‘Develop, preserve trees with genetic variations’

Coimbatore: Preserving and developing trees with genetic variations among a species could be a key to tackle issues such as climate change, drought and pest attacks, said experts.
Knowing, documenting and conserving trees with such genetic variations, called forest genetic resources, was the need of the hour in Indian forestry, they said. Forest officials from 12 states across the country had come to the Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding (IFGTB) in the city to attend a five-day training course on ‘Forest Genetic Resource Management’ which began on Monday.

Speaking on the sidelines of the inaugural session of the course on Monday, director of IFGTB Mohit Gera said forest genetic resources were tree species which carry genetic variability within them and these variations can be developed and used to find solutions to increase productivity or tackling problems.

“Some genes might also have the capacity of tolerance towards salt or drought. That can be exploited for growing trees having salt and drought tolerance. Some genes might have resistance to particular pest, the trees with that gene can be developed and bred,” said Gera.

Stressing on the need to conserve these forest genetic resources, Gera said a national bureau of forest genetic resources should be set up. At present, the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), under the agriculture department, also took care of preserving the genetic resources and seeds of trees as well, he said. Five years ago, IFGTB had submitted a report for the formation of NBFGR, but the process is yet to start, he said.

Earlier, in his address, Gera said there were 2,863 tree species in India, of which 272 have been identified as forest genetic resource species. Of these, 145 were under tree improvement programmes, he said, adding that IFGTB has been working on 25 of these 145 species. “We have the complete genome information of teak and sandalwood trees,” he said.

Speaking at the inaugural session, N Krishnakumar, former principal chief conservator of forests, said the country has 70.62 million hectares of forest cover and 9.36 million hectares of tree cover, amounting to 24% of forest cover nationally. “The government is aiming to increase it to 33% and for this we need quality planting material. For producing quality planting material, forest genetic resources are important,” he said.

Saibal Dasgupta, additional director general of forests, who was the chief guest of the inaugural session, said forest research should be institutionalized to achieve economic and ecological benefits.

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