In the Media
Deposit to Svalbard for World Food Day
WORLD FOOD DAY – THOUSANDS MORE CROP VARIETIES TO ARRIVE AT GLOBE’S BIGGEST SEED VAULT
Almost 10,000 crop varieties from more than 100 countries will be deposited in the world’s biggest seed bank this week – a major contribution to the fight for global food security in the face of the growing threat of climate change.
Coinciding with World Food Day on 16 October, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located on a remote island in the Svalbard archipelago off the northern coast of Norway, is accepting a series of deposits this month.
This month’s four shipments come from major genebanks based in Bulgaria, Colombia, India, and Taiwan. Genebanks are facilities in which seeds are preserved under special conditions designed to keep them alive for decades. The deposits will include varieties of wheat, barley, maize, cowpeas, sorghum, pearl millet, chickpea, pigeon pea, groundnut, Asian and African eggplant, and a number of indigenous African vegetables, including okra, amaranth, spider plant, and jute mallow. They will join more than 825,000 samples from around the world already stored at Svalbard - encapsulating 13,000 years of agricultural history.
Crop diversity is essential for crop improvement and agricultural resilience, and is therefore vital in the battle against hunger, especially in a fast-changing climate. The deposit from Bulgaria, for example, contains local varieties of wheat, barley and maize that are tolerant to pests and diseases, and peas that are tolerant to drought – making them particularly suitable for dry climates
A recent study co-authored by the Global Crop Diversity Trust found that the world food supply has grown increasingly dependent on few crops over the past 50 years. Climate change will affect the ability of these crops to thrive, and pressure will increase on the global food system, whilst the global population continues to grow.
The Global Crop Diversity Trust, the only international organisation devoted solely to ensuring the conservation and availability of crop diversity worldwide, funds the operations of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
Marie Haga, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, said:
“The Svalbard Global Seed Vault symbolises how we can create a long-term, sustainable and positive solution to feed the world forever.
“The issue of hunger is global, and increasingly urgent. If we continue as we are, food production will be reduced and food prices will rise. Even more people will go hungry. Crop diversity is essential if we are to provide more food, more nutritious food and affordable food for the poor. Maintaining crop diversity, and the genetic wealth it provides to current and future generations, is beneficial not just to crop breeders, but to the farmers that feed all of us on the planet.
“I call upon national governments, scientists and all who care about the food security to join us in highlighting this vital issue, and for genebanks around the world to send their seeds to Svalbard to safe keeping.”
Ola Westengen, Coordinator of Operation and Management at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, said:
“NordGen welcomes the new safety deposits from our partners in India, Colombia, and Taiwan. We are particularly pleased to have received the first seeds from a new depositor, the Institute of Plant Genetic Resources, in Bulgaria.
“Every time a new depositor joins the Seed Vault partnership, or we receive new deposits from our existing partners, we’re moving one step closer to our goal of safety duplicating all unique crop seed diversity in the world.”
Hari D Upadhyaya, Principal Scientist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), based in India, said:
“ICRISAT has been depositing seed samples regularly over the years in Svalbard, and with this latest shipment the total samples for safety back-up we have sent will now stand at 108,352. This is a remarkable contribution to the future of our crops.
“The Global Crop Diversity Trust is performing a hugely important role, in saving the diversity of important food crops from extinction as well as supporting several genetic resource activities globally – whether it be collection, evaluation, regeneration, documentation, distribution and conservation. Without their active role, coupled with the support of donors and national governments, our future food security would be under even greater threat.”
Dr. Andreas Ebert, Genebank Manager at the World Vegetable Centre, based in Taiwan, said:
“We have made five deposits since 2008, and Svalbard is a truly vital global instrument to safeguard the world’s valuable plant genetic resources, for the benefit of future generations and the survival of humankind. This deposit safeguards unique vegetable genetic resources in the global system.
“The Global Crop Diversity Trust’s work merits the full support of donors and national governments as it allows us to put in place a rational and cost-effective system for the conservation of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, forever.”
Further seed deposits at Svalbard will take place in November 2014, and in February 2015.
For more information please contact Paul Gough on 020 3463 0825 or 07415 297984, or by email at email@example.com
Notes for editors:
This month’s depositors to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault are the:
- International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), India: http://www.icrisat.org/
- Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Colombia: http://ciat.cgiar.org/
- World Vegetable Centre, Taiwan: http://avrdc.org/
- Institute for Plant Genetic Resources, Bulgaria: http://www.ipgrbg.com/indexA.htm
The Global Crop Diversity Trust:
- Is the sole international organisation devoted solely to ensuring the conservation and availability of crop diversity worldwide
- Was initially founded by the FAOUN and Bioversity International. Over the past 10 years it has raised around USD $175 million for the Crop Diversity Fund.
