Background Paper for APEC from Plant Genetic Resources Workshop Submitted by Chinese Taipei to the

1998 APEC-ATC Experts Group Meeting


Background Information


1.    Objective


This paper aims to outline options that will lead to a modernized and integrated plant genetic resources (PGR) management system in the APEC region for the benefit of its Member Economies.  A strategic plan designed by the ATC Experts Group on PGR for enhancing the usefulness of the rich plant resources that still exists today in hereby proposed for region-wide adoption and implementation.


2. Importance of PGR to the APEC Region


Agriculture and food production remain the backbone of national economies in the APEC region.  The human population are largely rural based.  A major portion of the gross production come from agriculture.  Plant products comprise the vast majority of the agricultural sector.

Asia-Pacific is the cradle of agriculture, dating back to little over ten thousand years.  Plants and agricultural practice have served as the hub of Asian civilizations since the early times of human history, not only to Asians but also for peoples of other lands.

The rich plant resources included rice, the wheats, barley, coarse grains, soybean, many grain and oil legumes, fiber crops, most of the fruit trees and vegetables grown today, high-quality forest trees, and many other plant species of economic value.  Unquestionably, Asia-Pacific is the largest and richest center of plant diversity that has fueled agricultural developments worldwide.  The recent Green Revolution in rice and in wheat has their genetic “roots” in Asian PGR.  The returns from saving and using PGR have been enormous and continually high. 


3. APEC’s Involvement in PGR


Since the establishment of the Agricultural Technical Cooperation (ATC) Program by APEC in 1995, the Experts Group on PGR has served as one of the most active programs in ATC.  It has met twice: in Canberra in 1996 and in Taichung in 1997.  Through such meetings, schedules for future endeavor have been developed (Document 5/7, 1996 and 2/4 1997).  As a parallel development, other genetic resources such as livestock animals, aquatic organisms and forest trees are being included in a total effort to better conserve and utilize the genetic resources in the region.



Current Situation


At the 1997 Workshop, participants from eleven Member Economies provided country reports on national programs.  In addition, Dr. T. T. Chang of Chinese Taipei, a world authority on PGR, presented an overview of the region by crops or crop categories, assessed the current status, and offered an outlook.  Dr. L. M. Engle of AVRDC also presented an overview on vegetable germplasm.


Information presented at the Workshop is excerpted below.

A. Economy by Economy reports


1)  Australia (same as the country report submitted to the FAO in 1996).

Australia is a country of vast physical dimensions, a wide range of climatic regimes, and rich in biodiversity.  Limited precipitation and frequent droughts are constraints to stable crop production.

The government in 1992 adopted a National Strategy for the Convention of Biological Diversity.  Likewise, Australia has other legal enactions that will lead to sustainable developments in agriculture.  The country depends on imported plant and animal germplasm for its agricultural development.

Australia ranks fifth in the world in having 23,000 flowering species, of which 85 percent are endemic.  Many of these species have yet to be described and classified.  Of a total of 2,500 tree species, about 200 have been recognized to have commercial potentials.

Ex situ conservation covers mostly non-endemic species for agriculture and food.  The conservation sites are distributed over a number of botanical gardens, seed/gene banks and field collections in plant genetic resources centers.  Australia and New Zealand have entered a joint venture in managing base collections at a number of conservation centers under varied storage conditions.  The collections in Australia have conserved 94,000 accessions of 517 species under 147 crops.  The Australian Tree Seed Center conserves valuable timber species.  A National Forest Policy Statement was adopted to bring stability and a sustainable base to the timber industry and enhancing biodiversity by a complementary management of forest reserves and non-reserve areas.  A Landcare Program incorporates communities of different levels in sharing sustainable resources management.  The participants involve government agencies, landholder managers, business and community groups.

In in situ conservation, systems and practices that integrate environmental and development concerns were to developed to ensure the conservation and the recovery of viable species in their natural surroundings.  The process involves: (a) setting up a framework by policy makers, (b) identifying of shared problems and allocation of responsibilities via a group approach, and (c) planning at local, regional and national levels.

The utilization of PGR is market oriented and demand driven, with the government playing a catalytic role.  The use of unimproved germplasm from outside sources has yielded significant contributions to production increases, though no statistics on the uses is available.

