Crop diversity: Our best hedge against natural disasters?

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.V., Sept. 25-2013  - Despite the fact that researchers have made great strides in plant breeding, there's not been enough attention paid to conserving and maintaining the world's most important food crops in seed banks, says Cary Fowler, the former executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

Protecting those seed traits will be vitally important to help plant breeders find the genetic materials needed to adapt to climate change in the future, he adds. A recent study of the 29 most important food crops revealed severe threats to just over half of their wild relatives-species that can hold valuable traits for plant breeder.

Lets Talk Food

Fowler notes that farmers are experiencing hotter average temperatures, hotter extremes and “with new temperatures, we will have new pests and diseases.

“Whether climate scientists are right or wrong, the challenges we face to increase production are overwhelming,” Fowler told members attending Crop Life America's annual meeting here.

Yet, outside of the U.S., many governments have done little to invest in seed banks and protect their genetic diversity.

“Some seed banks are more like hospices, where seeds go to die,” Fowler told members attending Crop Life America's annual meeting here.  He noted that come countries don't have budgets for seed banks and fail to protect these precious resources. For example, after a typhoon hit the Philippines, the seed bank was flooded and a number of seed varieties became extinct.

The Global Crop Diversity Trust, which is based in Bonn, Germany, works to conserve plant genes so farmers and breeders will be able to adapt crops in changing conditions. On Tuesday, the Trust received a much-needed boost to build their endowment.

The government of Norway pledged $23.7 million to conserve and sustainably manage the world's most important food crops, citing the critical need for crop diversity at a time when populations are soaring and climate change is threatening staples like rice and maize.

"In just ten years we will have a billion more people at the global dinner table, but during that same time we could see climate change diminish rice production by ten percent with a one degree increase in temperature," said Marie Haga, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

"Our best hedge against disaster is to make sure we have a wide array of food crops at our disposal to keep harvests healthy in the bread baskets of the world," she added.

The announcement of the new investment in crop diversity came at the opening of the Fifth session of the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

The Norwegian investment, to be channeled through an endowment being raised by the Crop Trust and through the Benefit-sharing Fund of the Treaty, is intended to facilitate greater international collaboration in the collection, conservation and utilization of seeds and plants. It adds to recent contributions from Italy and the European Union to help carry out the Treaty's mission and another from the United States to help fulfill the Crop Trust's endowment.

Norway is already home to the Svalbard global seed vault, pictured above.


 

Located deep inside a mountain on a remote island in the Svalbard archipelago - halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole - the Crop Trust says it is a fail-safe, state-of-the-art seed storage facility, built to stand the test of time.

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