- Spearheaded the biggest biological rescue operation of nearly 80,000 crop varieties while working with more than 100 institutions in more than 80 countries. As well as national governments, it has a number of high-profile supporters, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
- Supports and co-ordinates the gathering of plant materials; supports international partners who conserve and document crop diversity; ensuring the raw material is saved for future generations, through a global network of organisations.
- Helps to fund the operating costs of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
- Is described through a short film on its work here
The Svalbard Seed Vault:
- Otherwise known as the ‘Noah's Ark of Seeds’, is a safe and secure vault for up to 3 million samples of crops from all over the world, which helps to guarantee world food security forever.
- Is based on a remote island between Norway and the North Pole. Opened in 2008, it currently holds more than 825,000 samples of crops. The facility was built and is owned by the Government of Norway.
- Offers storage, free of charge, of safety duplicates from the seed collections being held in seed banks around the world.
- Consists of three separate underground chambers, each of which has a storage capacity of 1.5 million seed samples. With the aid of its own cooling facility running on electricity from the local power plant, the vault is designed to maintain a constant temperature of minus 18 degrees Celsius. The vault contains storage shelves on which the prepacked samples of crop seeds from the depositors (international collections, national collections, and seed-saving organization collections) are placed.
- Is supported by the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre (NordGen) - the implementing partner of the Crop Trust and the Norwegian Government.
The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT):
- Has one of the 11 CGIAR genebanks held in-trust by the international community and supported by the Global Crop Diversity Trust
- The Global Crop Diversity Trust’s Crop Diversity Fund supports the collections of chickpea, sorghum, and pearl millet at ICRISAT through long-term grants
- Conserves over 121,500 germplasm accessions assembled from 144 countries.
Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT):
- Has one of the 11 CGIAR genebanks held in-trust by the international community and supported by the Global Crop Diversity Trust
- The Global Crop Diversity Trust’s Crop Diversity Fund supports the collections of beans and cassava at CIAT through long-term grants
- The international bean collection at CIAT comprises more than 37,000 samples and the cassava collection comprises more than 6,000 samples
- In the “Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change: Collecting, Protecting, and Preparing Crop Wild Relatives” project led by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, CIAT completed an analysis of gaps in the conservation of the wild relatives of 29 globally important crops.
World Food Day:
- Highlights the urgent issue of chronic hunger and promotes positive action through events in some 150 countries.
- Encourages attention to agricultural food production and to stimulate national, bilateral, multilateral and non-governmental efforts.
- Strengthens international and national solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty and draw attention to achievements in food and agricultural development.
For more information, visit:
A Legend Retires: Jane Toll
On the 23rd of October 1987, a young crop collector named Jane Toll was taking part in a collecting mission in central Chad, helping the staff of the young country’s genebank seek out and conserve indigenous diversity.
“Our focus was mostly forages,” Jane recalls. “However, what we found was areas where there were lots of wild rices, and they were quite interesting. These were growing in shallow pans that baked dry once the rains had finished. But while there were rains, wild rice grew in these pans. And, in fact, the local people gathered it to eat. Now I can’t be certain if that was just in times when their own stocks of millet and sorghum were low because of delay in the rains, or whether they did it out of choice, but we saw them gathering these wild rices.”
According to the mission report, still preserved in Bioversity International’s online archive (pdf), there had been five years of drought in the region. Only the toughest weeds were thriving. “There is no doubt,” the report warned, “that if these droughts persist and the habitats continue to dry out each year, then eventually the populations will be wiped out and the wild rices eliminated from the Sahel.”
A photo taken by one of her colleagues records the moment when Jane collected some seeds of the wild rice Oryza longistaminata from a seasonal pond near the village of Djédaa. These were the first seed-bearing plants the team had found of this species. Tough and weedy, O. longistaminata is now known to carry traits that can be crossed into cultivated rice varieties to confer drought tolerance, yield increases and resistance to bacterial rice blight, a nasty disease.
The samples collected in Chad entered the national genebank, and duplicates were also sent to the global rice collection of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. “Through Genesys, and then by checking with Ruaraidh Sackville Hamilton, who manages the IRRI collection, we discovered it’s still alive and well in the genebank, and it’s actually also in a box at Svalbard,” Jane says.
Indeed, the accession page on the Genesys portal shows the history and detailed characteristics of the seed sample, along with 295 other accessions of O. longistaminata in international collections (only eight come from Chad). It also shows that twenty-seven years after the photo was taken, an envelope of 223 seeds descended from this particular plant is now safely tucked away in arctic permafrost in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. And it’s by no means the only envelope in the Vault that Jane had a hand in putting there.