Australia has played an active part in international PGR activities and contributed funds to the international agricultural research centers and to cooperative projects in the region.  Training of workers on the improvement of wheat and forages was provided.


2)  Canada (Doc. 4/2 & 4/3)

The Plant Genetic Resources of Canada (PGRC) is the national agency in charge of protecting, preserving, and enhancing the genetic diversity of Canadian crop plants and their wild relatives, by both ex situ and in situ means.  The national program is composed of the PGRC, including a seed bank, a clonal genebank and the Multi-Nodal System.  A collection of 110,000 samples is housed at Ottawa while a new facility is being built at Saskatoon.  The PGRC also has the world mandate for conserving barley, oats, a duplicate set of pearl millet, and the old-seed Brassicas.  The PGRC also has a computerized germplasm information database management system and a research component.  The Multi-Modal system enables plant breeders at different locations to characterize, evaluate, rejuvenate, and document the diversity in the collection in a central database.

In recent years, activities in acquiring germplasm, retrieving Canadian germplasm in other collections, improvement of cold storage facilities, international exchange, and public information were expanded.  However, the program suffered from staff reduction.


3)  Chinese-Taipei (Doc. 4/4)

The NPGR system and physical facilities at TARI are detailed in Doc. 3/1 and 4/1.

Following the completion of the well-equipped National Plant Genetic Resources Center (NPGRC) at Taichung in the fall of 1993, efforts were focused on developing the computerized PGR information system with the most modern equipment and well trained staff.  The principal activities were in three areas: (a) computerized management of seed processing and storage operations, (b) setting up a database on passport data, characterization data, evaluation data, and other related data for all registered materials, including conferences on standardized approaches, descriptors, and descriptor states, and (c) developing an Economy-wide network of germplasm information that can also be connected to international information systems.

In the process, PCs and linkages were set up at 30 experiment stations, crop research labs and agricultural colleges by providing the necessary hardware and software.  A user-friendly query database and information system has been developed to constitute the National Plant Genetic Information System (NPGRIS) housed at the NPGRC.

The timing of the above developments coincided well with the entry of NPGRIS in the World Wide Web (WWW).  The NPGRIS has received many queries from abroad.  Interested users can obtain information on crop lists and their descriptors, taxonomic sets, passport data, lineage data, and also request germplasm after browsing the annual catalogs.  Since 1996 the NPGRC has been publishing a PGR Newsletter, which also aims to disseminate information.


4)  Hong Kong

The flora of Hong Kong, its herbarium, and a Crop Experiment Station are briefly described.


5)  Japan (Doc. 4/11 and 12)

The genebank of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) is located in the National Institute of Agrobiological Resources (NIAR) in Tsukuba.  A national network operated by the MAFF genebank takes care of plants, animals, forest trees, aquatic organisms and DNA materials.  For plants, the central bank, 15 other national institutions (sub banks) and 45 prefectural research units with special assignments form the network, involving a total of 153 labs and units.

A series of short-, medium- and long-term seed banks at the central genebank serve the preservation function.  About 150,000 accessions are in the base collection under long-term storage; 87,000 in the active collection for distribution under medium-term storage, and 39,400 accessions of vegetative materials held in field genebanks.

Germplasm distruition to domestic and foreign users amounted to 80,000 accessions from 1985-95.  With the cooperation of research institutions, international training courses on PGR have been held by JICA funding.  A total of 133 trainees from 31 countries was enrolled and 96 of them are Asians.

In the base collection, the largest section (54,184 accessions) came from wheat and barley; rice followed with 24,729 accessions.  Food legumes, and vegetables amounted to 13,000 each.  The conserved plant species are organized into 12 groups, each having a curator to handle collecting, evaluation, rejuvenation, and documentation.

Research activities focus on improving conservation techniques for recalcitrant materials and on cryopreservation.

The network has active international cooperation with IPGRI, other international centers, and national centers of foreign nations through the JICA.


6)  Republic of Korea

The Genetic Resources Division (Gene Bank) in the Rural Development Administration has three crop labs and an information management unit to look after the plant collections.  Other offices handle field collection and foreign introduction, conservation and distribution, and multiplication and characterization.

The national collection consists of 41,184 wheats and barleys, 26,382 legumes, 22,113 cultivated and wild rices, 15,682 industrial crops, vegetables, fiber crops, forages and other crops, totaling 130,608 items.

