Wild relatives of food crops have a potential value of $196 billion

The Millennium Seed Bank at Kew Gardens in the UK commissioned PwC to undertake a valuation of crop wild relatives, the wild non-extinct genetic precursors of plants that we use for food. CWRs have the potential to contribute beneficial traits for crop improvement, such as disease resistance or tolerance to drought. They are viewed as a significant source of biodiversity for crop production and their use in the breeding of new crop varieties is likely to prove important. Organizations around the world are working to establish seed banks through which the long term availability of these seeds of wild plants can be assured.

PwC  reports that case studies have demonstrated the benefits of using CWRs in the development of improved crop varieties and that this trend is likely to continue but CWRs face risk of extinction as a result of climate change and other factors. Kew reports that a wild precursor of the cultivated eggplant has already become extinct.

PwC Valuations has calculated that the current value of CWR benefits attributable to the whole of the crop production value chain, such as pre-breeding, breeding, and farming activities in commercial cultivars, was $68bn in 2010. The potential value is forecast to be as much as $196 billion.

It is not totally clear where this research may lead. Kew and other seed banks can obviously use it to encourage support for their activities. Plant breeders are likely to continue to use plants from the wild for conventional breeding and for resources for genetic modification without paying anyone for the rights to the material. However, patenting of wild plant material is controversial. GallonDaily is inclined to a view that wild plant and animal resources, including not only genetic resources but also such things as pictures of polar bears on cans of soda, should be held in a kind of global trust through which payments for use of those resources must be made. The revenue would be used to help ensure protection and preservation of the resources.

PwC ends its report with the recommendation that

Greater collaboration is required across all stakeholders in the value chain to ensure CWR benefits are maximised and both public and private sectors stand to benefit.

 It will be interesting to see how this goal is achieved.

To obtain the full report, register (free) at http://www.pwc.co.uk/sustainability-climate-change/publications/understanding-the-value-of-seeds.jhtml

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