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Farming affects plant genetic erosion: policy actions to prevent it

Author(s): Damiano Avanzato

Journal: Scientific Papers of the Research Institute for Fruit Growing Pitesti, Romania
ISSN 1584-2231

Volume: XXIV;
Start page: 9;
Date: 2008;
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Keywords: Germplasm | Old varieties | Fruit trees

According to FAO estimations, worldwide genetic erosion has diminished genetic diversity among cultivated plants by around 75%. The main reason is found in modern agricultural production primarily based on intensive models cultivation, utilizing genetically uniform material of domesticated species. These obtained a predominant role when man advanced from hunter and gatherer to farmer, selecting and “domesticating” the wild relatives of today’s cultivated plants (Crop Wild Relatives, CWR). The CWR, acting as a genetic basin whenever a cultivated species needs to be improved, have to be protected in the same way as cultivated species are. A research conducted by the PGR Forum working group shows that CWRs account for 77% of all existing species in the Euro-Mediterranean area. This result underlines the potential vulnerability of our agricultural systems in the event of the vanishing of the genetic support provided by this particular plant genetic diversity. Also cultivated varieties are subject to genetic erosion. An analysis of a number of still lives collected in the Botanic Museum of the University of Florence showed that 116 different varieties of citrus, 10 of apricot, 26 of peach, 66 of cherry, 30 of fig, 53 of apple, 109 of pear, 75 of plum and 75 of grapevine were present in Tuscany at the beginning of the 18th century. Only 150 cultivars, however, were mentioned in a Tuscan newspaper article published at the beginning of the 19th century: over 400 fruit tree varieties have probably vanished within only a bit more than a hundred years of time. The genetic erosion affected also the accessions from historical gardens, theoretically protected sites, and several genotypes resulting lost. Nevertheless the historical sites such are the abandoned castles can become the places where to establish the synergy between history and plant genetic safeguard.
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