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Food Quality and Safety in Europe



Today, the diversity of the earth's plant life is under threat as an increasing number of species are added to the endangered list. In agriculture, the widespread adoption of a few improved crop varieties has narrowed the genetic base of important food crops and led to the disappearance of hundreds of local varieties. As the earth's population is predicted to double or even triple before it stabilises late in this century, a huge increase in food production will be required. Conserving and using plant genetic diversity is thus vital in meeting the world's future development needs.

The centres of origin of important food crops, called Vavilov centres, are considered to be crucial sources of genetic diversity for cropbreeding programmes. While the importance of genetic resources for global food safety has grown considerably, the centres of origin will continue to remain mostly in developing countries. It is necessary to link European researchers with scientists from those parts of the world who would otherwise have limited resources for exchanging their work. The DIVERSEEDS project will open European Research networks to Asian scientists working in centres of origin, providing an important contribution to global food security.


Of the 7000 plant species used worldwide in food and agriculture, only 30 crops 'feed the world'. These are the crops that provide 95 percent of global plant-derived calories and proteins. For example, wheat, rice and maize alone provide more than half of the global dietary intake. Taking into account the importance of relatively few crops for global food security, it is particularly important that the diversity within these major crops is conserved effectively. They should also be widely available and managed wisely.

At subregional level, however, a greater number of crops are becoming significant. Beans and bananas, for instance, emerge as very important staples in certain subregions. These food crops, as well as many others such as lentils, cowpeas, yams, groundnuts and peas, are dietary staples for millions of the world's poorest people. Nevertheless, they receive relatively little development and research attention. This problem needs to be addressed.

In order to conserve and take advantage of plant genetic diversity, an extensive information system is essential. Within the EU, effective exchange information networks in the areas of Plant Breeding Research and Crop Wild Relatives already exist. However, communication between Europe and the International Cooperation (INCO) countries, such as those in Asia, is still rather scant. DIVERSEEDS is establishing a communication platform that makes it possible for European researchers and their Asian counterparts to exchange the results of their research. They are also able to discuss scientific and socioeconomic problems, look for joint solutions to prevent genetic erosion and stimulate knowledge and technology transfer.


The consortium is jointly producing a list of recommendations and strategies to improve the sustainable use of plant genetic resources, especially in centres of origin. These recommendations will be disseminated to researchers, policymakers, farmers and the general public. DIVERSEEDS has significant and overriding synergies with the Food and Agriculture Organisation's International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources. The project is putting special emphasis on assisting in the implementation of the treaty, and is contributing to overcoming any gaps.

DIVERSEEDS takes into account potential future developments, such as climate change and its consequences for genetic reserves. The impact of novel forms of biotechnology - such as "synthetic biology" -on conservation strategies of genetic diversity in food crops will also be dealt with. DIVERSEEDS is working towards its overall goal of addressing the issue of sustainable use and conservation of genetic diversity in food crops, by cooperating closely with partners from Asia to ensure food security for generations to come.

List of Partners

  • International Dialogue and Conflict Management (Austria)
  • University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences Vienna (Austria)
  • University of Birmingham, School of Biosciences (UK)
  • University of Kassel (Germany)
  • Israeli Gene Bank for Agricultural Crops, Volcani Center (Israel)
  • Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences (China)
  • Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (China)
  • Khon Kaen University (Thailand)
  • Hanoi Agricultural University (Vietnam)
  • Bioversity / International Plant Genetic Resource Institut (International Organisation)
Full title:
Networking on conservation and use of plant genetic resources in Europe and Asia
Contract n:
Project co-ordinator:
Markus Schmidt,
Organisation for international dialogue and conflict management
EC Scientific Officer:
Ioannis Economidis,
EU contribution:
€ 581,310
Specific Support Action

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top