The seed storage facilities of the genebank can house 220,000 accessions each in long-term (-18) and short- and medium-term conditions.

The genebank has carried out systematic characterization efforts for 74,502 accessions, germplasm distribution of several thousand packets per year to domestic users and foreign parties.  In progress is the development of a computerized management system for the genebank.  For the future, Korea will establish clonal storage facilities, join international ventures in field collecting, establish linkages for information exchanges, and strengthen evaluation and utilization of the conserved germplasm.


7)  New Zealand (Doc. 4/8 distributed in absentia)

A great majority of New Zealand’s economic crops came from imported plant species, except the timber trees and some forage.  A variety of research institutes are involved in the ex situ conservation phase, while many national parks took up the in situ phase.  The Land Care Research program looks after indigenous plants.  Funds came from the private sector.  Private funding also aids the evaluation of imported species.  New Zealand is keen on international collaboration.


8)  Philippines (Doc. 4/20)

Being a tropical country composed of 7,107 islands and isles, the Philippines is unusually rich in biodiversity, esp. in endemic plant species.  The archipelago has a long north-to-south span, covering about 15 degrees in latitude.

Various agencies began field collecting after World War II.  Collections of rice, coconut, abaca, indigenous fruit trees and vegetables, root crops, and other important crops of introduced origin were built up.  A National Committee on Plant Genetic Resources was established to guide and coordinate the conservation programs of various commodity-based centers.  Forest genetic resources are assigned to the College of Forestry, University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB).

The Institute of Plant Breeding, University of the Philippines at Los Baños, houses the National Plant Genetic Resources Laboratory (NPGRL), which has the major responsibility of storing seed collections, while a number of agencies shared the activities for field collection, research and rejuvenation: (a) PhilRice (at two locations) for rice; (b) Davao National Crop Research Center under the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) for fruit trees, fiber crops and vegetables; (c) Los Baños National Crop Research Center of BPI for legumes and vegetables; (d) Guimaras Center of BPI for mango; (e) Baguio National Crop Center for semi-temperate crops and vegetables; (f) Philippines Root Crop Research & Training Center at the Visayas College of Agriculture for sweet potatoes.

Field collecting efforts were made to gather indigenous wild species of Oryza: the diploid officinalis and the tetraploid minuta; and landraces of rice. The NPGRL and the Southeast Asia Regional Institute for Community Education collected native germplasm of rice and other crops.

The NPGRL stores 32,446 accessions of 396 species (except rice ) in its cold storage rooms.  The AVRDC has enriched the NPGRL collections of native germplasm by selected donations.

The NPGRL has also exerted efforts in the evaluation of several vegetables and legumes and in the rejuvenation of corn, soybean and other crops.  The UPLB now offers a M.S. degree in PGR.

The conserved germplasm has been used to serve plant breeders, seed growers and requesting farmers.  The research agencies also collaborate with NGOs on educational and on-farm conservation measures.  Researchers of the UPLB have actively participated in regional collection projects under the RECSEA embrella.


9)  Papua New Guinea (Doc. 4/13, 14, 15)

Among countries of the world, Papua New Guinea (PNG) belongs to the minority that much of the natural vegetation (largely forested areas) remains undisturbed.  Rare or unique species of flora and fauna found only in this region are sheltered in the undisturbed areas.  In terms of plant diversity, PNG is the home of root and tuber crops, tropical fruits including the bananas, leafy vegetables, sugarcane, nuts, medicinal plants, timber trees, and many under-utilized plants.  Only 8.5 percent of the population are engaged in semi-subsistent food production, living in tribal communities, practice-shifting cultivation, and live in harmony with the environment.  Raising of pigs and birds adds to the mixed and balanced diet.

In addition to the numerous naturally existing forest trees that serve as in situ conservation, the government also set up national parks and nature reserves that are cared for by native residents or communities.  Numerous farmers practice on-farm conservation in their traditional mode of farming.

For in situ conservation, the government has set up field banks for many root and tuber crops, bananas, sago, aibika, fruits and nuts, sugarcane, coffee, cocoa, coconut, spices, herbs, condiments, and leafy vegetables.  Seeds of rice, maize, peanut, beans and vegetables are stored in short-term cold rooms.  The size of the plant collections is generally small.

