1. Plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) consist of the diversity of genetic material contained in traditional varieties and modern cultivars grown by farmers, as well as crop wild relatives and other wild plant species that can be used for food, feed for domestic animals, fibre, clothing, shelter, wood, timber, energy, etc. These plants, seeds or cultures are maintained for the purposes of studying, managing or using the genetic information they possess. As a term, 'genetic resources' carries with it an implication that the material has, or is seen as having, economic or utilitarian value. In this paper we use the more general term PGRs to refer to PGRFA.
2. Inevitably, however, this line of argument leads us toward a slippery slope - namely, the relative 'uniqueness' of different species. Since all species are by definition unique, it is only from a peculiarly anthropocentric standpoint that we can claim elephants are 'more unique' than particular ant species. Once again, the utilitarian approach is to assess uniqueness from the perspective of consumers and producers.
3. Nevertheless, a number of economists have implicitly attempted to estimate the value of genetic resources on this basis (e.g. Brown and Goldstein, 1984).
4. Preserving habitat does not necessarily conserve farmer's varieties. Their conservation may require maintaining farmer's practices.
5. Pre-breeding refers to the systematic evaluation of genetic resources for use in varietal breeding programmes.
6. Landraces are distinct cultivar types of cultivated species selected for within-type uniformity by farmers for different production conditions.
7. Farmers' diversify risk by planting different crops as well as by planting different varieties of a crop.
8. At the farm level, they found evidence that traditional varieties had lower yield variance.
9. Suppose, for example, that farmers can grow either corn or sorghum on their land. The price of corn is higher than the price of sorghum, and yields may be higher as well. But if the yield of corn falls sufficiently, due to disease problems, farmers may choose to plant sorghum instead of corn. This will result in a large decrease in the value of corn produced on the farm, but not necessarily in a large decrease in farm income. For consumers, too, the disease outbreak in corn causes the price of corn to rise. This would harm consumers, but with good substitutes available (such as sorghum), the demand for corn is relatively elastic, and the higher price does not cause much loss of consumer surplus.
10. This offers an alternative approach to the ways that economists generally assess the genetic contribution to varietal improvement; economists typically rely on total factor productivity analysis to assess the gains from genetic improvement, since experimental yields may not be indicative of farm-level yields.
Was this article helpful?