Plant Genetic Resources and Climate Change: available mid-December 2013

Our new 16 chapter book on plant genetic resources has 34 contributors who agree that enhanced use of plant genetic resources is critically important for mitigating against the effects of climate change. The book reveals strong positive messages for the future, but also some substantial negative ones if improvements to conservation and the use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) by plant breeders do not happen soon.

Positive messages:

  • While the latest IPCC report (and Betts and Hawkins, Chapter 3) ‘confirms’ that climate change is a reality – and it will affect agriculture – already we can compare regions and see what the scale of the agricultural challenge is, and extrapolate to what will be the situation in the future (Parry, Chapter 4; Berry et al., Chapter 5).
  • Even though climate change will exacerbate the problem of food insecurity – and some of the poorest countries will be affected worst (Zeigler, Chapter 1) – the good news is that breeders are confident they will be able to produce the next generation of ‘climate-adapted crops’. To adapt crops to new climate conditions it is now universally agreed that breeders need access to sources of genetic diversity – and tools to use this diversity more efficiently and effectively. The good news is that major sources of genetic diversity are already conserved in ex situ genebanks.
  • It is also good news that it’s now possible through novel molecular and bioinformatic approaches to more carefully identify valuable genes and track their progress in breeding. New technologies – molecular and bioinformatic – should massively improve exploitation of PGRFA provided those resources still survive. Seed genebanks will lead to DNA sequence genebanks and then on to in silico genebanks and the creation of the ‘digital plant’ (McNally, Chapter 10) enabling the modelling of the ‘ideal plant’ for whatever conditions prevail.
  • Good news also is that breeders are already addressing climate change constraints and using germplasm for submergence, drought, salinity, heat, and pests and diseases, and making progress which gives optimism for the future (Chapters 12 to 16). Drought, submergence, heat and salinity are all environmental stresses that are likely to increase as a result of climate change. For example, rice has 25 related wild species, and 22 of these have already contributed genes to new stress tolerant varieties (Zeigler, Chapter 1).
  • We now have good evidence indicating that some plants in their natural environments can adapt genetically to changing conditions very rapidly – easily within 20 or 30 years and within the timescale of climate change. So as well as conservation in genebanks, plant genetic resources need to be conserved in situ in natural reserves (Maxted et al., Chapter 7) or on farms (Bellon and van Etten, Chapter 8) so that new genes can evolve and provide a greater armory against climate change than afforded just by germplasm ‘frozen’ in genebanks (Ford-Lloyd et al., Chapter 2).

Issue for concern:

  • International mechanisms are in place, through the International Treaty, for breeders to share germplasm for the benefit of society. But there are still political issues constraining the use of plant genetic resources currently conserved (Ford-Lloyd et al., Chapter 2). ‘Ready access’ to genetic resources has been jeopardized by the International Treaty. But, the International Treaty is the only instrument we have for allowing for the exchange and then use of PGRFA so we have to make the best of it (Moore and Hawtin, Chapter 6).

  • Enhanced use of PGRFA can help reduce the increasing risk of hunger predicted by climate change, but does not detract from the need to reduce or stabilize greenhouse gas emissions which would have the greatest effect on reduction of increasing world hunger (Parry, Chapter 4).

  • It is clear that up to now, use of PGRFA by breeders has been neither systematic nor comprehensive, and the vast majority of crop wild relatives remain untapped (Maxted et al., Chapter 7).

  • Critically, we know virtually nothing about how many landraces are currently being grown and fulfilling their potential for adapting to changes in the environment, so there is a need for a step change (Ford-Lloyd et al., Chapter 2).

  • As much as 20% of all plants, not just crop wild relatives, are now estimated to be threatened with extinction. Even within Europe substantial numbers of crop wild relatives are threatened or critically endangered in International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) terms. However, it is the genetic diversity within species that is of greater value for crop improvement, and this diversity is almost certainly being lost (genetic erosion) at a much greater rate than the species themselves, and yet their conservation is far from sufficient (Maxted etal., Chapter 7).

  • Relatively few crop wild relatives (9%) are conserved in genebanks, and even fewer conserved in natural reserves. So, currently there is no guarantee that the genes we need for combating climate change will be available in newly adapted forms when we need them.

