Research AreasEnvironmental and Energy EconomicsNatural AssetsCrop Diversity

Crop genetic diversity: a critical natural asset

Genetic diversity in humankind's major food crops underpins long-term world food security by providing the raw material needed for future crop adaptations to changing pests, pathogens, and environmental conditions. This diversity is sustained in the field primarily by poor farmers in developing countries. Since those who produce this crucial public good receive no payment for their services, the future of in situ (in-the-field) crop genetic diversity is now at risk.

Concerns about the erosion of this genetic diversity have arisen in response to two trends: (1) the spread of modern “high-yielding” (or more precisely, highly fertilizer-responsive) varieties within the agriculture of developing countries; and (2) the growth of international trade, which has led to increased competition from agricultural imports in centers of genetic diversity.

Strategies to reward farmers who cultivate diversity would both improve their livelihoods and strengthen their incentives to continue providing this valuable ecological service to humankind. This is an example of strategies for building natural assets, where poverty reduction and environmental protection can go hand-in-hand.

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