Arctic vault a safe zone for seeds as crop diversity dwindles

Securing future food supply

Women work in a rice field in Nepal. GLF/Mokhamad Edliadi
13 February 2018

BONN, Germany (Landscape News) — Seeds and the genetic diversity they contain are the biological foundation of agriculture, underpinning global food supplies, said an expert speaking at the Global Landscapes Forum.

Protecting biodiversity enhances access to plant varieties that can strengthen the adaptation and resilience of food production systems, said Hannes Dempewolf, senior scientist at the Crop Trust, which focuses on the critical importance of biodiversity for global food security, climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts.

These efforts also secure the genetic material that crop scientists use to breed climate-resilient crops – for example, varieties that can tolerate the higher temperatures and increasing water scarcity that climate change is projected to bring to many regions.

In turn, advanced crop breeding can also mitigate climate change by reducing the inputs that plants require, and creating carbon sinks – as in the case of perennial crops.

Unfortunately, biodiversity is being lost at an extremely rapid rate, Dempewolf said.

In China, for example, 90 percent of rice varieties have been lost since 1950. In response, a global conservation system of international gene banks has been built, with a protective facility in the Norwegian Arctic – the Svalbard Seed Vault – where seeds are duplicated for long-term survival.             

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