Target 9: Crop wild relatives


The genetic diversity of crops, including their wild relatives and indigenous edible plant species, conserved while respecting, preserving and maintaining associated indigenous and local knowledge

Contributors: L. Nkuna, E. van Wyk, N. Maluleke, T. Tjikana, W. Jansen van Rensburg,
E. Dulloo, I. Thormann & D. Raimondo


The genetic resources of crops and other indigenous edible plant species are the biological base for food security. South Africa is fortunate in that traditional farming is still practised in many parts of the country; thereby allowing a number of African crop species to be grown and many different landraces of crops to exist. Furthermore, a wide variety of indigenous plant species are collected directly from the wild and used for food. Over the last few decades there has been increasing concern about the loss of crop genetic diversity internationally. Over this same time period in South Africa, there has been an ongoing trend of urbanisation and an associated loss of traditional landraces as well as traditional farming practices.

Conserving traditional landraces of crops, their wild relatives and indigenous edible species is a priority for the following reasons:

Traditional landraces constitute ‘within-species’ diversity and provide resilience and local adaptation in traditional farming systems.

Crop wild relatives – i.e. species that are related to crops and can potentially donate genes to them in breeding and improvement programmes – provide beneficial traits to crops, such as pest and disease resistance, and drought tolerance.

Indigenous edible plant species constitute important components of a diversified diet and provide a food security safety net.

Protecting plant genetic resources of traditional landraces and indigenous edible plants has been a priority for the South African Government for the past two decades, with South Africa becoming a member of the Southern African Develoment Community (SADC) Plant Genetic Resources Centre (SPGRC) in 1995 and the National Plant Genetic Resource Centre of South Africa (NPGRC) established by the then Department of Agriculture in 1998. The NPGRC coordinates activities related to the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources in South Africa, which includes the collection, multiplication, characterisation, evaluation, rejuvenation and documentation of seed, as well as gene bank management. The process of collecting plant genetic resources in South Africa is done in such a way so as to ensure that the indigenous knowledge associated with the use of each species is captured at the same time as seed is collected.

Target 9 outcomes for 2020

9.1.     Genetic diversity of 250 indigenous, edible species and traditional crop landraces conserved in the South African gene bank and duplicated in either the SADC region gene bank or in the Millennium Seed Bank.

South Africa’s national gene bank established by the NPGRC in 1998 includes mostly agricultural crops focusing on traditional landraces; the bank also includes fodder species, ornamentals, industrial crops (crops used in industry for fibre, hemp, oils etc.), indigenous vegetables and fruits, and selected medicinal species. A total of 324 species have been banked by the national gene bank by the end of 2014, however only 44 are crops or other edible South African species. A further 103 edible indigenous species have been collected by the Millennium Seed Bank project coordinated by SANBI in partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

9.2.     Priority crop wild relatives conserved both in situ and ex situ.

South Africa has 2 260 crop wild relative species within its border; 66 of these have been selected as priority species based on their conservation status, level of endemism, current economic value, their use as food and their breeding potential. These species will be the focus of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States–European
Union’s (ACP-EU’s) in situ conservation project, called the ‘Crops Wild Relatives (CWR) project’, in the SADC region. South Africa has been selected as one of three SADC countries to take part in a three-year CWR project coordinated by Bioversity International and the University of Birmingham (UoB) and funded by the ACP-EU Science and Technology Programme. This project aims to enhance links between conservation and the use of CWR as a means of underpinning regional food security and mitigating the predicted adverse impact of climate change. This project runs from 2014 to 2016 (

The specific objectives of the SADC CWR project are to enhance the scientific capacities within each participating country to conserve crop wild relatives and to identify useful potential traits for use to adapt to climate change. The project also aims to develop National Strategic Action Plans for the conservation and use of crop wild relatives.

Target 9: The genetic diversity of crops, including their wild relatives and indigenous edible plant species, conserved while respecting, preserving and maintaining associated indigenous and local knowledge
Outcomes Activities Responsible stakeholders Timeframe
9.1. Genetic diversity of 400 indigenous edible plant species and crop traditional varieties conserved in gene banks. 9.1.1. Information collected as part of Target 13 (collection of indigenous knowledge) used to guide which indigenous edible plants require gene banking. 9.1.1. SANBI’s Millennium Seed Bank Programme 9.1.1. Ongoing.
9.1.2. Capacity developed with officials from the NPGRC to spatially map all collections of traditional crop varieties made to date and identify gap areas for further collecting.

9.1.2. DAFF NPGRC and SANBI.



9.1.2. 2016


9.1.3. Seed collections made of indigenous edible species not previously banked. 9.1.3. SANBI’s Millennium Seed Bank programme. 9.1.3. Seeds of 20 previously not collected edible indigenous plants collected annually.
9.1.4. Collection of seeds of traditional crop varieties made in areas identified as gaps in activity 9.1.2., while ensuring ongoing collection of associated indigenous knowledge. 9.1.4. DAFF NPGRC collections staff. 9.1.4. Two areas targeted annually.
9.2. Priority crop wild relatives conserved in situ and ex situ. 9.2.1. Occurrence records obtained for priority crop wild relatives through georeferencing herbarium specimen data and conducting fieldtrips to obtain new occurrence records. 9.2.1. SANBI Biosystematics Division and Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (with mentorship from Bioversity and UoB, under the SADC CWR project). 9.2.1. 2015

9.2.2. In situ CWR hotspots and priority sites for in situ conservation identified.


9.2.2. SANBI and DAFF NPGRC (with mentorship from Bioversity and UoB, under SADC CWR project). 9.2.2. 2015–2016
9.2.3. Priority CWR for ex situ conservation collected and banked. 9.2.3. SANBI’s Millennium Seed Bank Project. 9.2.3. 2015–2016
9.2.4. In situ conservation areas included in provincial conservation plans, protected areas expansion strategies and the NBSAP. 9.2.4. SANBI’s Strategy for Plant Conservation Focal Point in collaboration with DAFF under SADC CWR project. 9.2.4. 2016–2017