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The potential users of CWR diversity and the stakeholders involved in CWR conservation can be categorized into four categories, each of which has different associated challenges:

1. Policy-makers. People who are responsible for, or are involved in, formulating policies related to CWR conservation and use. Ultimately, policy-makers decide the future of CWR conservation by developing and implementing policies that contribute to the long-term conservation of CWR and therefore both food and economic security. Policy-makers can be made aware of CWR value and the need for their conservation through the National Strategic Action Plan (NSAP)  [1] for the conservation and use of CWR. For example, they can be involved in all steps of the NSAP, they can be provided with policy-briefs etc.

2. Professional users (researchers, pre-breeders, breeders, farmers). Associated with the professional use of CWR diversity is the need to characterize, evaluate and screen the germplasm (either in situ or ex situ) for novel traits which are then used in crop breeding programmes. Plant breeding capacity ought to be strengthened and greater pre-breeding initiatives that transfer adaptive traits, and avoid linkage drag of deleterious traits, from what many breeders regard as exotic backgrounds to more acceptable breeding material, should be encouraged. As a result, a close working relationship between the conservation and breeder communities needs to be encouraged to facilitate access to genetic diversity.

Professional users can utilize CWR germplasm conserved in in situ conservation sites, but more often they will utilize the samples of these populations stored ex situ in genebanks. Nevertheless, managers of genetic reserves, together with the support of relevant conservation authorities, should attempt to work with the professional user community to characterize, evaluate and publicize the germplasm found at in situ sites. Farmers have been included in this category as there may be some examples where they are using CWR diversity for crop improvement. However, there are very few known cases where this has been recorded (see Some examples of CWR use in crop improvement  [2] to know more).
Useful traits can be identified using various techniques, but  predictive characterization  [3] (166 KB) is a powerful technique that allows identification of in situ populations/ex situ accessions that potentially harbour specific traits. This technique is able to reduce the great amount of available diversity to a much smaller sample of diversity from which the pre-breeder can then test for relevant traits. In addition, in situ CWR conservation sites can be seen as in situ research platforms for field experimentation. Specific research questions that can be addressed include: species dynamics within conservation areas to aid their sustainable management, ecology and genetic diversity of in situ conserved CWR etc.

3. General users (the public). Through paying taxes, the general public fund most CWR conservation. Their support is therefore essential for the long-term political and financial viability of CWR conservation, particularly in situ activities that have higher associated maintenance costs than germplasm held ex situ in genebanks. Yet how can public awareness of the value of CWR and the need for their conservation be promoted? This could be achieved by

  • promoting visits to CWR genetic reserves through a media campaign,
  • providing various formal and informal education material as well as nature trails, guided tours, lectures etc. in the genetic reserve,
  • publishing CWR-based cook books,
  • encouraging agrobiodiversity ecotourism,
  • facilitating art competitions,
  • promoting CWR on and in newspapers and bulletins etc,
  • including CWR in school curricula etc.

4. Traditional users (local communities who live in the vicinity of CWR populations). Local communities are likely to have an extensive history of local plant collecting and utilization, and possibly of the CWR themselves. They often possess extensive knowledge of the ethnobotanical value and direct uses of plants, and a high proportion are likely to be CWR as so many plant species are CWR; although their use may be incidental to their value as a wild relative. It is worth noting that whether a genetic reserve is to be implemented, or a particular CWR population sampled for ex situ conservation, there are likely to have been traditional or local users of that resource prior to its conservation. As a result, if the support of the local community for CWR conservation is to be obtained, active CWR conservation should not hinder local resource use, except in the rare case where it directly conflicts with the long-term viability of the target CWR population. Many studies have shown that conservation cannot succeed without local community support. However, as shown by a recent analysis of the threats to CWR in Europe (Kell et al. 2012), local communities do not always permit the sustainable management of their resources, even if mismanagement is likely to adversely impact their longer-term interests. For example, if private landowners decide to sell their land for development, there is seldom anything that the local community can do to stop them. Therefore, the conservationist’s role when formulating conservation action may be just as much about resolving conflicts between local community members as it is about practical conservation implementation. A successful resolution will ensure the continued use of PGR resources by the local community while achieving sustainable conservation. It is apparent that there is a key role for the conservationist to play in educating both policy-makers and local people about the importance of these critical genetic resources.

Involving local communities in CWR conservation decision making, Sweida, Syria. (Photo: Nigel Maxted)

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