Within the past decade the concept of biodiversity has passed from the domain of academic specialists to the widespread attention of the popular press. The general public and policy makers are increasingly aware of the scope and seriousness of the disappearance of the earths genetic heritage. Although much of the debate focuses on animals and wild plant species, there is growing recognition that the diversity of cultivated crop species has vastly diminished, affecting the livelihoods of resource-poor farmers and threatening the future of agricultural development. A number of proposals and policy initiatives are being discussed to address the problem, including preparations for a global plan of action for the conservation and use of plant genetic resources which will be presented at the 4th International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources, to be held under FAO auspices in Leipzig in June 1996.
This paper describes the challenges to crop genetic diversity, presents some of the strategies that are being implemented to reverse the erosion of that diversity, outlines several gaps in our knowledge that must be addressed in order to make such strategies more effective, and concludes with some policy implications.