 Efforts have been made to use the germplasm in breeding programs through the process of characterization and evaluation. Yam and taro have been subjected to the process. Aibika, cashew nuts, Japanese mint and kavakava are also being evaluated.

PNG is establishing an information system, following the PROSEA Program model.  PNG is also participating in regional PGR networks such as the RECSEA and other IPGRI Networks.


10)  P. R. China (Doc. 4/7 distributed in absentia)

China is one of the primary centers of crop diversity.  Agricultural workers recognize the great value of germplasm in crop improvement.  Field collections began in the 1950s, but much was lost due to the lack of cold seed storage facilities.  Re-canvassing and recollections were made in the 1970-80 period.

During the 1980s two national genebanks were built to house the 350,000 accessions: a medium-term storage for holding germplasm intended for exchange and another long-term cold storage bank for preserving seed stocks.  In the early 1990s, a duplicate storage genebank was established in Qinhai Province to take advantage of the dry air there.

In the long-term storage facility (-18, 50% RH), 303,378 accessions of various crops were stored.  In the medium-term facility (0to -10, no control of RH), 124,280 accessions of major crops are held.  Wild relatives of rice, soybean and sorghum, crops having special values, are also stored in the long-term genebank.

In addition, about 20 medium-term storage facilities are established at various Provincial Academies of Agricultural Science and Special Institutes (e.g. rice), holding about 400,000 accessions.  There are 25 field genebanks for conserving fruit trees, mulberry, tea, and other vegetatively propagated crops, numbering about 40,000.  The country has set aside 6% of the land as protected areas in 708 parks.  In vitro and cryopreservation are also under study as complementary measures.

In using the crop germplasm, materials for long-term storage must be characterized and evaluated for 2 to 3 years with the participation of the plant breeders.  The promising accessions were selected and distributed to breeders in different provinces for use in crossing.  Thus, 15 improved rice varieties involving genes from wild species were developed.  In wheat, 15 varieties were bred,  deriving their disease resistance, drought tolerance and grain dormancy from wild relatives.

In recent years, China has made giant strides in uplifting the national economy.  Nowadays the people have more food and a greater variety to suit their liking or new preferences.  Crop germplasm enables the breeders to meet the shifts in public demand.


11)  Thailand (Doc. 4/16)

The responsibilities for PGR conservation are shared respectively by the Department of Agriculture, Royal Forest Department, and the Department of Medical Science for crops, forest trees and medicinal plants respectively.  A National Sub-Committee for Coordination of Research and Development on Plant Genetic Resources has been recently established along with various working groups.

In situ conservation activities such as national parks, nature reserves and enactment of legislation for forest tree protection belong to the Forest Department.  A total of 194 reserve areas has been set up.  For the wild species of rice, 40 experiment stations under a network of 20 research centers carry out protective measures on station grounds and in farm fields.

Ex situ conservation is carried out by the National Seed Storage Lab. for Genetic Resources and the National Gene Bank.  The Seed Lab. was established in 1980 with aid from Japan.  Its storage rooms of all three levels are located at the Pathu Thani Rice Research Center with 20,000 accessions of rice and 2,000 accessions of other cereals being stored.  The National Genebank was built in 1985 with IBPGR funds.  It has a capacity of storing 40,000 accessions of maize, legumes, pepper and various crops.  About 4,000 accessions are now stored.  It is administered by the Thailand Institute of Scientific and Technology Research.

Exchange of germplasm and information for research purpose is now available.  The government also encouraged farmers to conserve traditional crop varieties.  Trained personnel for PGR conservation is needed to cope with the expanding activities.  Thailand needs specialized talents in: (a) Information System Management, (b) DNA techniques for variety identification, and (c) in vitro conservation technology.


It is recognized that the above summaries are incomplete for some of the Member Economies and/or in technical details and statistics.  Interested readers may consult the 1996 FAO Report of the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources. ITCPGR 96/3.  FAO, Rome, for fuller details.

B. Status of Major Crops or Crop-groups (Doc. 4/9 and 4/18)

Information on the conservation phase is more complete than that on actual use.  However, the statistics on conserved accessions may not be equated with viable seed stocks or availability for distribution/exchange.