Would you like to purchase a copy? You can order online from CABI. When ordering from CABI online purchasers can use this code (CCPGRCC20) for a 20% discount off the retail price. The discount code is valid until 31 December 2013. The standard prices are £85.00, U5$160.00, or €11 0.00. The discounted prices are £68, $128, or €88 .


Senior Lecturer, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK

Mauricio R. BELLON
Principal Scientist, Bioversity International, Via dei Tre Denari 472/a, Maccarese, Rome, Italy

Senior Research Fellow, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, Dyson Perrins Building, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3QY, UK

Richard A. BETTS
Professor and Head of the Climate Impacts, Met Office Hadley Centre, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, Devon EX1 3PB, UK

Research Associate, Institute of Agriculture, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia

Joana Magos BREHM
Collaborator, Centre for Environmental Biology, University of Lisbon, Portugal and Research Assistant, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK

Postdoctoral Fellow, Wageningen UR Plant Breeding, PO Box 16, 6700 AJ Wageningen, The Netherlands

Former Barley Breeder, International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Aleppo, Syria (now retired)

Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Agronomy, 2004 Throckmorton Plant Science Center, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA

Johannes M.M. ENGELS
Honorary Research Fellow, Bioversity International, Via dei Tre Denari 472/a, Maccarese, Rome, Italy

Professor and Director, International Centre for Plant Breeding Education and Research (ICPBER) and Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA), The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley WA 6009, Perth, Australia

Jacob van ETTEN
Theme Leader – Climate Change Adaptation, Bioversity International, Regional Office of the Americas, CIAT, Recta Cali – Palmira Km. 17, Palmira, Colombia

Emeritus Professor, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK

NERC Advanced Research Fellow, National Centre for Atmospheric Science, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Earley Gate, PO Box 243, Reading, RG6 6BB, UK

Geoffrey HAWTIN
Former Director General, International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), Maccarese, Rome, Italy (now retired)

Abdelbagi M. ISMAIL
Principal Scientist – Plant Physiology, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), DAPO 7777, Manila 1301, Philippines

Former Head of the Genetic Resources Center and Director for Program Planning and Communications, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), DAPO Box 7777, Manila 1301, Philippines (now retired)

Shelagh KELL
Research Fellow, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK

Adjunct Professor, Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA and former Principal Scientist – Rice Breeding, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), DAPO 7777, Manila 1301, Philippines

Al Imran MALIK
Research Associate, Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA) and Institute of Agriculture, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia

Senior Lecturer in Genetic Conservation, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK

Kenneth L. McNALLY
Senior Scientist II – Molecular Genetics and Computational Biology, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), DAPO Box 7777, Manila 1301, Philippines

Principal Scientist and Program Leader (Genetic Resources Enhancement and Management), International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Regional Office for Eastern and Southern Africa, United Nations Avenue, World Agroforestry Centre, Gigiri PO Box 39063-00623, Nairobi, Kenya 

Samarendu MOHANTY
Head, Social Sciences Division, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), DAPO Box 7777 Manila 1301, Philippines

Gerald MOORE
Former Legal Counsel, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Italy (now retired)

Former Reader, Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Penglais, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY23 3DA, UK(now retired)

Martin PARRY
Visiting Professor, Grantham Institute and Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London, London, SW7 2AZ, UK

Associate Professor and Director of K-State Center for Sorghum Improvement, Department of Agronomy, 2004 Throckmorton Plant Science Center, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA

Senior Lecturer and Head of Education,School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK

Doctoral Researcher, Institute for Climatic and Atmospheric Science (ICAS), School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK, CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), Cali, Colombia, and International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Cali, Colombia

Research Scientist, Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Penglais, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY23 3DA, UK

Principal Scientist, Assistant Research Program Director – Grain Legumes, and Head – Gene Bank, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Patancheru 502 324, Andhra Pradesh, India

Senior Scientist – Resistance Breeding, Wageningen UR Plant Breeding, PO Box 16, 6700 AJ Wageningen, The Netherlands

Director General, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), DAPO Box 7777, Manila 1301, Philippines


1. Food security, climate change and genetic resources
Robert S. Zeigler

2. Genetic resources and conservation challenges under the threat of climate change
Brian Ford-Lloyd, Johannes M.M. Engels and Michael Jackson

3. Climate projections
Richard A. Betts and Ed Hawkins

4. Effects of climate change on potential food production and risk of hunger
Martin Parry

5. Regional impacts of climate change on agriculture and the role of adaptation
Pam Berry, Julian Ramirez-Villegas, Helen Bramley, Samarandu Mohanty and Mary A. Mgonja

