Traditionally, farmers throughout the world have raised thousands of different animal breeds and plant varieties to increase yields or to better suit local conditions. Across the range of a species this results in many different breeds or varieties and a vast bank of genetic diversity.

In years gone by in Ireland, cereals like wheat, oats or barley, were grown locally in a cycle of planting and harvesting of seed for generation after generation. This results in the development of varieties that are regionally or locally adapted (Donegal has a very different climate to Wexford) and a crop that has a rich genetic base.

‘Genetic resources’ is a term that encompasses this diversity. We now know it is essential for the future adaptation of our agricultural crops and domestic animals to new diseases, a changing climate, changing production methods, or even to new consumer demands.


Why are genetic resources declining?

On a world wide scale, genetic resources have strongly declined. Today agriculture relies on a small number of specialised types of livestock and crops, with the result that thousands of traditional animal breeds and crop varieties have disappeared along with the genetic diversity they possessed. This decline represents a serious threat to the future world food supply and hinders the development of sustainable agricultural production.

Wild species represent an important primary source of genetic material.  This site provides information on Ireland’s Crop Wild Relative species.  In the future we may have little choice but to look to these species and to find ways of exploiting their natural genetic resources.


What is being done?

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is a comprehensive international agreement in harmony with Convention on Biological Diversity. It aims to guarantee food security through the conservation, exchange and sustainable use of the world’s plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, as well as the fair and equitable benefit sharing arising from their use. There are 120 parties to the treaty (119 countries and the European Community).

Among the countries who have ratified the treaty, there is a Multilateral System (MLS) of access and benefit sharing for a list of the most important food and forage crops essential for food security and interdependence. These species are listed in Annex 1 to the treaty (102 of these species occur in Ireland).

In Ireland the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has direct responsibility for the coordination and promotion of measures for the conservation and utilisation of genetic resources for food and agriculture. In this task, the Department is aided and advised by an Advisory Committee on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

There are also many other organisations working towards the conservation of Ireland’s genetic resources.


Organisations involved in the conservation of Ireland’s genetic resources:

Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food both participates in and coordinates measures to conserve genetic resources for food and agriculture in Ireland.