Conserving and making the most of the planet's wealth of genetic resources will be crucial for survival, as people will need to produce sufficient and nutritious food for a growing population,  FAO Deputy Director-General Dan Gustafson said addressing the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. 

The Commission, the only intergovernmental body to specifically address all matters related to the world's gene pool for food and agriculture, is marking its 30th anniversary and is meeting in Rome. 

"FAO believes that adaptation of the agriculture sector is not merely an option, but an imperative for human survival, and genetic resources will form an essential part of any adaptation strategy," he said. 

"Ensuring food security in the face of climate change is among the most daunting challenges facing humankind," Gustafson said. 

Plants account for over 80 percent of the human diet. Some 30 crops account for 95 percent of human food energy needs and just five of them - rice, wheat, maize, millet and sorghum - alone provide 60 percent. Yet more than 7000 plant species have been gathered and cultivated since people first learned to do so many millennia ago. And there are as many as 30,000 edible terrestrial plant species in the world.

"Climate change impacts are expected to reduce agricultural productivity, stability and incomes in many areas that already experience high levels of food insecurity. Yet world agricultural production must increase 60 percent by the middle of this century - less than 40 years from now - to keep pace with the food requirements of the world's growing population,"said Gustafson. 

"Genetic resources for food and agriculture play a crucial role in food security, secure livelihoods and environmental services. They also play a crucial role in enabling crops, livestock, aquatic organisms and forest trees to withstand climate change-related conditions."


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Climate Change Roadmap

The Commission will be considering a Roadmap on Climate Change and Genetic Resources for an initial phase through 2017. Activities foreseen include awareness-raising, developing guidelines on integrating genetic resources for food and agriculture into adaptation planning, identifying hotspots where biodiversity is under particular threat from climate change and developing an action plan to conserve crop wild relatives from the threat of extinction. 

While the Commission is more advanced on plant and animal genetic resources, FAO is also making significant progress in addressing the genetic resources of forests, aquatic life, micro-organisms and invertebrates, reflecting the broadened mandate of the Commission since 1995. including, Bacteria, for example, are essential for production of yogurt and cheese, earthworms churn soil and break down organic matter into essential nutrients and a plethora of pollinators, such as the honeybee, enable 35 percent of the world's crops to reproduce.