Genetic resources, Agro-biodiversity and Traditional Knowledge
Genetic resources or germplasm are biological materials of animal, plant and microbes that contain the hereditary information necessary for life and is responsible for their useful properties and ability to replicate. Agro-biodiversity can be defined as variety and variability of animal, plant and microbial organisms on earth that are important for food and agriculture. It is an important sub-set of genetic resources as it is the basis of food security and a fundamental feature of farming systems around the world.
For millennia, people have managed genetic resources, selecting crops, harvesting medicinal plants etc. Genetic resources remain the basis for the improvement of agricultural crops, for medicines of about 75% of the world population that relies upon traditional, largely plant-based, treatments for its primary healthcare and for a myriad of other products such as pharmaceuticals, crop protection products and perfumes.
Agriculturally used (domesticated) plants have been fundamentally altered from their wild relatives and they have been reshaped to meet human needs and wants. Crop genetic resources and agro-biodiversity are the result of thousands of years of evolutionary process. Two types of selection distinguish crop evolution, namely natural and artificial. These evolutionary processes must continue in order for agriculture systems to remain viable. Crop evolution has been altered by our enhanced ability to produce, locate, and access genetic material. Both farmers and scientists have relied on the store of genetic diversity present in crop plants that has been accumulated by hundreds of generations who have observed, selected, multiplied, stored, traded and kept variants of crop plants.
From: Sustainable Farming Systems through Traditional Plant Genetic Resources and Indigenous Knowledge based Practices (Colombo: Helvetas, 2002) pp. 7-9.