The conservation and sustainable use of our agricultural biodiversity is critical to future sustainable development, both in Ireland and internationally. In response to this, on Thursday, 9 February, the NUI Galway Plant and AgriBiosciences Centre is hosting AgBioDiv2012. The free event is Ireland’s first Annual AgroBiodiversity Conference. Agricultural biodiversity or agrobiodiversity refers to all biological and genetic diversity which is directly relevant to agriculture and food production.
Agrobiodiversity concerns the variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms that are used directly or indirectly for food and agriculture, including crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries. It comprises the diversity of genetic resources (varieties, breeds) and species used for providing the food, fodder, fibre, fuel and medicines that we depend on for our everyday lives.
AgBioDiv2012 organiser Professor Charles Spillane, Head of Plant and AgriBiosciences at NUI Galway, highlights that: “Since the early 1990s there has been a tremendous upsurge in activity to conserve Ireland’s rare livestock breeds and threatened crop varieties. A coalition of activities by the Department of Agriculture and Food, universities, NGOs, and dedicated individuals across Ireland has led to a vibrant community now involved in agrobiodiversity conservation and sustainable use.”
He continues: “The time is right for an annual conference to bring everybody together to take stock of what has been done, what can be done and what is necessary to do over the coming years to ensure that agrobiodiversity contributes to a vibrant and sustainable food and agriculture sector in Ireland.”
Such agrobiodiversity conservation efforts have ensured that native livestock rare-breeds such as Galway sheep and Kerry bog ponies and many threatened plant varieties have not become extinct over the past decade. Many such rare-breeds and varieties have become eligible for REPS (Rural Environment Protection Scheme) support. Ireland now has a national genebank, and we now store Ireland’s threatened crop varieties in the long-term Svalbard Global Seed Vault on the island of Spitzbergen inside the Arctic circle.
The line up of 19 invited speakers assembling for AgBioDiv2012 includes international speakers from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Bioversity International, and the National History Museum in Paris. A wide range of speakers from Ireland will cover agrobiodiversity topics including rare breeds of livestock, rare and threatened crops wild relatives, seed saving, forestry and tree conservation, seaweed diversity, horticultural and ornamental plants, energy crops, and honey bees.
The recent ‘State of Knowledge, Ireland’s Biodiversity 2010’ report highlights the importance of biodiversity to the national economy with an estimated contribution of over Eur2.6 billion.
AgBioDiv2012 will be held at NUI Galway on Thursday, 9 February, 2012 and is open to all who are interested. Registration is available at the conference website http://agbiodiversity.org, and is supported by the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine, the NUI Galway Plant and AgriBiosciences Research Centre, and Genetic Heritage Ireland.