Guest Article #63

The Work of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

The Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently agreed on a need for a roadmap on climate change and genetic resources. The Commission is the only permanent forum for governments to discuss and negotiate matters specifically relevant to biological diversity for food and agriculture.

At the Special Information Seminar on “Climate Change and Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture,” which was held prior to the 13th regular session of the Commission (18-22 July 2011), a number of scientists and experts discussed the risks posed by climate change to the different sectors of genetic resources for food and agriculture, (i.e. plants, animals, aquatic resources, forests, invertebrates and micro-organisms), and the potential use of genetic resources for food and agriculture in mitigation and particularly adaptation strategies.[1]

Climate change is increasingly representing a threat to food security in many parts of the world. Although climate change is not the only stressor affecting our ecosystems, its effects can be exacerbated in areas already affected by other factors such as pollution, overharvest and water scarcity. Clearly, policies, strategies and actions on food security, climate change and biodiversity need to be further integrated and mutually supportive.

Experts indicate that 30% of the world's countries will experience a new climate with a new combination of factors such as temperatures, rainfall, winds and daylights. Parts of the world could experience a climate existing somewhere else. A study by Andrew Jarvis shows how, for instance, in 2050 the climate of Zimbabwe could move more towards the type of climate now existing in Congo. Climate change will affect weather around the globe and genetic resources for food and agriculture will have to move accordingly in order to adapt to these changes. Changes in climate are also likely to place new pressures on conservation of landraces of crop species. Using the same example, Zimbabwe could then need to sow the seeds that are now used in Congo. Consideration will need to be given to facilitate access to more genetic resource materials due to increases in interdependency brought about by shifts in climate zones globally.

The knowledge attached to the proper use of those genetic resources, be they scientific, traditional or indigenous to the new users, will need to be made available. More action in terms of developing knowledge, using instruments, establishing cooperation and providing support is needed.

The Commission recognized the relevant roles that genetic resources for food and agriculture play for the adaptation to the consequences of climate change and in supporting the efforts to achieve food security, now and in the future. The genetic resources for food and agriculture also have the potential to contribute to the mitigation of climate change.

The Commission acknowledged the role of indigenous and local communities and smallholder farmers in the conservation of genetic resources for food and agriculture, and in maintaining the knowledge related to its use, especially with regard to wild relatives. It further highlighted the importance of both in situ and ex situ conservation to enable adaptation to climate change.

The Commission's roadmap contains four main elements: strategies and policies; tools and technologies for genetic resources and climate change; forging partnerships; and monitoring progress. As part of the implementation of the roadmap, the Commission will integrate climate change issues in its own instruments, such as the State of the Worlds and the Global Plans of Action on genetic resources for food and agriculture. The roadmap will be implemented through an integrated approach with consideration of sector- and region-specific needs, as well as considering agricultural ecosystem characteristics.

[1] All documents are available at the Commission website. as background documents of the Thirteenth Session.