Today, the planet earth supports a rich and diverse plant and animal life which have resulted from millions of years of evolution. From the early days, farmers have been selecting plants and animals for various reasons such as yield/size, adaptability and food value. By mutation and selective breeding of plants and animals, thousands of varieties have been developed for different traits. Natural selection has also occurred over the millenia, with many plants and animals evolving to be being highly specialised for survival in specific environmental conditions. Each of these plants and animals is thus a valuable genetic resource as it is a result of evolutionary selection, natural or controlled, and as such contains genetic information about both the past and present.
Wild species of plants and animals are therefore important genetic resources which have the potential to be important in future breeding programmes to provide plants and animals, which are resistant to pests and diseases and are able to adapt to new environments.
threats to diversity
The human global population is increasing and is expected to reach 8 billion by the year 2020. This will place a huge demand on the earth's natural and cultivated resources to feed and sustain human life. Already, increasing demands have led to a serious depletion in plant and animal diversity as a result of many natural and semi-natural habitats being significantly altered or destroyed due to intensive cultivation and development. The loss of global biodiversity has been identified and considered as one of the most critical and important environmental issues of the past few decades. Added to this, modern food production practices have encouraged the use of a small number of animal breeds and crop plants for high yield production resulting in the loss of old varieties of crops and food plants.
convention on biological diversity (CBD)
In 1992, the United Nations Conference on the Environment in Rio addressed the problem of loss of genetic diversity and adopted the Convention on Biological Diversity which Ireland agreed to implement in 1996. The Convention provides for the preservation and sustainable use of the earths biological resources to guarantee food security for present and future generations. In Ireland, while all governmental departments have a role in the implementation of the Convention, this job is mainly undertaken by both the Department for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (now subsumed by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs), and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. The latter department has responsibility for the promotion of measures for the conservation and use of genetic resources for food and agrculture and is aided and advised by a Committee on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, on which GHI is represented. Ireland's official response to the Convention on Biological Diversity is dealt with by the National Biodiversity Plan, which is implemented by the Department of the Environment.