[ASC-media] Gates Supporting Crop Biodiversity

Cathy Reade creade at squirrel.com.au
Thu Apr 19 00:08:47 CEST 2007


For further information, contact:  
Ellen Wilson or Jeff Haskins at +1 301 652 1558, ext. 209
Email: jhaskins at burnesscommunications.com



Historic Effort to Secure Biodiversity of 21 Most Important Crops Includes
“Orphan Crops” – Crops Critical to Poor but Often Neglected by Modern Plant

ROME, ITALY (19 April 2007)—Recognizing that the fight against hunger cannot
be won without securing fast-disappearing crop biodiversity, the Global Crop
Diversity Trust and its partner the United Nations Foundation announced
today a joint initiative to safeguard 21 of the world’s most critical food
crops through securing their seeds. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is
funding the initiative with a US$37.5 million grant, the largest crop
biodiversity preservation grant ever made, which includes US$7.5 million in
matching funds from the government of Norway. Among the crops covered are
many “orphan crops” – crops particularly important to the poor but largely
neglected by modern plant breeding, despite the need for high-yielding,
nutritious varieties.

“This initiative will rescue the most globally important developing-country
collections of the world’s 21 most important food crops,” said Cary Fowler,
Director of the Trust. “It will secure at-risk collections in poor countries
and document their astonishing diversity, making it available to meet the
food needs of the poor.”  The initiative will also help bolster
implementation of the new Food and Agriculture Organization of the United
Nations (FAO) International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources. 
The unprecedented effort will secure over 95 percent of the endangered crop
diversity held in developing country genebanks, many of which are
under-funded and in disrepair.  In addition, it will fund a comprehensive
global information system that will allow plant breeders everywhere to
search genebanks worldwide for traits needed to combat new diseases and cope
with climate change.

“Our effort to help hundreds of millions of small farmers and their families
overcome poverty and hunger rests in part on food security,” said Sylvia
Mathews Burwell, President of the Gates Foundation’s Global Development
Program. “But there can be no food security without first securing the basis
of our food production – the genetic diversity of every crop, in particular
those most important to the poor that unfortunately are neglected by modern
plant breeding. We invite others to join us in securing this resource of
immeasurable value.”

“By providing access to crop genetic information, plant breeders across
Africa may be able to adapt their crops to varieties that will grow in
different climate conditions. Investing in this future may help stave off
potential catastrophic damage to some agricultural systems due to climate
change. Not only will this partnership combat hunger and protect crop
diversity, but it also helps nations prepare for the impacts of climate
change,” said Timothy E. Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation.

The genetic diversity found within each crop is the raw material that
enables plant breeders and farmers to develop higher yielding, more
nutritious, and stress-resistant varieties. It is also the cornerstone of
successful adaptation to climate change, providing the raw material for new
“climate-ready” crop varieties. But much of this diversity, held in
developing country gene banks, is threatened by decades of under-funding and
neglect, as well as by wars and natural disasters.

“It is virtually impossible to exaggerate the importance of crop diversity.
It is a vital part of the solution to many of the world’s great challenges,
from environmental conservation to climate change and food security,” said
Norway’s Minister of International Development Erik Solheim. “Put simply,
crop diversity allows us to grow food, and this partnership with the Gates
Foundation provides an opportunity to meet a host of food security
challenges far into the future.”

Homes for Orphan Crops; Seed Database for Farmer’s Worldwide
Among the 21 priority crops covered by the Gates-funded initiative are many
“orphan crops.” Particularly important to the poor, these crops have been
largely bypassed by modern plant breeding, despite the need for
high-yielding, nutritious varieties. Some orphan crops, such as yam, cannot
be grown from seeds, but need to be cultivated from cuttings, roots, or cell
cultures, making their conservation more complex and expensive.

Therefore, the grant will finance research into inexpensive conservation
techniques for such crops, including cassava, potato, sweet potato, yam,
taro and coconut. These new technologies are expected to reduce conservation
costs by 75 percent and improve the security of collections of such crops.

The initiative will also transform communications for plant-breeders and
farmers around the world. It will fund an information system that will
include 4,000,000 samples of more than 2,000 species of more than 150
crops—amounting to 85 percent of the diversity of all agricultural crops.
The initiative will fund development of a state-of-the-art genebank
management software system, enter at least 100,000 new samples into the
database, and evaluate at least 50 priority collections for 100 different
traits—thus uncovering hidden genetic resources. 

“This is the largest grant to support crop diversity ever made. We can now
foresee a time when orphan crops have secure homes, and when plant breeders
across Africa have access to the same crop genetic information as do their
counterparts in Europe and North America,” Fowler said. 

The new initiative also ensures that developing countries and international
agricultural research centers will be able to send at least 450,000 distinct
seed samples to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Carved into the Arctic
permafrost in Svalbard, Norway, this depository of last resort for
agricultural diversity is scheduled to open in March 2008.  

Finally, of the total grant, US$15 million will go to the Trust’s endowment.
Its proceeds will be used to maintain the collections of the 21 most
important crops.  

“Rescue and salvage operations are the beginning.  The Trust’s endowment
will ensure the health and availability of these collections in perpetuity,”
Fowler said.
The Global Crop Diversity Trust is the only international organization with
the global mandate of supporting the conservation and availability of crop
diversity in perpetuity. It is building an endowment, the proceeds of which
will ensure, forever, the conservation and use of the most important crops
for human food security.  


The mission of the Global Crop Diversity Trust is to ensure the conservation
and availability of crop diversity for food security worldwide. Although
crop diversity is fundamental to fighting hunger and to the very future of
agriculture, funding is unreliable and diversity is being lost. The Trust is
an independent international organization, established through a partnership
between FAO and Bioversity International, on behalf of the CGIAR. The Trust
is the only organization working worldwide to solve this problem.  For
further information, visit www.croptrust.org.

The UN Foundation was created in 1998 with entrepreneur and philanthropist
Ted Turner’s historic $1 billion gift to support UN causes and activities.
The UN Foundation builds and implements public-private partnerships to
address the world’s most pressing problems and also works to broaden support
for the UN through advocacy and public outreach. The UN Foundation is a
public charity. For a complete listing of UN Foundation programs or to learn
more about the United Nations Foundation, visit www.unfoundation.org.

Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda
Gates Foundation works to reduce inequities and improve lives around the
world.  In developing countries, it focuses on improving health, reducing
extreme poverty, and increasing access to technology in public libraries.
In the United States, the foundation seeks to ensure that all people have
access to a great education and to technology in public libraries.  In its
local region, it focuses on improving the lives of low-income families.
Based in Seattle, the foundation is led by CEO Patty Stonesifer and
Co-chairs William H. Gates Sr., Bill Gates, and Melinda French Gates. For
further information, visit www.gatesfoundation.org.


Cathy Reade
Coordinator - Public Awareness
Crawford Fund
Ph/Fax: 07 54483095
Mobile: 0413 575 934

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