Field genebanks may impede instead of promote crop development: lessons of failed genebanks of “promising” brazilian palms

J. van Leeuwen, E. Lleras Pérez, C. R. Clement

Resumen


In Latin America, several field genebanks were created to promote the use of “underutilized” palms during the 1970s and 1980s. Two decades later it can be concluded that these genebanks did not contribute to increased use of the target species, nor to their genetic improvement. Some banks have already disappeared and others are threatened with the same fate. The work on genetic conservation during that period did strengthen the mistaken idea that improvement of native tree species starts with the creation of a genebank. The question of germplasm conservation is important when genetic erosion is occurring, as happened from the mid sixties onwards with rice, wheat and maize due to the massive acceptance of modern, green-revolution, varieties. The “underutilized” palms didn’t have improved varieties; they still don’t have these today. A lot of energy went into germplasm characterization with extensive lists of descriptors, but the results were of little practical interest. It proved to be very difficult, often impossible, to obtain sufficient financial support for the field genebanks each year, with the result that these often absorbed the scant resources available for palm domestication and other work. The genetic improvement of new tree crops should start with comparative trials of promising materials, using an appropriate experimental design. When a genebank is necessary, its design should avoid pollination between promising and not promising materials and between different varieties, while diminishing the possibility of crosses between plants of the same family.


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