6. International mechanisms for conservation and use of genetic resources
Gerald Moore and Geoffrey Hawtin

7. Crop wild relatives and climate change
Nigel Maxted, Shelagh Kell and Joana Magos Brehm

8. Climate change and on-farm conservation of crop landraces in centres of diversity
Mauricio R. Bellon and Jacob van Etten

9. Germplasm databases and informatics
Helen Ougham and Ian D. Thomas

10. Exploring ‘omics’ of genetic resources to mitigate the effects of climate change
Kenneth L. McNally

11. Harnessing meiotic recombination for improved crop varieties
Susan J. Armstrong

12. High temperature stress
Maduraimuthu Djanaguiraman and P.V..Vara Prasad

13. Drought
Salvatore Ceccarelli

14. Salinity
William Erskine, Hari D. Upadhyaya and Al Imran Malik

15. Response to flooding: submergence tolerance in rice
Abdelbagi M. Ismail and David J. Mackill

16. Effects of climate change on plant-insect interactions and prospects for resistance breeding using genetic resources
Jeremy Pritchard, Colette Broekgaarden and Ben Vosman 


MICHAEL JACKSON retired from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in 2010. For 10 years he was Head of the Genetic Resources Center, managing the International Rice Genebank, one of the world’s largest and most important genebanks. Then, for nine years, he was Director for Program Planning and Communications. He was also Adjunct Professor of Agronomy at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños. During the 1980s he was Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Birmingham, focusing on the conservation and use of plant genetic resources. From 1973-81 he worked at the International Potato Center, in Lima, Perú and in Costa Rica. He now works part-time as an independent agricultural research and planning consultant. He was appointed OBE in The Queen’s New Year’s Honours 2012, for services to international food science.

BRIAN FORD-LLOYD is Emeritus Professor of Conservation Genetics at the University of Birmingham, former Director of the University Graduate School, and former Deputy Head of the School of Biosciences. During his tenure as Director of the University Graduate School he aimed to ensure that doctoral researchers throughout the University were provided with the opportunity, training and facilities to undertake internationally valued research that would lead into excellent careers in the UK and overseas. He drew from his experience of having successfully supervised over 40 doctoral researchers from the UK and many other parts of the world in his chosen research area which included the study of the natural genetic variation in plant populations, and agricultural plant genetic resources and their conservation.

MARTIN PARRY is Visiting Professor at The Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London, and also Visiting Research Fellow at The Grantham Institute at the same university. Until September 2008 he was Co-Chair of Working Group II (Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability), of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) based at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, UK Meteorological Office. Previously he was Director of the Jackson Environment Institute (JEI), and Professor of Environmental Science at the University of East Anglia (1999-2002); Director of the JEI and Professor of Environmental Management at University College London (1994-99); foundation Director of the Environmental Change Institute and Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford (1991-94); and Professor of Geography at the University of Birmingham (1989-91). He was appointed OBE in The Queen’s New Year’s Honours 1998, for services to the environment and climate change.

Orange and Green: tribal loyalties and conflict in Northern Ireland

A story in The Guardian a couple of days ago caught my eye. It was a piece about happiness across the UK, the results from a survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Those surveyed were asked to comment on their personal well-being, two components of which were ‘happiness’ and ‘anxiety’.

What surprised me, given its turbulent and uncertain past, were the apparent high level of happiness and low anxiety among those surveyed in Northern Ireland (relative to other regions of the UK). Now this interested me because I had just finished Michael Farrell’s detailed (and I have to say rather depressing) account of the birth of Northern Ireland, and the ethnic and religious conflicts and violence (tribal even, at least on the part of the Protestant community) that have characterized life in that province since 1922. Incidentally, the ONS survey provided aggregated data for Northern Ireland with no further breakdown across counties, some of which have a Catholic majority.

Northern Ireland: The Orange State is a comprehensive account of how partition and its aftermath shaped political, cultural and economic development in Northern Ireland, and how the domination of the Catholics by the majority Protestant Unionists or Loyalists was bound – eventually – to culminate in The Troubles that came to define the late 60s, the 70s and 80s.

