Agriculture Bill

Written evidence submitted by Dr Nigel Maxted, University of Birmingham (AB50)


1. This submission consists of written evidence provided by Dr Nigel Maxted, Senior Lecturer in Plant Genetic Conservation at the University of Birmingham. He is the chair of the UK Plant Genetic Resources Group (UKPGRG), which serves as the technical forum to discuss and implement the conservation and use of plant genetic resources in the UK. The group provides advice and technical support to Government Departments (primarily Defra) on technical and policy matters which relate to the UK or the UK’s international role in plant genetic resources. The group is independent from government, but its Secretariat is provided by Defra.

Executive summary

2. This submission is primarily concerned with protecting agrobiodiversity for food security, given the following:

i. The genetic diversity of the world’s plant populations holds great value for world food security. However, these plant genetic resources are under considerable threat.

ii. Genetic diversity is essential to develop new crop varieties suited to meet the challenges of the future, such as climate change and feeding a growing human population.

Suggested amendment for consideration by the Committee

3. Clause 1, Page 2, line 3, at end add –

"(h) protecting the genetic diversity conservation of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture."

Explanatory statement: To facilitate the conservation of the genetic diversity of crop wild relatives in farmland and promote on-farm conservation of landrace diversity throughout the country in order to sustain crop production against the backdrop of climate change and human population growth.

Protecting agrobiodiverity for food security

4. Food security is one of the major global challenges of the 21st century. It is now widely recognised that the remaining genetic diversity found in the wild species related to domesticated crops is an important reservoir of genes and alleles that are required to develop new varieties suited to meet the challenges of the future. Feeding a growing human population is one of these challenges. In 2018, the human population stood at 7.65 billion, with 78% living in developing countries. By 2050, the world population is expected to reach 9.8 billion, with 86% living in developing countries (UN, 2018). If we are to address this challenge, then we will need to develop new varieties of high-yield crops. To feed the human population in 2050 we will need to increase food supplies by 60% globally – and 100% in developing countries (FAO, 2011). However, climate change may reduce agricultural production by 2% each decade this century (IPCC, 2014). There is therefore an urgent need to develop new crops that can sustain production in a changing environment.

5. Plant genetic resources offer a means to sustainably increase food production by providing the breadth of genetic traits (pest, disease and environmental constraint reduction, agronomic quality and even yield improvement). Without such diversity, we are limiting the ability of crop breeders to develop improved varieties that can adapt to climate change and other challenges. The majority of plant genetic resources are found in crop landraces, which are the product of traditional seed saving systems rather than modern plant breeding, and crop wild relatives, which are wild species that are relatively closely related to a crop and can be cross-bred to introduce desirable traits.

6. The estimated global value of crop wild relatives for the purposes of crop breeding is estimated at $115 billion per annum. No similar valuation is available for crop landraces, but it is thought to be even higher. Given their value, it might be assumed that plant genetic resources are carefully preserved. However, a study in 2012 found that, of 572 native European crop wild relatives, 16% were assessed as ‘threatened’ or ‘near threatened’ and 4% were considered to be critically endangered and close to extinction. Only a handful of crop wild relatives are actively conserved in protected areas, while the UK has no formally recognised conservation area to conserve crop wild relative diversity.

November 2018


Prepared 13th November 2018