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Strengthening the resilience of wheat production

Apr 04,2017

A national effort to document, collect and conserve wheat landraces in Turkey is protecting valuable genetic resources of global importance.

Conserving the genetic diversity of plants is critical for global food security, helping to secure the preservation of potentially important genes - the building blocks of resilient crop varieties. Identifying areas with the highest genetic diversity or those in danger of losing their genetic diversity is vital.       

In 2009-2014 a nationwide effort to document, collect, and conserve wheat landraces grown by Turkish farmers was coordinated and conducted by the International Winter Wheat Improvement Program (IWWIP) – a collaborative partnership between the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and ICARDA.

Wheat is an important crop in Turkey. Parts of the country also lie within the Fertile Crescent – a region spanning the Middle East, the Caucasus and West Asia, which is thought of as the birthplace of modern agriculture and the origin of many of the world’s staple food crops, including wheat. Conservation efforts in Turkey could therefore play a global role in the provision of genetic resources for wheat improvement.  

Diversity losses

Researchers identified areas of landrace cultivation based on knowledge and experience, preliminary appraisals, and collections and surveys. Comparing data with a national survey conducted in the 1930s, the evidence suggests there has been a significant loss of genetic diversity: the total number of different wheat types decreased from 213 to 63, representing a loss of 70%. However, comparisons also revealed that landraces had evolved – suggesting that long-term farmer cultivation enhances continuous adaptation and the creation of new genetic diversity.  

Recommendations to guide future conservation efforts

The evidence suggested the need for more strategic conservation efforts targeting: provinces with the highest diversity of landraces; provinces hosting rare species; and provinces with the highest share of farmers growing both landraces and modern cultivars – given the likelihood of the latter replacing the former.

Researchers also recommended genetically improving landraces and returning them to farmers - to help facilitate rapid selection, incorporate desired traits, and preserve integrity; outcomes that could enhance landrace popularity and therefore secure the valuable genetic resources we need to strengthen the resilience of modern agriculture. Finally, targeting younger farmers could ensure long-term conservation – given that farmers growing landraces tend to be older.

This article is based on a peer-reviewed paper recently published in Crop Science: ‘Wheat Landraces Currently Grown in Turkey: Distribution, Diversity, and Use.’

The research was supported by Turkey’s Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Livestock, the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).    

Author: Mesut Keser