The bald facts cannot be challenged. There was systematic and ‘official’ persecution of the Catholic population, collusion between the Unionist State and Protestant organizations like the Orange Order at the very least. With the backing of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (now disbanded and replaced with Police Service for Northern Ireland, PSNI), the Specials (particularly the violent B Specials) and other groups, the Northern Ireland government was determined never to let the Catholics improve their lot. Legislation, gerrymandering and discrimination (and thuggery) were used by the State as tools of repression of the Nationalist (Catholic) minority, and to prevent – as far as possible – the power and influence of the Protestant community from ever being assailed.

It’s no wonder then that at the end of the 1960s, a vibrant civil rights movement sprang up among the Catholic communities. And although I unreservedly condemn the violence that both sides of the conflict perpetrated on their fellow Irishmen, I can understand better the causes of that violence and what motivated the Provisional IRA to take up arms. And so Northern Ireland was subject to assassination and reprisals, often at ransom and against civilians not engaged in any form of political or civil disobedience or violence. Violence was used to inflict terror per se and, if Farrell’s analysis is to be believed, the Protestant community and its various bodies (including state bodies) has to carry the bulk of the blame. Even the British Army may have colluded with the Loyalist organizations to maintain the status quo.

In 1970 I was a young man of 21. Northern Ireland and its growing conflict didn’t really register on my radar. I was abroad for much of the 70s so didn’t fully appreciate what was happening in Northern Ireland. The 1980s (when I was back in the UK for a decade) were the Thatcher years, and the industrial conflicts seemed perhaps more newsworthy than what was happening across the Irish Sea. Frankly, my memory is now quite vague about those 10 years. And during the 1990s, when finally progress was being made in the Peace Process (with the active involvement of US President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and their representatives) I was again out of the country, and got my news second-hand, so-to-speak.

I cannot – and don’t – claim to be a pundit on the affairs of Ireland. That would be naïve and presumptuous. As I have pointed out in other posts in this blog, I have been trying to understand my Irish ancestry and how the history of Ireland would have affected my family.

What I see today (simplistically or naïvely perhaps, and from afar it has to be said) is a more settled Northern Ireland, that is trying to come to grips with is turbulent past, trying to develop economically, and move forward. For several years the Peace process has led to a more stable democracy in which former arch enemies are working together, or at least giving the appearance of working together, and that can only be a positive thing. Unsavoury individuals like the Rev. Ian Paisley (whose bigotry and promotion of violence during the 60s and 70s must be roundly condemned), who formed the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that is the majority party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, eventually mellowed and did sit down in government with Sinn Féin. The signs of progress are everywhere to see. Derry-Londonderry is one of the 2013 European Cities of Culture. Who would have thought that would have been even thinkable several decades ago when Derry was the heart of the struggles.

But one of the iconic moments of the whole Peace Process in a broad sense happened in when HM The Queen visited Northern Ireland and was introduced to members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Not only were its Assembly Leader Peter Robinson (DUP) and Martin McGuinness (Deputy, Sinn Féin, and a former commander of the Provisional IRA in Derry) standing side-by-side, but McGuinness shook hands with Her Majesty. Who would have predicted that?

Nevertheless serious tensions lie just below the surface, old wounds are opened, and violence breaks out between the two communities, as we see during the annual Orange Order marches (how they still remain so insensitive – indifferent  or disdainful might be better descriptions – beggars belief). And of course the Protestant community (or at least one hard-line element) came on to the streets in December 2012 to protest the ending of the flying the Union Flag above Belfast City Hall. Memories are long, and prejudices run deep in Northern Ireland, it seems. Even today, letter bombs have been sent to the Chief Constable of the PSNI, reportedly by dissident Republicans. And so it goes on.

Is there hope for the future? There has to be, and surely increasing economic prosperity – and a new generation – will bring about the lasting positive changes that most (but not all, I’m convinced) cherish. Even Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has visited Northern Ireland recently to understand more about the Peace Process. Nevertheless, I think I’ll have to leave Irish history for the time-being – it does begin to get to you after a while.

A tale of Dublin soul . . .

North Dublin.

A young man, Jimmy Rabbitte by name, walks through a street market, a horse fair, across a desolate 1960s housing estate, trying to sell merchandise – mainly videos – that he carries in a bag on his shoulder.

He’s on his way to a wedding reception, although he’s not one of the guests. No. He just wants to meet the members of a band who, as he arrives at the reception, are performing a dreadful interpretation of The Searchers’ 1964 hit Needles and Pins. Just as he enters the room, a group of children are running about, and in the melee, one little girl collides with the outstretched leg of an elderly gentleman dozing at one of the tables, no doubt having had one pint too many.

