Severe, grave and philosophical

by Luigi Guarino on November 9, 2012

That, we are told by the BBC’s Material World presenter Quentin Cooper, is what Jonathan Swift thought coffee makes us. And I for one would agree with Mr Cooper that it is indeed also how Dr Aaron Davis, Head of Coffee Research at Kew Gardens, and global crop wild relative expert Dr Nigel Maxted, from the University of Birmingham, came over in an interview with him yesterday. It’s all because of that Kew study on the effects of climate change on wild arabica, which is really making the rounds, not least thanks to the BBC. You can download the whole podcast, but we’ve taken the liberty of filleting out the 10 minutes of the programme which feature Drs Davis and Maxted, with many thanks to the BBC. More background on crop wild relatives in Europe from the PGR Secure and the older PGR Forum project website. IUCN has a Red List. There’s a Global Portal. And a big global project on crop wild relatives too. Who says these things are not getting enough attention?

Listen to that key segment.

Read that paper on Arachis, Vigna and Solanum Nigel alluded to.

And dream about attending that FAO workshop he mentioned for next week.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave Wood November 9, 2012 at 5:37 pm

This is all getting a bit frenetic. It seems not one of these attempts to conserve wild relatives is being done by crop breeding institutes – rather university and botanic garden staff. How can a paper on conserving wild arabica ignore the vast orchard collections at Jimma in Ethiopia and, notably, at CATIE in Turrialba? Botanic gardens – indeed all gardens – for hundreds of years have shown that wild plants can readily be conserved and studied and tapped for use ex situ. Long-term programmes at crop breeding institutes – ICRISAT for Arachis, CATIE and UWI (Trinidad) for Theobroma, CIMMYT for wheats and lots more show that ex situ is the way to go. In situ is time consuming and costly and only marginally useful for crop improvement unless there is a great deal of long-term investment and teamwork. The most experience with wild species is found in pasture programmes – and these seem to have been written-off as models – both ILRI/ILCA in Africa and CIAT in Colombia have masses of collections and experience.
All of these wild relative field and herbarium studies smack of conservationists trying to find excuses to expand an iniquitous system of protected areas rather than trying to improve agriculture.
I tried to get the Kew botanists interested in wild relatives and pasture species taxonomy 25 years ago: nothing doing, for the good reason that just no-one would fund it. Now funds are being sloshed around with no direct link to plant improvement whatever.

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Shelagh Kell November 9, 2012 at 9:01 pm

Suggest you look at the websites of the projects and upcoming meeting at FAO Luigi referred to in his posting. I hope you will find that in these projects we have been using funds to good effect with the intention of making these neglected genetic resources available for crop improvement. This is not going to happen overnight but a lot has happened in the last ten years, both in Europe and elsewhere.

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