[ASC-media] Crop Diversity: insurance for the future of agriculture

Cathy Reade creade at squirrel.com.au
Mon Jun 17 05:27:15 CEST 2013



17 June 2013

For further information and interviews: 

Cathy Reade 0413 575 934  <mailto:cathy.reade at crawfordfund.org>
cathy.reade at crawfordfund.org


Crop Diversity: Australia's Insurance for the Future of Agriculture

To enable Australian farmers and breeders to continue to show the ingenuity
and adaptiveness that has seen them do so well using other countries'
germplasm, they need access to the genetic diversity of the world's crops. 

This was the message of Ms Marie Haga, Executive Director of the Global Crop
Diversity Trust which works with partners around the world to ensure the
conservation and availability of crop diversity for global food security. It
supports the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, 1300 kilometers above the Arctic
Circle, and is raising an endowment to financially support the most
important international crop seed banks, on which Australian and global
agriculture depends.

Ms Haga is visiting Australia from 16-21 June with meetings in Canberra and
is making a plenary presentation at the Australian Summer Grains Conference
on 19 June.

"We have heard the statistics: within the next ten years, a billion more
people will be living on the planet. In order to feed all of us, we need to
produce at least 15 percent more food. By 2050, we may need to grow 60
percent more. 

"Yet even in Australia, with well-off resourceful farmers who are used to
dealing with extreme conditions and unreliable weather and world-class
scientists and breeders, there are problems.  Western Australia has
predicted that lower rainfall will bring down its wheat yields by 10 percent
or more. This is a threat to food security on the global level.

"Unfortunately for Australian farmers, and unlike their American
counterparts, they cannot insure against climate change. 

"Last year's drought in the US saw more than $18 billion paid out in crop
insurance, with 60 percent of the bill footed by taxpayers.

"Crop insurance, where it is available to compensate for crop failure, is
not the most farsighted or cost-effective solution. But conserving and
sharing crop diversity, the basis of all food production, is."

Ms Haga noted an economic study from Cornell University that estimated
breeding efforts utilising crop diversity provide yield improvements worth
$120 billion every year. An endowment of approximately $525 million would
provide the funding for the conservation of globally important crop
diversity, forever.

Ms Haga warned that food security in the Asia-Pacific region is particularly
threatened by increased climate risk.

"Our scientists tell us that with just a one percent increase in
temperature, we will see a ten percent cut in rice production, which will
have significant security implications the world over but especially in the
Asian region. And the Pacific nations have a dependence on somewhat
neglected crops.

"Insurance for Australian and most farmers the world over comes in the form
of what genetic diversity offers plant breeding efforts to develop crops
that yield more, resist pests and diseases, and survive through drought,
salty soils, or whatever other challenges the future may bring.

"It is particularly pleasing to note Australia's early support for our work
through AusAID and the Grains Research and Development Corporation. More
recently, Australia has made some welcome developments, including the new
Australian Grains Genebank and plans to make further deposits in the Global
Seed Vault in Svalbard. We are also pleased to have Tim Fischer, former
Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, on our board.

"However, more needs to be done in Australia and elsewhere."

As an example of the threats to the conservation of crops, Ms Haga noted
that researchers at the Syria-based International Center for Agricultural
Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) have had to duplicate copies of their
seed collection and send it out of Aleppo for safekeeping, including to the
Svalbard Vault. ICARDA holds some 40,000 samples of wheat and its wild
relatives, along with other collections of key dryland crops and forages
important to Australia. 

"ICARDA has mapped and studied wild relatives of wheat and found a wealth of
useful traits against the physical stresses of drought. You won't find these
wild species in Australia. Most grow in West Asia, where wheat was first
domesticated. Without conservation efforts, these varieties and their
important traits would be lost to the world's farmers," she said.

"We have been successful in raising $142 million for the endowment to
maintain the key genebanks but we need three times as much to safeguard the
world's major collections forever. This will provide us with the $20 million
annual cost of conserving these collections reliably, year after year.

No matter how you look at it, it's a cheap insurance policy for the future
of agriculture," she concluded.


Marie Haga is the Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.
Previously, she was the Director of Renewable Energy of the Federation of
Norwegian Industries. She is also the Head of the governing board of the
Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA). She has held senior
positions in the Norwegian embassies in New York and New Delhi and served as
a Member of Parliament in Norway. 

The Global Crop Diversity Trust  <http://www.croptrust.org/>
http://www.croptrust.org/ works with partners around the world to ensure the
conservation and availability of crop diversity for global food security. It
supports  the Svalbard Global Seed Vault



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