO.  FAO’s first report on the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources, prepared in 1996 from more than 150 country reports, identified a number of serious gaps and inefficiencies in the conservation  and utilization of these resources.  Based upon the country reports, FAO developed the Global Plan of Action on Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources which was intended as a frame work, guide and catalyst for actions at community, national, regional and international levels.
           The present Country Report reviews the current status of Plant Genetic Resources in Pakistan, focusing on (I) State of diversity, (ii) In situ management,  (iii) Ex-situ management, (iv) State of use, (v) National programs, trainings and legislation, (vi) Regional and International collaboration, (vii) Access to genetic resources, sharing of benefits arising out of their use and farmers’ rights, and (viii) Contribution of Plant Genetic Resources management to food security and sustainable development. Pakistan is endowed with rich resource base of plant genetic resources due to wide variations in soil and climate, its location in proximity to three of the major centres of diversity described by Vavilov(China, Indian subcontinent and Central Asia) and centre of diversity itself of many crop species. The country possesses many species of wild relatives of domestic crops, particularly of cereals and chickpea. There has been a catastrophic loss in agricultural biodiversity during the last three decades due to introduction of improved varieties in major crops like wheat, rice, cotton, chickpea and maize.  Due to little varietal improvement work in minor or underutilized crops, there still exists a lot of diversity in mung bean (Vignaradiata), mash (Vignamungo), brassicas complex, sorghum, millet and horticultural crops.  The awareness created by various public and private organizations about the importance of Plant genetic resources has attracted the attention of researchers, planners and NGOs for insitu and ex-situ conservation and sustainable utilization of these resources.
      For ex-situ conservation, the national program on collection, conservation and evaluation are underway but more needs to be done to fill in the gaps in collection from various areas of the country particularly for the wild relatives of crop plants.  An important step in exsitu conservation of plant genetic resources is the establishment of National Program on Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources at National Agricultural Research Centre, Islamabad which has been able to conserve more than 23000 accessions of various crops including major, minor and medicinal plants.  The national program on PGR has a Genebank along with six laboratories for (i) exploration and collection, (ii) seed conservation, (iii) in-vitro conservation, (iv) Germplasm evaluation & characterization, (v) plant introduction and seed health and (vi) data management. The PGRP has the national mandate on conservation, evaluation and distribution of germplasm. This national program is supported by six Crop Advisory Committees which help to identify the priority areas of collection and germplasm needs for specific purposes. Another step recently taken is the establishment of botanical gardens at Islamabad, Lahore and Peshawar. But unfortunately little has been done so far on on-farm management of plant genetic resources.  
   Regarding the utilization of these resources, a number of new varieties of wheat, rice, cotton, maize, sorghum, millet and horticultural crops have been developed which have contributed significantly in food security and sustainable development.  Besides high yields, the introduction of these varieties has considerably supported the sustainable management of diseases like the rust in wheat, Ascochyta blight in chickpea, cotton leaf curl virus in cotton and mungbean yellow mosaic virus in mung and mash, as well as better quality in basmati rice.  Approximately 2000 to 3000 accessions are distributed annually from the collections of the national Plant Genetic Resources Program to scientific community. The information collected from stakeholders during the implementation of the National Information Sharing Mechanism has revealed that the breeders need the germplasm mainly to address a range of biotic and abiotic stresses. In particular, tolerance to drought and salinity are the most demanded characters.
   Various universities have included courses on Biodiversity Conservation in their syllabus for graduate and post graduate students. Regarding legislation on access to genetic resources, benefit sharing, farmers’ rights, much has to be done yet as few national workshops have been held during the last 4-5 years. A draft on access and benefit sharing has been developed and is being considered at the appropriate fora.
 The National Information Sharing Mechanism on Plant Genetic Resources for Food & Agriculture has been developed and available on PARC website (www.parc.gov.pk).  For international collaborations, Pakistan has signed a memorandum of understanding on germplasm exchange with many countries. We extend full appreciation to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN for its consistent support, both in the form of technical and financial entities, that enabled us to assemble all the information from national programs after organizing several workshops on the subject to enable the stakeholders in contributing to the contents of the report.  

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