The environment is subject to increased pressures that endanger the sustain-ability of life. Rapid growth in human populations, poverty and inefficient agriculture all contribute to the endangerment of sustainable biological cycles that are essential in order to maintain quality of life.
The uncertainties about the very origins and foundation of human civilization illuminate two enduring and fundamental truths. First, agriculture requires more effort per unit area to produce food than did the previous practice of hunting and gathering. Also, increased planning and management of the environment is needed for food production to be successful. Second, agriculture is the fundamental activity upon which all society depends for its industry, lifestyle and economic well-being.
A second agricultural revolution began in the mid-17th century in Europe. During this and the next century, new arable rotations, new crops (potato, maize, marigolds, sugar beet, coleseed), and new seed drills, hoes and ploughs were introduced. The 18th and 19th centuries witnessed the use of improved fertilizers and mechanization.
The effective improvement of yield by plant breeding came late during this revolution. However, as early as 1813 John Loraine presented a paper on maize in Philadelphia that presaged future events by more than a century: 'The pollen is wafted far by high winds ... (and) ... if nature be judiciously directed by art, such mixtures as are best suited for the purpose of farmers, in every climate in this country where corn is grown, may be introduced'. Anderson and Brown
'Presentation given at the symposium on the 'Economics of Valuation and Conservation of Genetic Resources for Agriculture' held 13-15 May, 1996 at the Centre for International Studies on Economic Growth of the University of Rome 'Tor Vergata,' Rome, Italy.
(1952) have commented upon the activities of farmer-breeders in the latter half of the 19th century as they continued to develop open-pollinated varieties of maize: 'The controlled breeding of new varieties by farmers themselves was more frequent than anyone would believe who has not looked into the record. ... We have been struck by the high proportion ... who began their work by deliberate crossing of two or more varieties. Some had highly elaborate methods of selection'.
Maize, with a global harvest in 1994 of 467 Mt from 128 Mha, ranked second to wheat among the world's cereal crops (USDA, 1995). Some 70 countries produce maize on 100 kha or more; 53 of these are developing countries that contributed in production with 40% of the global harvest. Worldwide, about 25% of all maize is used for human consumption, 66% for feeding livestock and 9% for industrial purposes and as seed. In the developing world, however, roughly 50% of all maize is consumed by humans as a direct food source, 43% is for livestock feed, and the 7% for industrial and seed purposes. The most accessible resource to improve maize is the utilization of their genetic resources. However genetic erosion is happening rapidly, reducing the biodiversity, the pillar for survival.
Very little attention was put in genetic resources through the years, and this is indicated by the approximately $55 million that was spent worldwide on plant genetic resources work in 1982. In order to carry out conservation, evaluation and utilization of genetic resources the work must be coordinated, and joint action between national, international and private industries is needed. It also needs enough financial support from governments and donors along with the commitment to carry the process through the utilization; which demonstrates practically the importance of the genetic resources.
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