The conservation of crops and livestock in agricultural areas has become a high-profile victim of a radical overhaul of international agricultural research conducted by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
'Mobilising agricultural biodiversity for food security and resilience' was one of several thematic areas (or megaprogrammes) proposed by the CGIAR, a group of donors that funds a major international network of agricultural research centres.
The themes are part of a well-advanced plan to streamline future agricultural research for development (see A revolution to combat world hunger), which was put up for public consultation at last month's (March) Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD) in Montpellier, France (see Agricultural mega-programmes 'will not attract funding').
Among other themes, such as Water, Soils and Ecosystems, and Climate Change and Agriculture, there was a strong bid for an Agricultural Biodiversity megaprogramme, put forward by Emile Frison, director-general of Bioversity International, one of the CGIAR centres.
But a meeting of donors and the CGIAR consortium earlier this month (1 April), held to discuss the proposed themes, failed to approve the idea of a separate programme on agricultural biodiversity.
Instead, biodiversity will continue to be promoted as a "cross-cutting theme" alongside gender, it was decided.
Certain aspects of agricultural biodiversity conservation – such as the use of a range of climate change-resistant crops by poorer farmers, and promoting nutrition and health through more crop diversity -- will be incorporated into other thematic areas that are still to be finalised.
Frison said: "Most of the money is for [thematic areas] and if there is no money for the cross-cutting themes, they will fall by the wayside and will be neglected".
Several donors, including the European Union Commission and the Nordic countries, strongly support conservation aspects of agricultural research.
But a number of CGIAR centres opposed a biodiversity megaprogramme because they feared losing control of their individual crop gene banks, said sources.
There was a lot of interest in biodiversity [at the GCARD conference] that was not sufficiently reflected in this conclusion, Frison told SciDev.Net. "The importance of agricultural biodiversity is not yet sufficiently recognised and that [having a programme] would have been an opportunity."
But he said that "as long as agricultural biodiversity becomes a strong cross-cutting component and has strong support," it could still work.
Regarding gene banks, he said: "Everyone agrees that conservation of these collections is one of the most important dimensions of the CGIAR. We want to ensure that through cross-cutting collaboration between them the banks are maintained.
"What has to be part of the future agenda is more collaboration between [CGIAR] centres and between centres and national programmes. Gene banks are not just for the crop breeding programmes of the centres, but part of an international programme."
A decision on the scope and components of all CGIAR thematic areas is likely to be made by the end of May.