1)     Rice -- In the first half of the century, at least 100,000 cvs. might have existed.  Many Asian nations began collecting after World War II. China re-collected in the late 1970s and the total collection was increased to 50,166 cvs. and 5,108 wild forms. Japan has 23,000, and 21,600 in Korea.  Indonesia has 8,300 on the books.  Thailand holds 5,100.  Other collections: 3,500 in Chinese-Taipei; and Malaysia, 2,600.  India claims to have 47,000 accessions but the viability factor is unknown.  The conglomerate collection at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which totals 83,000 cvs. and over 2,000 wild forms, may remain as the only viable set for some tropical nations that lack reliable cold storage.


2)     Wheat -- Every wheat-growing nation has kept a collection, though much duplication exists between collections, esp. improved cv. of the past.  The richest collection is well maintained by the USDA: c. 55,000 accessions. China holds 36,400 accessions while Japan has 52,670 items or wheat and barley.  Japanese scientists have collected wild relatives or wheat in central and southwest Asia.  Primitive and wild wheats are maintained by the ICARDA in Syria.  The Vavilov Institute in Russia had assembled a huge collection but its security is uncertain.


3)     Maize (corn) -- Though maize is a relatively recent arrival, it is rapidly gaining ground in Asia.  In its home region, Central America, Mexico has 33,240 accessions.  The international center, CIMMYT, also in Mexico, holds 11,150 accessions.  The U.S. and India have 22,700 accessions each.  In SE Asia, several Economies have cooperatively assembled a sizable collection and stored it at the UPLB but little information is known about its fate.  Thailand and the NIAR in Japan have agreed to help on the storage of this regional collection.


4)     Soybean and other grain legumes -- As the home nation, China holds 21,460 accessions of soybean.  The USA has a collection similar in size.  The AVRDC has a regional collection of 13,603.  The NPGRC of Chinese-Taipei has 9,360.  The above collections contain both oil and table use types.  The genetic diversity in the collections is inherently low and much duplicated.  Field collecting for wild species in Oceania is being undertaken by the staff of the University of Illinois.

The major species in the genus Phaseolus is P. vulgaris, which is cared for by the CIAT in Colombia.  CIAT holds 23,730 accessions of this species plus 1,456 P. lunatus and 1,324 accessions of other Phaseolus species.  Mexico also holds more than 20,000 accessions of beans.

Adzuki bean and mungbean are important in Southeast and East Asia. China has 2,671 adzuki beans and 3,244 mungbeans.  Japan has 12,581 accessions under “food legumes” that must include the two beans. Korea also holds 23,875 accessions under the same category.  TARI of Chinese-Taipei has 3,451 accessions of mungbean.

Cowpea and peanut are also staples to the region.  The Philippines holds over 10,000 cowpea accessions, while the AVRDC has six thousand.  The largest collection is with the IITA in Nigeria.  As to peanuts, the U.S. has the largest collection of 21,870.  China holds about five thousand entries.  India and the ICRISAT there are also large holders.  Regional collections of mungbean and winged bean are kept at the UPLB-IPB, Philippines.


5)     Root crops -- The common potato is a mainstay in South America.  It is regarded more of a vegetable in Asia, but spreading in acreage.  CIP, the potato center in Peru, has the largest collection of 3,955 cultivated clones and 1,500 wild forms.  In the early 1990s, the CIP was mandated to care for the sweet potatoes and has taken over the collection of AVRDC which numbers about 1,500, in addition to five thousand of CIP’s own. CIP keeps a duplicate set of the potatoes in in vitro culture.  Japan has a sizable collection of five thousand sweet potatoes.

Cassava is widely grown as food or for industrial use.  CIAT has 5,035 accessions with 4,788 also maintained in vitro.  Brazil holds 3,360 accessions. 

Yam commands more land area in Africa than in Asia.  The IITA in Nigeria holds 2,250 yams with 1,000 kept in in vitro cultures.  In Asia, yam collections of several hundreds each are kept by Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Solomon Islands.  A regional collection of taro is being set up in Papua New Guinea.


