Conference on Agricultural Biodiversity for Sustainable Food and Agriculture at NUI Galway

Monday, 30 January 2012

The conservation and sustainable use of our agricultural biodiversity is critical to future sustainable development, both in Ireland and internationally. In response to this, on Thursday, 9 February, the NUI Galway Plant and AgriBiosciences Centre is hosting AgBioDiv2012.

The free event is Ireland’s first Annual AgroBiodiversity Conference. Agricultural biodiversity or agrobiodiversity refers to all biological and genetic diversity which is directly relevant to agriculture and food production.

Agrobiodiversity concerns the variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms that are used directly or indirectly for food and agriculture, including crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries. It comprises the diversity of genetic resources (varieties, breeds) and species used for providing the food, fodder, fibre, fuel and medicines that we depend on for our everyday lives.

AgBioDiv2012 organiser Professor Charles Spillane, Head of Plant and AgriBiosciences at NUI Galway, highlighted that: “Since the early 1990s there has been a tremendous upsurge in activity to conserve Ireland’s rare livestock breeds and threatened crop varieties. A coalition of activities by the Department of Agriculture and Food, universities, NGOs, and dedicated individuals across Ireland has led to a vibrant community now involved in agrobiodiversity conservation and sustainable use.”

Professor Spillane said:“The time is right for an annual conference to bring everybody together to take stock of what has been done, what can be done and what is necessary to do over the coming years to ensure that agrobiodiversity contributes to a vibrant and sustainable food and agriculture sector in Ireland.”

He added: “Such agrobiodiversity conservation efforts have ensured that native livestock rare-breeds such as Galway sheep and Kerry bog ponies and many threatened plant varieties have not become extinct over the past decade. Many such rare-breeds and varieties have become eligible for REPS (Rural Environment Protection Scheme) support. Ireland now has a national genebank, and we now store Ireland’s threatened crop varieties in the long-term Svalbard Global Seed Vault on the island of Spitzbergen inside the Arctic circle.”

The line up of 19 invited speakers assembling for AgBioDiv2012 includes international speakers from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Bioversity International, and the National History Museum in Paris. A wide range of speakers from Ireland will cover agrobiodiversity topics including rare breeds of livestock, rare and threatened crops wild relatives, seed saving, forestry and tree conservation, seaweed diversity, horticultural and ornamental plants, energy crops, and honey bees.

Dr Danny Hunter, Adjunct Lecturer in AgroBiodiversity and Leader of the AgroBiodiversity research theme in the NUI Galway Plant and AgriBiosciences Centre highlighted that: “The recent State of Knowledge, Ireland’s Biodiversity 2010 report highlights the importance of biodiversity to the national economy with an estimated contribution of over €2.6 billion. Agricultural biodiversity, that element of biodiversity important for agriculture and food production, contributes substantially to this figure. The pollinators of our crops alone contribute about 80 million euro. Irish agriculture and food security depends on this diversity of animal, plant and microbial genetic resources. However, these biological resources are increasingly threatened and this requires urgent action to ensure they are effectively conserved for future generations.”

NUI Galway AgroBiodiversity researcher Ms Angela Mina-Vargas said: “AgBioDiv2012 will provide opportunities to learn more about Ireland’s national activities and priorities regarding conservation of agrobiodiversity resources including rare breeds, rare crop and horticultural varieties, and a host of other diverse organisms including seaweeds, bryophytes, birds and bees that are important for the sustainability of future food and agricultural systems. Agrobiodiversity conservation and sustainable use is critical to future sustainable development and to ensuring food and livelihood security in societies across the globe, particularly in developing countries.”

Dr Danny Hunter stressed that: “AgBioDiv2012 will hopefully contribute to an improved understanding of the current status of conservation and utilisation of agricultural biodiversity in Ireland including how we are meeting our commitments and obligations to global biodiversity Conventions and Treaties. It should also highlight gaps in our knowledge and provide a platform for greater networking among partners to address these. It is fitting that such a conference is taking place a few weeks after the death of Dr Erna Bennett, one of Ireland’s great unheralded scientists and an early pioneer of the science and practice of genetic conservation and champion of small farmers all over the world who have been the custodians of the planet's agricultural biodiversity.”

AgBioDiv2012 will be held at NUI Galway on Thursday, 9 February, 2012 and is open to all who are interested. Registration is available at the conference website http://agbiodiversity.org, and is supported by the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine, the NUI Galway Plant and AgriBiosciences Research Centre, and Genetic Heritage Ireland.

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Author: Marketing and Communications Office, NUI Galway
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