Coffman speaks on agrobiodiversity in India

Linda McCandless
Wednesday, November 30, 2016

NEW DELHI, INDIA: Ronnie Coffman, vice-chair of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, was a keynote speaker at the 1st International Agrobiodiversity Congress (IAC) held in New Delhi, India, November 6-9, 2016. Over 850 delegates from more than 40 countries were in attendance. Participants included farmers, scientists, policymakers and industry leaders.

Prime Minister Modi inaugurates the 1st International Agrobiodiversity Congress in New Delhi on Nov. 6.
R.Coffman/Cornell

The IAC’s objective was to initiate and encourage a dialogue among relevant stakeholders to share their experiences and knowledge in agrobiodiversity management and genetic resource conservation, and better understand everyone’s role in agrobiodiversity management and the conservation of genetic resources.

“Global food security depends on the free movement and open sharing of plant genetic resources,” said Coffman, who spoke on “Rust, Risk, and Germplasm Exchange: The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative.”

Acknowledging that certain provision of the Convention on Biological Diversity have merit, Coffman said stringent regulations and country-specific control are “stifling” the germplasm exchanges critical to agriculture and horticulture, including development of hybrids, introgression breeding for introgressing transgenic traits, and seed production including hybrid seeds. 

“It is not only the improved seeds that are subject to regulation,” said Coffman, “but isolates of country-specific disease organisms such as Ug99 stem rust that move between collection sites worldwide and biosafety testing labs in Minnesota, Denmark and Canada.”

According to organizers, there is evidence that the international exchange of germplasm has reduced considerably in the recent past thereby compromising the ability of nations to meet evolving needs. This is alarming since it is projected that the world will need 70 percent more food to meet the need of 9.5 billion people by 2050.

Wheat germplasm and pathogen exchanges have been essential in the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project and will be even more so under the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project as plant breeders broaden their investigation to deliver new traits for wheat that fight diseases, pests, drought and other challenges brought about by global climate change, noted Coffman.

The Congress was hosted by the Indian Society of Plant Genetic Resources and Bioversity International, and co-organized by CIMMYT and the Borlaug Institute for South Asia.

The paper can be accessed here.