Spreading the word about CWR in Pakistan

Michael Major, Crop Trust

Pakistan is a true haven for crop wild relatives (CWR), yet these cousins of our domesticated crops have not been well understood in the country. No longer. In an effort to heighten awareness about CWR, the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) recently held a seminar entitled Crop Wild Relatives Genetic Resources of Pakistan and their Utilization with support from the Crop Wild Relatives Project.

“The importance of CWRs is not well recognized even in the agricultural and scientific community here in Pakistan,” said Dr. Shakeel Jatoi. He oversees a CWR collecting effort in Pakistan which aims to collect, conserve and make available crop wild relatives from the gene pools of 18 crops: wheat, oat, pigeonpea, chickpea, carrot, finger millet, barley, sweetpotato, grasspea, lentil, apple, alfalfa, rice, pearl millet, rye, eggplant, sorghum and common vetch. This is one of 24 collecting projects that the Crop Wild Relatives Project is funding around the world. This global undertaking, funded by the Norwegian Government, is led by the Crop Trust with the Millennium Seed Bank, Kew.

“Our collaborating partners in provincial institutes have limited knowledge about CWR,” Shakeel said. “Whenever we visit a location to collect CWRs, we encounter many questions by the local people. Why are you collecting this plant? Does it have medical significance? What is the economic benefit of this plant?”

Having started its collecting efforts in 2016, the CWR Project team in Pakistan now has abundant material, information and experience to share. Thus far, the team has collected 203 accessions of 30 crop wild relatives taxa. This has substantially enriched the national collection of plant genetic resources, and also increased the availability of these species globally. Many of these accessions are now also safety duplicated at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank. Soon, copies of all of the material will be housed at the MSB. Shakeel and his colleagues have also gained experience in managing and sharing data.

Shakeel had the inspiration to host a CWR seminar in his native country in 2016. He joined 20 participants from Malaysia, Vietnam, Pakistan and Nepal in a CWR Project-sponsored international workshop entitled Collecting, Handling and Long-Term Conservation of Seeds of Crop Wild Relatives in Malaysia. The workshop was hosted by the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI) and was facilitated by experts from Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank. “After attending that workshop, I was eager to return to Pakistan and spread the word about crop wild relatives back home too,” Shakeel said.

On 14 November 2018, Shakeel and his colleagues at the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council duly organized a CWR awareness-raising seminar in Islamabad. The one-day event brought together 200 genebank staff, breeders, taxonomists and researchers from different government institutions, private companies, organizations and universities in the country.

“This was the first time a seminar on crop wild relatives was held in Pakistan,” said Dr. Abdul Ghafoor, Director of the Bio-resources Conservation Institute (BCI). “The common theme throughout the seminar was the importance of crop diversity, particularly for crop improvement under changing climatic conditions, and the need to not only rescue and conserve wild crops but to actively use them.”

“The seminar was conducted at a very appropriate time as sustainable development, management and conservation of natural resources, including CWR, are maybe now the main issues faced by many countries, including Pakistan,” said Dr. Muhammad Hashim Popalzai, Federal Secretary, Ministry of National Food Security and Research, who delivered the inaugural address. “Through this seminar, PARC aimed to strengthen national agricultural research systems nationwide to improve national crop genetic resources management.”

Beri Bonglim of the Crop Trust, who travelled from Bonn to speak about the CWR Project at the seminar, said: “Our partners in Pakistan have been very proactive in creating an awareness campaign and there were numerous takeaway messages from the seminar.”

“The first task is to educate the people – the local community as well as scientific community and decision-makers – about the significance of CWRs and their conservation,” she added.

“Secondly, sending special collecting missions from Islamabad to rural regions is not only very expensive and time consuming, but it is also very challenging to collect seeds at the proper maturity stage in remote places,” said Beri. If the capacity of the agricultural institutes (provincial, federal and private) situated in these areas could be developed, they could collect seeds much more easily at the proper stage and conserve them locally in situ and also ex situ by depositing seeds in the national genebank.

“We hope that the discussions and recommendations resulting from this seminar will prove useful for the networking and strengthening of plant genetic resources activities under national agricultural research systems in Pakistan,” concluded Dr. Popalzai. “That will ultimately lead to meeting growing demands for food in the country.”

###

This collecting project is part of Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change: Collecting, Protecting and Preparing Crop Wild Relatives, funded by the Norwegian Government, and coordinated by the Crop Trust with the Millennium Seed Bank, Kew (http://www.cwrdiversity.org/). All materials produced by the project will be made available to users through the standard material transfer agreement (SMTA).