It’s been a long journey for those seeds, but also for Jane. Following nearly a decade of collecting missions in Chad, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Rwanda, Burundi and, more prosaically, Sicily, she became Coordinator of the CGIAR System-Wide Genetic Resources Programme. This was a pioneering effort to foster collaboration and coordination among the CGIAR collections, of which IRRI’s is only one. Jane was a catalyst in this, and ultimately the development of the Crop Trust. In 2007, she joined the Crop Trust itself. As our Senior Project Manager Jane has managed activities bringing together hundreds of partners to help build the global system of conservation she has always envisioned.
If anyone needs some hardy O. longistaminata from Chad, the Genesys portal indicates that the accession is available for distribution from IRRI, under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The Crop Trust and its partners will see to it that the genetic resources community will never lose access to this seed. Unfortunately, we can’t make the same promise about Jane. This month, she retires after more than thirty years of work which has taken her from the Sahel to the Arctic Circle.
The seeds she had a hand in collecting are only a small part of the legacy she leaves us. This legacy also includes the people she brought together, supported and encouraged in their ongoing advancements of the conservation effort. Like Charlotte Lusty, Luigi Guarino and Hannes Dempewolf, who became her colleagues at the Crop Trust, along with Beri Bonglim and Cristian Moreno, who have started on their paths in conservation science with the good fortune of working with Jane. They – and the rest of the Crop Trust – came together at the end of Jane’s last day to celebrate her as an unforgettable manager, colleague, scientist and friend. In an evening of stories and barbecue, it was clear to all that Jane will be remembered as one of the people who matched personal commitment with tireless cooperation to make crop conservation the global effort it is today. Or perhaps Executive Director Marie Haga said it in the fewest words: “Jane is simply a legend.”
The Crop Trust joins the entire community in thanking Jane for bringing so many people and dreams together over the years. Your legacy is secure, Jane. And so are your seeds.
Chickpea: Impact Story
The Economist and the Falafel
The Big Mac Index determines the purchasing power of different currencies by comparing prices of McDonald’s hamburgers in different countries, but in the Middle East, eating at global food chains is often more expensive than meals at local restaurants.
There is also the Falafel Index. It was put forward for the first time in 2011 that the falafel is a basic meal in the Middle East, with components that come from within the country. In the majority of Arab states the falafel sandwich is an almost unified index in line with the economic situation.
One expects the Falafel Index will show the cheapest falafel in poorer countries, but surprisingly here too falafel prices are rising feverishly.
In Syria, the price of a falafel has risen to more than 100 Syrian pounds ($0.68), 25 pounds higher than before the crisis. If a family of five are each eating one falafel daily, they will need to spend 15,000 pounds per month.
Why are economists so interested in falafel? In their eyes, at least, a pita filled with fried chickpea balls and toppings is the Big Mac of the Middle East. Falafel is a popular, healthy and (relatively) cheap meal all over the region, making this one place where the humble chickpea is never taken for granted.
In the world at large, markets and researchers have often neglected the chickpea as an insignificant crop. This may be because more than 95% of both production and consumption happen in developing countries. In these local markets the legume is of immense importance, providing affordable nutritious food to poor buyers and big opportunities to small farmers. It is an especially reliable crop for farmers who can’t spend money on inputs: the chickpea plant is at home in dry environments and captures its own nitrogen, so irrigation and fertilizer are seldom needed.
Researchers agree that there’s lots of room to make chickpea even better. Recent breeding efforts have raised yields, given the crop natural defenses against disease and shortened its growing season, allowing it to be farmed in new regions. Most of these improvements have stemmed from breeding by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in India and International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) in the Middle East, drawing on the diversity of traits found in their genebank collections. Each of these conserves tens of thousands of chickpea landraces and wild relatives.
The economics of a falafel may be the same in every country, but the chickpea and the tough environments in which it grows are wonderfully diverse. The two global collections, and other genebanks around the world, surely hold many more opportunities for improving the long-neglected crop as demand continues to rise. As a crop grown by the poor for the poor, chickpea is worth much more than the cost of a falafel – it’s worth conserving forever.
For more information on ICARDA visit their website at www.icarda.org
For more information on ICRISAT visit their website at www.icrisat.org
Lentils: History through a Lens
History through a lens
It’s a crop as old as civilization, but the real age of lentils is now.
Crops of the genus Lens have enriched diets and soils for millennia – but never before for so many. Global consumption has quadrupled since the 1960s.
History books often describe the first farmers of the Fertile Crescent sowing handfuls of primitive wheat and barley, but the lentil was just as important to the invention of agricultural life. Lentils provide everything that cereal crops don’t: huge concentrations of complementary protein, A and B vitamins and iron, as well as natural nitrogen fixation to maintain soil fertility.
