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In situ conservation of CWR

In situ conservation, where species or populations are protected in their natural habitats, maintains natural evolutionary processes and allows generation of genetic variation. Conservation of CWR mainly focuses on the potential use of genetic traits and the in situ approach is a useful method to reach conservation objectives.

This module aims to provide readers with a detailed explanation of the history, purpose and intended benefits of in situ conservation.

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Aims of in situ conservation

In situ conservation primarily focuses on the conservation of natural habitats, notably protected areas and other kinds of reserves, and the conservation, maintenance or recovery of viable population of species in their natural habitats.

In the case of CWR, emphasis is on the conservation of genetic traits of potential use in plant breeding.  The long-term goal of CWR in situ conservation is to protect, manage and monitor selected populations in their natural habitats to ensure natural evolutionary processes are maintained, allowing new genetic variation to be generated for adaptation to changing environmental conditions.

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Economic and social considerations

The benefits and importance of CWR conservation are often not obvious to either the general public or to local stakeholders.  Preserving large areas of land for the conservation of species whose economic potential is uncertain or difficult to perceive is often hard to justify.  The involvement and support of local communities is critical for the successful implementation of in situ conservation activities.

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The international framework for CWR conservation

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) addresses in situ conservation through Article 8 which promotes: ‘…the conservation of ecosystems and natural habitats and the maintenance and recovery of viable populations of species in their natural surroundings and, in the case of domesticated or cultivated species, in the surroundings where they have developed their distinctive properties’. 

The CBD’s Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) focuses on in situ conservation in Target VII, 60% of the world’s threatened species conserved in situ, and Target VIII, 10% of threatened plant species included in recovery and restoration plans.

The Global Plan of Action (GPA) on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (FAO 1996) presents a global strategy for the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources (PGR), specifically recognizing the need to promote in situ conservation of CWR and wild plants for food production (under Priority Activity Area 4).

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