6)     Vegetables (Dec. 4/18 and 4/9) -- Vegetables are wide in geographical distribution and broad in the diversity of plant species.  Precise information about vegetable germplasm is lacking for most Economies.  In recent years, vegetables have gained great popularity among urban consumers, attained remarkable advances in crop improvement and have undergone rapid changes in consumer preference.  As a result, numerous landraces have disappeared, while conservation efforts were few and of short-term basis; and information on genetic resources are incomplete.  Hence, the genetic diversity within a crop has reached perilous levels.  Under intensive cultivation in concentrated areas, pest and disease problems are heightened.  The genetic vulnerability threat necessitated increased application of pesticides and/or shift of production fields to new sites.

Collections of vegetables, national or state, are widely scattered over institutions.  They were assembled largely through exchanges between specialists, and only a few belong to a specialized institute such as China’s.  Among Member Economies, tomatoes and the peppers rank high in total size: over 25,800 for tomato and 23,400 for peppers.  On a national basis, the USA has the largest collection of tomatoes, followed by the Philippines.  The USA also has the largest assemblage of peppers, followed by Thailand and Mexico.  Curcubits also amount to 15,363, largely in the U.S. collection.  Amaranth, eggplant and green onions (Allium) number over 1,500 each.  

Among leafy vegetables, those in the Brassica group rank high : 109,000 accessions for the whole world.  India has the largest segment of 17,400, followed by Germany and the U.S. China has more than 5,000, most of which are listed under rape.  Korea also has a large Brassica collection, numbering over 3,200.  India is the largest holder of garlic and onions--over 2,000 accessions.

In the APEC region, the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC) located in Taiwan (Chinese-Taipei) uses the systems approach to conservation and use.  Its priority crops are soybean, tomato, pepper, mungbean, eggplant, Chinese cabbage, Allium, yard long bean and cowpea, each numbering over one thousand.  The tomato and soybean collections are stored as a duplicate collection at the NPGRC of Chinese-Taipei.  The AVRDC has also made extensive field collections in SE Asia.  Various researchers in AVRDC have evaluated the collections and incorporated disease resistance genes from exotic sources.

Seeds of conserved germplasm at AVRDC have been freely supplied to vegetable workers upon request.  Regional training courses on field collecting and evaluation were held.  About 4,100 samples have been assembled by collaborative efforts.

Public interest in saving and using the traditional cvs. has been aroused by the popular trend to grow fancy types or the once valued cvs.  A number of NGOs are involved in promoting the saving of seeds in backyard gardening.  Such projects represent another effective means of conservation via on the-farm approach.


7)     Fruit trees (Doc. 4/9)

Information on fruit trees is incomplete.  Member Economies in SE Asia have modest-sized collections is each nation.  The regional RCSEA members have assembled a large collection of bananas (c.600) and planted the materials in southern Philippines, but their security is uncertain.

China has a Citrus Research Institute to care for this important group of fruits.  Other temperate-zone fruits are scattered over several institutes/stations, totaling about 8,900 accessions.  Japan has about six thousand accessions.


8)     Industrial and plantation crops

Major industrial crops are cotton, sugarcane, coconut, oil palm, tea, coffee and rubber.  A number of Economies have established specialized institutes to deal with rubber, sugarcane, oil palm and tea, but these agencies have their focus on crop improvement and production, and little resource is given to germplasm work.

The largest collection of cotton is in India: 16,700 accessions.  China and Pakistan each have 6,500.  For rubber, Malaysia holds the largest collection of 20,900 accessions and also the second largest collection of oil palm (1,470 acc.).  Coconut collections are widely scattered.  Modest sized collections are found in India (130) and the Philippines (90 acc.).


9)     Medicinal plants

A number of Member Economies are rich in medicinal plants.  Many small collections have been assembled by government agencies, but the sites are widely scattered in remote areas.  It warrants improved communication and exchange among the workers in the interest of security.  Tissue culture can help in mass propagation.  The scientific basis of their claimed values needs to be undertaken first, however.






It is apparent from the above survey that every Member Economy has established or initiated national programs in conserving indigenous and some introduced plant genetic resources.  This rather recent development is certainly heartening for the germplasm-rich nations.  However, many critical questions need to be raised in order to assess the overall situation and develop guidelines for future endeavors.


The questions are:

a)     How complete is the geographical and biological coverage of the existing collections? What else are needed for medium range use?


b)     How much is the duplication within a collection, and between collections?


c)     How reliable are the existing preservation techniques and related facilities?  For stored seeds, are seed viability periodically checked?


d)     Is the conserved germplasm available for evaluation and research?


e)     What activities are planned for international exchange?  For collaborative field collecting of threatened germplasm?  For duplicate storage at another sites?


f)       How adequate is the existing information management system in terms of database control, computerized management of genebank operations, dissemination and exchange of information?