Archaeologists have found lentils in prehistoric sites across West Asia, in the same regions where farmers continue to cultivate hundreds of thousands of hectares of the low, spindly plants. Since 7,000 BC, as lentils have circulated around the world, farmers have transformed their own landraces into a whole palette of colors and encyclopedia of uses, from the many-hued dals of South Asia to the peppery Le Puy lentils of France.
Other legumes have declined in per-capita consumption during the last 50 years, but not lentils: their global consumption has risen twice as fast as population growth. They are popular on the farm when soils are poor and drought is likely, and they are popular in the kitchen because they cook quickly – in the same time as a pot of white rice.
While lentils have seldom received top research priority, the collecting and ex situ conservation of their diversity began with the first genebank. Today a major international collection, along with national collections in lentil-growing countries, conserve the kaleidoscope of diversity found in landraces and wild relatives.
The first lentil collection was compiled by the famed botanist Nikolai Vavilov and his associates at the All-Union Institute of Agricultural Sciences in Leningrad, USSR in the 1920s and 1930s. Vavilov’s second wife, Elena Barulina, was the leading lentil researcher and made an extensive study of the collection, recognizing the great diversity of the crop and its wild relatives. The lentil was already becoming a neglected crop across industrialized Europe, and the collection saved many landraces before they vanished from the field.
Now part of the N.I. Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry, the first genebank retains an important global collection of lentils. The largest collection, meanwhile, is held in trust by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) in Tel Hadya, Syria. The Crop Trust supports this international collection of more than 10,000 lentil accessions through an in-perpetuity grant. The material has also been securely backed up, with the rest of ICARDA’s genebank, above the Arctic Circle in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which holds further backups of lentil collections for eight other countries – including the Vavilov Institute’s.
As demand rises, lentils are sprouting up in new areas like the Canadian prairie and southern Australia. Breeders in these countries need genetic diversity to keep the crop thriving in new soil.
For these countries, trade opportunities have appeared at the same time as domestic interest from vegetarian and health-conscious consumers. With such a short history of cultivation, however, the countries rely on material from the rest of the world to adapt the crops to new regions. Drawing on many genebanks, they have stimulated renewed activity in lentil conservation and use.
In Canada, breeders faced a hurdle in protecting crops from the disease anthracnose. After screening 1,771 types of lentils, they found none that were resistant to an aggressive race of the fungus found in the country. Instead, they looked to the wider gene pool of wild species – and found the answer in a single plant of a wild relative called Lens ervoides. The breeders were able to introduce this rare resistance from the plant’s offspring into new lentil varieties.
Elena Barulina recognized the importance of lentil wild relatives when studying the first collection in Leningrad. However, wild relatives make up less than 1% of our collected lentil diversity. Through the Crop Wild Relatives project, the Crop Trust has supported an international effort to map the gaps in these collections and promote the ex situ conservation of wild diversity before it is lost to habitat destruction and climate change.
Despite the rising global profile, lentils remain a smallholder staple. 70% of the crop is grown for domestic consumption in developing countries. National research programs work with ICARDA and its genebank to make the crop an even stronger food security asset.
For many years, ICARDA researchers and their partners have used the diversity in their collections to make lentils stand up to drought, cold and disease. Drought tolerant varieties have been adopted around the Middle East and North Africa, and cold-hardy lines have brought the crop to formerly inhospitable parts of Central Asia. New material with traits from the Middle East and Argentina has doubled yields in South Asia since 1980.
One partner, the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, released a series of improved varieties that were quick-maturing, high yielding and resistant to multiple major diseases. Despite the popularity of lentil farming in Bangladesh, the country had been obtaining more than half of the all-important protein source from imports. According to a 2009 study, the new varieties were planted on 110,000 hectares, and provide a million farmers with yield gains worth $38 million every year.
These new heights for an ancient crop are the result of advances and investment in breeding, but they are just as much a realization of the qualities that exist scattered across the lentil genome, teased out by farmers around the world for 10,000 years. Genebanks conserve the richness of that history and make it directly available to meet the needs of yet another millennium.
For more information on ICARDA visit their website.
Seeds of Time
"A perfect storm is brewing as agriculture pioneer Cary Fowler races against time to protect the future of our food. Gene banks of the world are crumbling, crop failures are producing starvation inspired rioting, and the accelerating effects of climate change are already affecting farmers globally. But Fowler's journey, and our own, is just beginning: From Rome to Russia and, finally, a remote island under the Arctic Circle, Fowler's passionate and personal journey may hold the key to saving the one resource we cannot live without: our seeds."
Seeds of Time is a film about our esteemed former Executive Director, Prof. Cary Fowler. To learn more about the film, please visit www.seedsoftimemovie.com