Crop Wild Relatives utilisation for sustainable agriculture

Crop Wild Relatives can contribute to providing more diverse, sustainable, and nutritious food. Crop Wild Relatives (CWRs) are often seen as the COUSINs of domesticated crops given their
close kinship and their role as important sources of natural genetic variation. CWRs can
make European agriculture more resilient and nutritionally valuable while also providing
opportunities for an urgently required agroecological transition towards maintaining and
stabilising yields under increasingly volatile climates.

The COUSIN Project (Crop Wild Relatives utilisation and conservation for sustainable agriculture) collaboration envisions a future where CWRs are appreciated across Europe for their contribution to natural and agrobiodiversity and as a valued resource for breeding
resistance and quality traits to improve climate resilience and nutritional value of modern
crop varieties.

Main objectives are:
1. Identify pathways to use CWRs to strengthen sustainable agriculture.
COUSIN recognizes five specific pathways for CWR uses: 1. breeding; 2. conservation; 3.
ecosystem services (e.g., restoration of degraded lands, pollinator habitats); 4. food
security; 5. bioprospecting.

2. Recognize preferred areas for the conservation and monitoring of the priority CWR
species in Europe and implement their trans situ conservation.
COUSIN selected five priority flagship crops (wheat, barley, pea, lettuce, and brassica), that
will be distributed over 10 European countries in a frame of case studies.

3. Determine stakeholder-demanded characteristics of CWRs.
CWR values will be recognised in a multi-actor approach between plant scientists,
nutritionists, agronomists, breeders, and conservationists by characterising their functional
traits, such as nutritional, health and environmental provisions. CWRs will further be tested
to generate superior, sustainable foods, animal feeds and non-food industrial products also
identifying novel trait-targets of breeding, such as ecosystem services-focused impacts.

4. Implement stakeholder-demanded characteristics of CWRs into breeding activities.
A selection toolbox for use of CWR in plant breeding will be co-created among the relevant
actors, and CWR genetic resources and tools will be implemented in formal (pre-)breeding
programmes of the flagship crops.
Breeding lines containing CWR traits will contribute to new resistant and high-quality
cultivars (e.g., new disease/pest resistance, improved drought tolerance, improved nutrient
use efficiency, improved combining ability in mixed cropping systems, improved nutritional

5. Provide information about CWRs in an accessible format to stakeholders, to ensure the
long-term availability of data and maximise their impact.

6. Train and raise awareness of the value of CWRs for value chain actors and the society.
Among others, educational activities will be developed for different age groups, from
primary schools to third-level students, as well as for professional stakeholders and citizens.

ESSRG’s tasks include mapping stakeholders, making policy recommendations, developing a
decision-making toolbox, and leading the identification of good practices and the
production of strategic guidelines and a practical handbook for practitioners.

The project (HORIZON-CL6-2023-BIODIV-01-13) receives funding from the EU HORIZON
Research and Innovation Actions.

Press release , Kick-off meeting, 7th to 8th of February, Aranjuez (Spain)


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