We’ve recently been given two very unique opportunities to present our ongoing research on crop wild relatives of the United States, and to offer our hopes for scaled up collaborative efforts in the coming years. While time is short to fully conserve potentially valuable wild relatives before they are severely impacted by habitat modification, climate change, and other threats, these opportunities represent big steps in the conversation on how diverse conservation, land managements, and agricultural research efforts can work together to accomplish combined food security and biodiversity conservation goals.

In January, Karen Williams presented our efforts in person at the Plant Conservation Alliance (PCA) meeting in Washington D.C. The PCA is comprised of twelve federal agency Members and over 300 non-federal Cooperators, and aims “To protect native plants by ensuring that native plant populations and their communities are maintained, enhanced, and restored”. Many of the agencies and organizations managing land in the United States that we hope to form closer collaborations with in order to more actively manage crop wild relatives are part of the Alliance.

Conserving crop wild relatives in the United States. Presentation to the Plant Conservation Alliance, Washington D.C., 2016 

In April, Colin Khoury presented CWR of the U.S. work to the National Genetic Resources Advisory Council (NGRAC), which advises and makes recommendations to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary and to the Director of the National Genetic Resources Program (NGRP) through the NAREEE (I’ll spare you the full text on that acronym!) Advisory Board.

Interdependence among countries in plant genetic resources and crop wild relatives of the United States. Presentation to the National Genetic Resources Advisory Council (NGRAC), Griffin, 2016 

In both presentations, we hoped to express seven critical points:

  1. Crop wild relatives are clearly useful and probably will become more so in agricultural research in the future
  2. The usefulness of wild relatives is fully dependent upon their availability, which necessitates conservation
  3. Current representation of these genetic resources in genebanks and in natural protected areas is far from comprehensive
  4. The world has committed to a number of high priority development (SDG 2.5) and conservation (Aichi Target 13) goals, which demand fully conserving these resources by 2020 (in case you didn’t notice, that’s very, very soon!)
  5. While it’s pretty unlikely that the world as a whole will achieve those particular goals for agricultural genetic resources, we believe that the United States can uphold its commitments
  6. The U.S. can do the required job for crop wild relatives due to the advanced development of the necessary science and strong pre-existing collaborations critical to the success of action on the ground
  7. We can do it only through broadening our collaborations and increasing support- both financial and logistical.

In the coming months we plan to follow up with our colleagues and partners to begin the process of ramping up (CWR of the U.S. pun intended!) our collaborative crop wild relative efforts. More news coming soon!