Plant genetic resources have fueled the initiation and sustained growth of the past civilizations and subsequent improvement in the quality of life for ten thousand years.  PGR contributions to human welfare will continue to grow in light of the unabated human population increase and movements.

The useful results and benefits of using PGR are so enormous and too numerous to count as they have affected every crop species.  Only the most notable instances of the 20th century will be briefly cited.


Food Production

During the late 1960s, massive food shortages in South and Southeast Asia were relieved by the “Green Revolution” in rice and wheat.  Similar but lesser advances in the yield of maize, the sorghums and millets were also based on effective use of PGR.  Sustained improvement of the cereals have staved off the specter of mass starvation (up to 1997) inspite of rapid population growth.  Food legumes have also scored yield increases, though to a lesser extent.


1) Rice and Wheat

The revolutionary yield increases in both cereals can be attributed to simple but powerful semidwarfing genes which came from Chinese-Taipei for rice and Japan for wheat. P.R. China later found the other semidwarfing gene and cytoplasmic male-sterility in its rice germplasm and used them to enormous advantage.  Together with inputs from germplasm for pest resistance, the yield gains were sustained.

The unparalleled yield increases in rice and wheat from 1965 to 1994 is shown in Figure 1.  The annual yield increases due to the high-yielding varieties, irrigation water, fertilizers and pest control amounted to billions of dollars annually.  It is the best example of high rewards from research investment.


2)     Other cereals and grain legumes

In oat improvement, genes from a wild relative (Avena strigosa) have furnished the genetic materials for unexpectedly large advances in grain yield, in protein and oil contents, and in yield potential.

This wild species was initially used for its crown rust resistance, but repeated cycles of crossing with the cultivated species (A. sativa) have led to more vigor our growing and productive cultivars.

Triticale is a man-made species derived from wheat x rye crosses.

It is better adapted to acid soils, higher in protein content and more productive in certain unfavored areas than wheat.

The improvement of sorghums and millets for semi-arid areas has been accelerated by using exotic sources of germplasm.  The yield gains are impressive in India.


3)    Potato and tomato

Both potato and tomato have been benefited by disease-resistance genes from exotic or wild germplasm.  These crops also experienced the most intensive field collection of wild species several decades back.









Fig. 1. Trend in Asian rice and wheat production, area and yield, 1965-1994



Industrial Crops

Improvement in yield level, yield stability, crop quality and wider ecological adaptation in several industrial crops resulted from the use of exotic germplasm in the breeding process.  These are coffee, sugarcane, cotton, rubber, tea, coconut and oil palm.


4) Vegetables

The remarkable and rapid advances in vegetable improvement over a wide array of crops owes their success to extensive  germplasm exchange and use of both improved and unimproved germplasm.  Foreign introductions have furnished a major part of the new breeding materials.  The market continues to encourage the use of F1 hybrids which are faster growing, more disease resistant, more productive, or earlier maturing.  The successful instances are too numerous to be enumerated here.


5) Fruit trees

Similar to the vegetables, recent advances in fruit tree improvement resulted from using foreign introductions in crossing or grafting, and selecting for promising progeny.  This process has led to significant improvements in fruit quality, yield, and a wider range of maturities or ecological adaptation.







Limitations in PGR Use


Inspite of the many outstanding cases of exploiting useful genes and cytoplasm in the PGR, the proportion of actual use to the potentially profitable opportunities is low.  Wild relatives, a rich sources of useful genes, have been used only in rice, wheat, oat, tomato, potato, and a small number of fruit trees.

Causes for the under use may be ascribed to: (1) difficulty in gene transfer through hybridization, (2) undesirable characters in the exotic germplasm that lowers economic value, and (3) a much longer period of breeding is needed. However, with recent advances in genetic engineering and tissue culture, some of the handicaps may be overcome.

On the other hand, the over-heated investments in biotech research have deprived crop scientists and related disciplines such as pathologists, entomologists and physiologists of the financial and human inputs essential to research, evaluation and prebreeding.  It is difficult to predict the outcome of the lopsided competition posed by the protracted realization of the promises from biotech.  But, the harm to conventional processes of research and development of cvs. is already showing up.



