Introduction And Objectives

With growing awareness of the irreversible loss of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA), there has been an immense effort in terms of human and financial resources devoted to the collection and conservation of plant genetic resources and the establishment of an institutional framework at international, national, and local levels. Estimates indicate that there are 6.2 million accessions of 80 different crops stored in 1,320 genebanks and related facilities in 131 countries (FAO, 1998). Deficits of information and uncertainties are, however, hindering an economically efficient approach to optimizing agrobiodiversity conservation. Because of a lack of estimates on (1) the value of PGRFA for global welfare or the cost of their extinction, (2) the rate of PGRFA extinction, and (3) the costs of conservation, investments in PGRFA conservation are most likely suboptimal at the margin. Additionally, allocative problems such as the imbalance between the shared costs and the benefits of conservation hamper optimal conservation at all levels. For example, some countries with a high amount of unique PGRFA are the poorest countries in the world, where investment in conservation is constrained by very limited resources and other priorities for the use of available funds (von Braun and Virchow, 1997).

Despite the existing uncertainties, the political will, expressed by all governments present at the International Technical Conference (hereafter, ITC) on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in Leipzig in 1996, stressed the importance of genetic resources conservation (FAO, 1996). This lent support to continued conservation of PGRFA, even though long-term conservation activities face strong competition from other, often more short-term development activities for the allocation of financial resources.

Considering these circumstances, uncertainties on the one hand and the political will to conserve PGRFA on the other hand, there is a need for cost-effective and efficient strategies for PGRFA conservation, in addition to further scientific and economic research. Cost-efficient conservation will reduce the risk of losing unique, genetically coded information and reduce the problem of allocating an excessive amount of financial resources to conservation activities. The political and economic discussion has been focused on the value of plant genetic resources and on the issue of "fair and equitable sharing" of the benefits derived from the use of PGRFA. However, an intensive analysis of the costs of conservation activities has been neglected. Therefore, this chapter will analyze the national and international actors' costs of PGRFA conservation activities and will discuss existing and potential collaborations between the actors with the aim of increasing the efficiency of PGRFA conservation. Furthermore, this chapter will highlight the opportunities and limitations of funding of conservation activities, especially applied to regional and international collaborations.

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