Woken from his slumber, ‘Fuck off’ he snarls at the child, almost the first dialogue in Alan Parker‘s classic 1991 film The Commitments – probably one of the best movies of the 90s.

Well what an interesting way to start a film. And so it went on. If you have ever read any of Roddy Doyle’s brilliant tales of Dublin life, you know that ‘effing and blinding’ is just part of the Dublin vernacular.

Well, I was reminded this past week of when and where I first watched The Commitments because it has just translated to the London stage, to quite favorable reviews.

It must have been about 1992, I guess. Saturday night in Los Baños (in the Philippines). Having finished dinner, we (Steph, Hannah, Philippa and me) sat down to watch a video we’d rented that afternoon from the local store on Lopez Avenue, Dis ‘n’ Dat.

The Commitments? Roddy Doyle? I’d never heard of either, so had no idea what the film was all about. Not a wise move, in some respects, since Hannah was only about 14, Phillipa 10. There was strong language from the outset, as I described earlier. What to do? Switch off or continue as though there was nothing untoward? We carried on. And we all enjoyed the movie.

So what is Alan Parker’s film (co-written by Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais and Roddy Doyle) all about? Young Jimmy Rabbitte wants to form ‘The World’s Hardest Working Band’ and bring soul music – black soul music – to the masses.  As one of the prospective band members reacts to this revelation: ‘Well like, maybe we’re a little white?’

Here they are singing Mustang Sally.

Alan Parker’s genius was in casting a group of youngsters who had never acted before, but who could really sing. Take Andrew Strong, cast as lead singer Deco, for instance. Only sixteen when The Commitments was made, he had an acting and singing maturity way beyond his age. And what a romp the film turns out to be. Needless to say, without spoiling the plot for anyone who has not yet seen the film – but I urge you to do so – it’s all about the formation and trials and tribulations of the band, and its ultimate break-up. It’s too successful.

Don’t worry about the strong language; that goes with the territory. A few years later, when a student in St Paul, Minnesota,  Hannah attended a reading by Roddy Doyle of some of his works. It was held in one of the local Lutheran churches, but true to form, Roddy pulled no punches, ‘effing and blinding’ his way through the various excerpts. Even though it was a church venue, the audience loved it. There’s a time and place for everything – I wish some of today’s so-called stand-up comedians understood the power of the appropriately chosen ‘eff and blind’ rather than sprinkling their acts with gratuitous profanities. I should add, I’m no prude when it comes to strong language on the TV. It can be used impressively to enhance a drama, as the recent series set in Birmingham, Peaky Blinders, has demonstrated. Also, I’m a great fan of Billy Connolly, whose language, for some, leaves a great deal to be desired. But it’s all part of his Glaswegian vernacular, just as Roddy Doyle’s use of this language reflects the reality of life in Dublin.

Around the world in 40 years . . . Part 8. SPQR

Senatus Populusque Romanus – SPQR.
The Senate and People of Rome. Those initials are still used on the modern-day emblem of the Rome municipality. It’s everywhere –  and a reminder of Rome 2,000 years ago.

But Ancient Rome’s incredible story is all around, woven into the very fabric of the city. Add to that the impact of the Catholic Church and the Renaissance on Rome’s architecture, and there’s an eclectic mix of ancient and modern, Christian and pagan, sacred and secular, and all things in between. Benito Mussolini also contributed to the architectural pot-pourri in the 1930s. Take, for example, the FAO headquarters building that stands beside the Caracalla Baths (Terme di Caracalla) at the foot of the Caelian Hill (one of Ancient Rome’s seven hills), looking over the Circus Maximus, the buildings on the Palatine Hill, and to the far west, the dome of St Peter’s Basilica. A rambling building in which it’s quite easily to get lost (and I have), it was originally Mussolini’s Department of Italian East Africa.

Views from the FAO roof terrace, looking north over the Circus Maximus towards the Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum (on the right) at the top of the Via di San Gregorio. You can just see the Arch of Constantine peeking above the trees, to the left of the Colosseum. The Victor Emmanuel II monument can be seen on the skyline on the left of the photo (click on this and other images to enlarge). Likewise on the photo below, the magnificent dome of St Peter’s dominates the Rome skyline.