From currently available information, the more acute needs in PGR conservation and utilization that may apply to most Member Economies are summarized below.


1) Lack of a nation-wide and comprehensive survey on existing resources, the doubtful state of their security, and the urgent needs in operational capacity and human power are areas for assessment and remedies.  It is highly desirable for each Economy to have a national plant genetic resources center that will coordinate and integrate activities of various agencies having the PGR components.

2)     Lack of an effective and efficient information management system impairs periodic assessment of activities and effective control of genebank operations.

3)     Lower-than-desired level of international collaboration on germplasm forfeits the potential advantages of sharing information, the PGR, and technical expertise.

4) in situ and on-farm conservation can supplement ex situ conservation   efforts. NGOs, farm communities and schools will add to the forces in conservation.

5) The under use of conserved germplasm can be alleviated by renewed efforts in conventional and mission-oriented research, evaluation and breeding (Figure 2).  Biotech should be used as a tool—not a solution to all problems.

6) Both biodiversity and genetic diversity among major cvs. of commercial crops should be restored to provide protection against long-range perils that upset stable ecosystems

7) Training of technical personnel is needed in all fields related to

conservation and use.








A selected list of proposed actions in the conservation and use of plant and animal genetic resources is offered as guidelines for deliberation by the ATC Experts Group for future action.  It is certainly beyond the capability of Member Economies to attain all of the goals enumerated above.  We need to think about affordability.

In more realistic terms, this Group recommends the following plan of collaborative action:

a)     Completion of the survey on PGR by filling the questionnaire distributed in 1996-97 so that the survey of existing resources and conditions may be obtained for detailed study.


b)     Holding in 2000 a regional workshop on information management system of plant genetic resources, to be hosted by Chinese-Taipei and with the collaboration of interested Member Economies.


c)     Holding of regional workshops on in vitro and cryopreservation of genetic resources by selected Member Economies as the next project.


d)     Presenting a resolution as recommendations from this Group, through the SOM, to the APEC leaders, in urging their support of the increasing needs in the conservation and use of plant and animal genetic resources -- as given below.



1)     Plant genetic resources in the germplasm-rich APEC region is a unique biological heritage that has given rise to its ancient civilizations and later historical developments.  It has also fueled agriculture-related developments in other regions of the world.


2)     Unabated population increase, destruction of the ecosystems and inappropriate use of the natural resources have greatly depleted the natural resources, upset the ecological balances among elements in the ecosystem, and agricultural productivity is threatened by losses in biodiversity and genetic diversity in commercial crops.


3)     Nearly every Member Economy has made vigorous attempts in the recent past to conserve and use the plant genetic resources, both indigenous and introduced, for productive purposes.  But the financial inputs, physical facilities and manpower are inadequate to meet the shortages in the past and the increasing demand in the future.


4)     Past experience, as exemplified by the “Green Revolution” in rice and wheat, has shown the unprecedented dividends obtainable from investments in agricultural research, of which their genetic resources provide the pool of genetic materials.  More rewarding results from germplasm use can be realized when mission-oriented research and breeding efforts are aided by the forthcoming advances in biotech.
The APEC region is reaching a critical stage when the conservation efforts will determine the progress in agro-industrial enterprises.  The livelihood of billions of Asians will depend on the outcome of the tug-of-war between conserving and depleting the biological resources.


5)     Therefore, this Group appeals to the highest authorities in APEC for increased support to plant and allied genetic resources conservation and management activities and to give the highest priority to the research components in evaluation, preservation, and prebreeding germplasm (enhancement). Support and aid should also be given to the international agricultural research centers in the CGIAR system that have served a crucial role in plant and animal genetic resources work up to now.  Much of the efforts can be benefited by inter-Economy collaboration and the sharing of expertise and experience.  Our initial collaborative activities will be directed to information system build-up and subsequent germplasm exchanges, and the technology of in vitro and cryo-preservation.


6)     This Group also recognized the imperative need to conserve the aquatic organisms both in the marine and fresh-water ecosystems that are seriously threatened by over-exploitation and environmental destruction.  Likewise, the native breeds of livestock are rapidly disappearing.  Expert Groups of these domains also need to be set up for devising action plans on a collaborative basis.