Crop Wild Relatives of the Desert Borderlands: A Celebration of Diversity and a Call to Action


Wild tepary beans (Phaseolus acutifolius A Gray)


Sunday January 13th to Tuesday January 15th, 2019
Tucson and environs, Arizona
Hosts: University of Arizona, Food Forever, and Downtown Kitchen


Please register for Sunday early arrival activities, Monday Forum, and Tuesday field trip to wild chile preserve (no cost for these events)
Please register for Tuesday evening tasting event (cost $40)


The desert borderlands region has tremendous biological diversity, including in crop wild relatives and in wild food plants, where it is a diversity hotspot within the United States. The food traditions of the region continue to incorporate these plants into a range of dishes for spice and for sustenance.

These plant populations are in many cases the northernmost distributions for their species, and thus contain interesting and potentially novel genetic diversity. Being in a region with severe climatic conditions and undergoing rapid climatic change, on top of habitat destruction, invasive species, and in some cases over-harvesting, the populations are increasingly threatened.

Recognizing the unique value of, and threats to this diversity, the U.S. Forest Service collaborated with Native Seeds/SEARCH and local researchers 20 years ago to formalize a unique protected area for crop wild relatives. This 2500 acre special management area in the Tumacacori Mountains within the Coronado National Forest near the Arizona-Sonora border is home to the largest and most northerly population of wild chile peppers in the U.S. It is an important reserve, both biologically and symbolically, for the conservation and study of the progenitor of the world’s most important chile pepper species. The wild chile pepper is also an important spice in its own right and a significant income source for wild harvesters especially in Sonora, Mexico.

In the decades since the establishment of the reserve, momentum to conserve and celebrate the wild relatives and wild useful plants not only in the desert borderlands, but in the North American region at large, has increased considerably. Recent exciting advances include:

  • A newly published two-volume book (1,2) written by 70 experts that documents the best available knowledge of the conservation status of wild relatives and wild food plants throughout Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., and recommends ways to improve regional efforts to protect these species and to ensure that they are available into the future. This effort builds on recently published national inventories of crop wild relatives in Mexico and in the U.S..
  • Conservationists, researchers, and public educators from the agricultural research and botanic garden communities are collaborating on crop wild relative protection, use, and awareness. A symposium will be held at the World Food Prize Foundation in Des Moines, Iowa in April 2019, during which a regional (Canada, Mexico and USA) Road Map on crop wild relatives will be launched.
  • An international initiative called Food Forever is raising awareness regarding the importance of crop wild relatives and wild food plants, and is championing efforts to fulfill various international commitments to conserve them, including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

The University of Arizona, the Food Forever Initiative, and Downtown Kitchen are combining efforts to offer a special 3 day event in Tucson and its environs which will further raise awareness of the value of, and threats to, crop wild relatives and wild food plants, and promote and celebrate new collaborations to safeguard these biologically and culturally important natural resources. This event represents an important step in increasing the momentum to work together to take care of and to wisely use these resources.

Aims of the event:
  • Raise awareness of the value of, and threats to, crop wild relatives and wild food plants
  • Promote collaboration on their conservation and use
  • Celebrate new collaborations on their conservation and use