Agricultural biodiversity is a broad term that includes all components of biological diversity of relevance to food and agriculture, and all components of biological diversity that constitute the agricultural ecosystems, also named agro-ecosystems: the variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms, at the genetic, species and ecosystem levels, which are necessary to sustain key functions of the agro-ecosystem, its structure and processes (COP decision V/5, appendix).

The underlying challenge is how to expand and improve agricultural production – especially given the need to increase global food production– while securing our planet’s biodiversity. In this context plant breeders play a fundamental role.

Plant breeding is the science of recombining plant genetics – whether from existing varieties, gene banks or wild relatives – into new varieties. The genetic diversity of crop plants is the foundation for the sustainable development of new varieties for present and future challenges. Plant breeders have used genetic diversity for centuries to develop new varieties better adapted to agricultural practices, environmental stress conditions and new consumer requirements.

In this respect, more than 42,000 different varieties are available to European farmers today, and more than 3,500 new varieties are registered in the catalogue every year.

But plant breeding also helps maintaining and creating new biodiversity by using old and developing new plant genetic resources. These plant genetic resources not only constitute an important part of the rich biodiversity of our planet; they are also an essential basis for seed innovation.

Progress in science and technology has enabled a better, quicker and more efficient use of genetic resources. Moreover, breeders support collaborative efforts to evaluate, conserve and maintain seed collections, ensuring their genetic value endures and is passed on to future generations.

Thanks to these efforts, breeders have provided the necessary tools to adapt certain crops to very diverse climatic conditions, thus allowing farmers successfully grow them from Southern to Northern Europe. By increasing crop alternatives into the crop rotation system, agriculture generates both economic value and agricultural diversity.

Plant breeders also contribute to a better environment by developing better adapted varieties to different environmental conditions, which are more resilient to climate variations and require less inputs. More resilient varieties with higher tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses are the starting point to reduce food loses in field.

As a matter of fact, the amount of land used for agricultural purposes in the EU is shrinking, as a result of increasing urbanisation in Europe. In this situation, plant breeding innovation plays a crucial role in helping to increase yields, thereby reducing the need to dedicate yet more land to agricultural production and in turn, saving habitats and preserving biodiversity.

Innovative solutions such as modern varieties ensure farmers to maintain high stable yield and quality production while at the same time reducing the environmental impact and addressing biodiversity. To successfully meet the challenges ahead, famers need to rely on high quality seeds and traits.

Sources:

OECD Observer

FAO – Tackling climate change through plant breeding and better use of plant genetic resources

The socio-economic and environmental values of plant breeding in the EU and for selected EU member states

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Related Subjects

Seed Treatment and Technologies

Plant Breeding Innovation

Genetic Resources

Intellectual Property

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