By James Laraki and Raghunath Ghodake (November 23, 2012)
COLLABORATIVE agricultural research and development (R&D) efforts are vital to managing our agrobiodiversity, especially in the context of conservation through use of genetic resources for sustainable agricultural development and global food security.
In PNG, the National Agricultural Research Institute is implementing a number of projects to enhance conservation and use of the genetic resources locally, as well as contributing to regional efforts through partnership and collaborations through regional networks, reviewing the role and direction of agricultural R&D to efficiently address the challenges we are confronted with.
A number of regional networks have been organized in the Asia-Pacific region to promote regional collaboration for strengthening PGR for food and agriculture conservation and their use. NARI is a partner to these networks and these are: South Asia Network on Plant Genetic Resources, the East Asia PGR Network, Regional Cooperation for Plant Genetic Resources in Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Plant Genetic Resources Network.
There are also several commodity focused PGR networks like the Banana Asia Pacific Network, the International Coconut Genetic Resources Network, Cereals and Legumes Asia Network, the International Network for the Genetic Evaluation of Rice, and the Asia Pacific Forest Genetic Resources Program. These sub-regional networks are operated mostly by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) centers in close partnership with the Asia Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI).
Strengthening collaboration with regional networks is essential as agrobiodiversity cuts across national boundaries and there are many common issues and concerns that need multi-country partnerships and sharing of experiences. It allows us to contribute to regional issues as well as benefit from collaborative efforts.
It also allows us to collaborate with international research institutions and where required implement regional collaborative projects, especially on activities relating to endangered and underutilized crops. Identifying roles of participating countries and funding mobilization are other areas that could be possible through networks collaboration.
The development of national plans and integrating them into regional collaborative frameworks are important to enhance both food security and sustainable agricultural development. In the absence of such national agrobiodiversity plans and regional collaborative frameworks, it is difficult to advocate the importance of agrobiodiversity to the policy makers and other stakeholders. This will require assessment of national and regional priorities for agrobiodiversity in view of the emerging challenges.
To achieve this, the facilitation role of regional fora such as APAARI, CGIAR centres, FAO, etc., is necessary and must be promoted.
Research and development efforts in the region are now set to be pursued through the agrobiodiversity research and development framework for the Asia-Pacific region.
The framework referred to as “The Suwon Agrobiodiversity Framework”, provides a strategic approach, towards both management and use through regional collaboration and partnerships among stakeholders. This framework developed and adopted during the international symposium on ‘Sustainable Agricultural Development and Use of Agrobiodiversity in the Asia-Pacific Region’ in 2010, Suwon, South Korea, will also be the basis for all partner countries to develop their own national programs for conservation and sustainable use of PGR.
This framework proposes an integrated approach which seeks to ensure the continued availability of critical genetic resources not only for the improvement of agricultural productivity and resilience of the production systems but also to improve the quality of the supply chains through effective collaboration of different stakeholders working on a broad range of genetic resources for food and agriculture.
It also builds on current partnerships and regional experiences involving national and international organizations and for integrating partnerships across the different sectors of genetic resources. The vision of the proposed framework approach draws lessons from existing collaboration between different CGIAR centres, national agricultural research systems and all the stakeholders in the region.
Moving forward, the framework is expected to: encourage all partner countries to adopt the framework in their national efforts; develop regional collaborative projects; donor/funding agencies to use it as the basis of support; strengthen capacity of sub-regional and regional networks members, and support activities that promote the use of underutilized crops and their wild relatives.
Some of the research projects that have been identified to be implemented in the region includes: enhanced utilization of germplasm for sustainable crop production in the pacific region; collection of wild relatives of crops, increase availability and access to the rich biodiversity for conservation and to improve livelihood of farmers; enhance use of underutilized species for improved livelihoods and diversified diets; and to understand and manage changes in diversity.
Apart from maintaining the current germplasm collection of various staple crops, NARI is implementing a number projects and also making efforts to expand the crop improvement program. Notable project being implemented currently is the ‘seeds for needs’ project in collaboration with Biodiversity International.
This project is looking at identifying crop suitability models for taro and sweet potato for current and future climatic conditions. It is also aimed at identifying varieties adapted to future climatic conditions, with special emphasis to areas vulnerable to climate change. This project is also expected to develop an improved seed multiplication and delivery system, leading to improved genetic production potential of staple crops in PNG.
For us to achieve our expectations in the immediate future, it is essential that current projects that are being implemented and those planned be vigorously implemented with committed allocation of resources, including funding.
We also need to reactivate the existing partnerships and further research proposals be developed in other areas identified under the Suwon framework. Overall, we need to expand our crop improvement program, an important area of science that has been neglected over the years.
Photo: Wild banana in Boana, Morobe Province. Papua New Guinea is considered one of the centres of origin of banana – Picture: Toshiro Shigaki