Most plant breeders and genetic resources scientists would agree that crop wild relatives as a rich source of exotic diversity have proved their worth in contribution to crop improvement, especially for pest and disease resistance. So it may come as a surprise that despite their long history of use in breeding major crops, many CWR species are not well collected and conserved in genebanks. Meanwhile their native habitats are increasingly threatened by development and climate change, among other factors. Why this disjunct between estimated value and adequate protection?

Neil Palmer, CIAT

Though scientists appreciate the value of CWR, it appears that conservation groups, policymakers, and the general public are not as well informed about the unique potential hidden within these wild and weedy plants. How can information on the value of CWR improve? One of the most persuasive forms of communication about the issue is, of course, monetary value.

A recent analysis commissioned by Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSB), and carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), UK, has taken the latest stab at evaluating the economic benefit of use of CWR.

By using current and forecasted gross production values from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the study estimated the current value of commercial crops grown today, and in the future, containing improved productivity or stress resistance traits derived from CWR.

Results based on four crops- wheat, rice, potato, and cassava- were extrapolated to a group of 29 crops prioritized by the MSB Partnership (the same crops targeted in this analysis) and assigned values based on analyses from seed development to farm-gate sales.  Based on current production, the CWR of the target crops were assigned a value of $42 billion, with a potential of $120 billion in the future.

The annual GPV of the 29 priority crops was $581 billion in 2010, meaning that CWR are already valued at about 7% of annual production value.

Stephen Aherne, director, PwC adds, “While the findings in our analysis are indicative, the overall message is clear. CWRs represent a valuable tool in global crop development for many organisations related to the agriculture sector…Our research underlines the need for further investment in CWR collection and research, without which the significant potential value to global agriculture may not be realised.”