Crop wild relatives (CWR) are wild plant species that are closely related to crops (including crop progenitors). CWR populations are potential sources of traits that may be used in crop improvement, such as resistance to pest or diseases, yield improvement or tolerance to abiotic stresses such as drought, heat or flooding—adaptive traits which are particularly important for providing crop stability in the rapidly changing environmental conditions brought about by climate change. It has been shown that the SADC region is a diverse region for wild relatives of a number of crops of regional and global importance, with over 1900 wild species related to coffee, cucurbits, eggplant, lettuce, millets, okra, pulses, rice, sorghum, watermelon, among others (Allen et al. 2019).
Despite their unique value for food and economic security, CWR are not adequately conserved in situ (in their natural habitats) even if they occur within existing protected areas throughout the SADC region (Magos Brehm et al. in prep.). Their active management and conservation in the protected areas of the SADC region is therefore an opportunity not to be missed, not only because it adds significant value to these areas but also because CWR can be effectively conserved with minimal additional effort and investment.
The importance of the theme led BIOPAMA, in conjunction with the University of Birmingham, Alliance Biodiversity International and CIAT, to organize the webinar “Crop wild relative conservation in protected areas in the SADC region”, on 8-9 February. The event had almost 40 participants, mostly representatives and managers of protected areas in SADC region.
The objectives of the webinar were to: (i) introduce protected area managers to the value of crop wild relatives (CWR), (ii) provide an overview of the methodologies used in CWR conservation planning to identify sites for the CWR in situ conservation, (iii) raise and discuss the Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) of in situ genetic resources within the SADC protected areas, (iv) and provide protected area managers with practical guidelines on how to manage the target CWR populations in the protected areas where they are being conserved.
The guidance for protected area managers included the design and implementation of a management plan (habitat characterization, population threat assessment, management interventions, monitoring schemes etc.) for crop wild relatives’ conservation and management to address climate change and linkages to ex situ collections.
Christine Mentzel, BIOPAMA Regional Coordinator for Eastern and Southern Africa, started the webinar by giving a broad introduction of the programme and its main objectives of providing information and tools to support decision making for effective protected areas management, through the Regional Resource Hub (RRH), capacity building and action component, a competitive grant mechanism that seeks to improve on-the-ground management and governance in protected and conserved areas. She also highlighted the strong link between protected areas and crop wild relative conservation. Her opening remarks were then followed by the presentation of Ehsan Dulloo, project coordinator of the Darwin SADC CWR Network project, who gave an overview on what crop wild relative are, their importance in the SADC region for food security, and the implementation of the Darwin SADC CWR Network project.
Joana Magos Brehm, from University of Birmingham, explained how to carry out conservation planning of CWR, from creating a national checklist, priority checklist, occurrence data collation and related diversity, gap and climate change analyses to identify the key hotspots or target sites for conservation and also the development of the national strategic action plans. Gloria Otieno, from the Alliance Biodiversity International, presented on the theme of Access and Benefit Sharing of CWR in the SADC region, especially focusing on the existing guidelines and policies, such as the Nagoya Protocol and the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
On the second day of the webinar, Nigel Maxted, from University of Birmingham, reported the lessons learnt from the global and European experience on building of mutually beneficial collaboration by linking protected areas and CWR conservation. Jose Iriondo, from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, listed guidelines of how to manage CWR populations within protected areas. He gave a detailed overview of the different steps to CWR population management, such as how to do population threat assessment, the development of a management plan and monitoring and evaluation.
BIOPAMA will continue to advocate for the conservation of CWR in the protected areas of the southern and eastern African region as well as work with partners to improve the awareness on CWR as an ecosystem service that protected areas may provide.
Watch the two sessions below: