Sector News

Emergency reserve launched to protect “under threat” gene banks for food crops

November 14, 2021
Food & Drink

The Crop Trust and the Secretariat of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (The Plant Treaty) have launched an emergency reserve over the weekend to provide a financial lifeline to gene banks under threat, in an effort to secure future food supplies and crop diversity.

The reserve will provide urgent funding to gene banks in low and middle-income countries to respond swiftly in emergencies spurred by climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic or political instability.

Collectively, gene banks consists of millions of samples of seeds and plant materials, including climate-resistant crop varieties.

Stefan Schmitz, executive director of the Crop Trust, says: “Gene banks around the world are facing crises on multiple fronts, from extreme weather events to the global pandemic and political instability.”

“It is clear that further action is needed to prevent these forces from causing the devastating impact of permanently losing invaluable crop diversity,” Schmitz stresses.

The governments of Italy and Norway are the primary donors of the reserve, which will respond to urgent requests from gene banks to prevent catastrophic loss of their collections.

Food network resilience
Genetic diversity in crops ensures stability in the global food system by serving as a buffer against the impacts of natural disasters brought on by climate change.

Kent Nnadozie, secretary of The Plant Treaty, explains that losing a collection of plant genetic diversity in a country means opportunities are lost to breed a sustainable variety that can adapt to changing environments.

“Gene banks, which hold the key to our agricultural future, contain a treasure trove of traits we can harness to build more resilient crops, are themselves under threat.”.

“The emergency reserve is an example of how the agricultural community is establishing concrete mechanisms to help secure our food systems and adapt to the rising challenges of climate change and other environmental threats, such as the global pandemic,” he continues.

The initial capitalization of the reserve is funded by the government of Norway for the Crop Trust’s ten-year project, Biodiversity for Opportunities, Livelihoods and Development (BOLD).

Lifeline for gene banks
Safeguarding global food security remains a serious concern for the agri-food industry. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased threats to the stability of food supplies.

Gene banks store thousands of crop varieties for future use, maintaining resilience in the food system. Many gene banks are in distress due to disease and pest outbreaks or natural disasters.

The Crop Trust has contributed to international efforts to preserve seeds threatened by the civil war in Syria in 2011, restoring a seed drying facility at the gene bank of the Philippines and replacing a generator at the gene bank of Yemen.

Since 2007, more than 5.4 million samples of plant material have been transferred from gene banks through The Plant Treaty Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-Sharing to adapt crops to climate change.

Conventional agriculture accounts for 24% of human-made greenhouse gas emissions and 75% of tropical forest deforestation. Climate-smart approaches, such as preserving gene banks, will go a long way to address these challenges.

Edited by Inga de Jong


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