Many visits to Rome
I’ve been traveling to Rome on quite a regular basis since 1989 when I made my first trip there. I must have been back there about 20 times or more while I was working at IRRI in the Philippines. That’s because Rome is home to three UN agencies: The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); and the World Food Programme (WFP); as well of one of the 15 centers of the CGIAR, Bioversity International (formerly the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources – IBPGR, which became the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute – IPGRI, before becoming Bioversity International in the mid-2000s).

When it was first founded in the 1970s, IBPGR was located in the headquarters of FAO in Rome. And that’s where I headed in the late Spring of 1989 to sort out the funding for germplasm collecting work in the Canary Islands for one of my PhD students, Javier Francisco-Ortega. Then in April 1991, even before I formally joined IRRI as Head of the Genetic Resources Center, I was asked to represent the institute at the meeting of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture held at FAO. And for the next decade I would travel to Rome every year, sometimes more than once, and in one year between 1993 and 1996,when I chaired the Inter-Center Working Group on Genetic Resources, I actually traveled to Rome five times.

But when I changed jobs at IRRI in May 2001, and took on responsibility for raising funds from the institute’s donor agencies, I still traveled to Rome each year to visit IFAD or attend inter-center director meetings hosted by Bioversity International.

So this is by way of background to explain why I traveled to Rome as frequently as I did.

And it’s a city that I came to know quite well, and to love the buzz of the place. Even so, I feel as though I’ve only scratched the surface of Ancient Rome, if the stories told by Cambridge classics professor Mary Beard on recent BBC TV programs are anything to go by.

So what is special about Rome?
Rome is a great city to get to know on foot – and I’ve walked miles and miles through the maze of narrow cobbled streets and piazzas, and along the River Tiber of course, heading towards the Vatican City and the glories of St Peter’s and the Vatican Museum. Even so, if you get sore feet, Rome has an extensive network of buses and trams on which you can hop; its taxi system is also very efficient (at least in my experience, although the 140 kph or more dash to the airport always had me on the edge of my seat). Despite all that walking, I still have only scratched the surface of Rome, ancient and modern. That’s because I could only get out and about exploring when I had a weekend free.

It also goes without saying that Rome is also a great place for food and wine – and not really over expensive. If you choose the right location. I very quickly found a number of restaurants that I would visit frequently, such as La Villeta (waiters all wear the AC Roma colors – family run, good atmosphere) and the Taverna Cestia (always had a good meal here) at the southern end of the Viale Aventino, or the Grottino da Rino (great antipasti) just down the street from FAO, close by the San Anselmo Hotel on the Aventine Hill where I often stayed. Near the Colisseum I often stayed at the Lancelot Hotel, and often ate in a typical tratoria, Luzzi in Via di San Giovanni in Laterano. And it’s this last one which really epitomizes the sort of restaurant I looked for: one where the locals were eating, with some tourists. But wherever you search, there are so many good eating places to choose from – serving simple and delicious food. I’ve only been to restaurants in Trastevere a couple of times – tends to be a little touristy, maybe catering to the tastes of a younger set.

The map below is centered on the Colosseum, but just zoom out and explore Rome!

Of course there are certain sights that everyone should visit: the Forum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona, Villa Borghese, the Colosseum, and the Catacombs. I could go on; and I haven’t visited all these.

Dominating the skyline between the Caelian and Palatine Hills, the Colosseum, built by the Flavian emperor Vespasian and his successor Titus between AD70 and AD80, is a wonder of Roman architecture and construction (the Romans used lots of concrete). On a still night you can almost hear the lions roaring.

Overlooking the Piazza Venezia is the ‘wedding cake’ monument to Victor Emmanuel II – an iconic part of Rome’s skyline.

Here are some views of the Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon (where the former Kings of Italy are buried), and the Spanish Steps.

Finally, no visit to Rome is complete without at least a look at St Peter’s – even if it’s only from outside. What a stunning piece of Renaissance architecture. It’s worth a look inside (my photos are not so good), but depending on the season, the queue can be quite daunting – as can be that for the Vatican Museum. If you have the patience, the museum has some incredible treasures (to be expected from an institution that has dominated all parts of the world for two millennia). And from the museum it’s possible to walk in part of the papal gardens.

Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to visit Rome once more, and then take time to visit all those places that are still on my list. And I must remember to take a decent camera with me next time. In my dreams I’m eternally returning to the Eternal City.