Plant breeding and diversity

Louwaars, Niels P.


Plant breeding collects, induces and rearranges genetic diversity followed by selection. Breeding may contribute to diversity in farmers’ fields or significantly reduce it. History has numerous examples of both. The diversity of many crops have gone through domestication, dispersal and modernization bottlenecks. Between these major decreasing processes, diversity has picked up through different evolutionary processes, and plant breeding affected by policies. Major negative effects of plant breeding on diversity have been recorded following the modernization bottleneck, but alternative breeding strategies have come up as well, both in the formal system and in the interphase between formal and farmers’ seed systems. Multiline breeding and participatory plant breeding are introduced as examples to also analyse effects of current developments in technology and policy. This paper intends to shed some light on the questions: how will current developments in technology and policy affect crop genetic diversity? Are we heading for a new bottleneck—either a molecular or a policy bottleneck, or a combination of both? Or could the future become more diverse? We look at the relationship between breeding, policies, and crop genetic diversity in farming systems with a birds-eye view. Notably because of current policy trends we warn for a new diversity bottleneck.