2020 reflections by Stefan Schmitz, Crop Trust Executive Director 

For everyone in the world, 2020 has been a year like no other.

The global pandemic has left no one untouched by the loss of life, the devastation inflicted on communities and livelihoods, and the ruthless disruption of our hopes and dreams.

This profound shock has emphasized just how deeply interconnected, interdependent and complex our world is—and how vulnerable we and our global systems are.

But, even amid the conflicts and uncertainty, the pandemic has also revealed much that is good about humanity: our adaptability, resilience, perseverance and our readiness to support each other.

I am proud to say that I have observed all of these positive traits at the Crop Trust this year, my first as Executive Director.

In the face of great adversity, this year has nonetheless been inspirational in many ways. We have continued working with our valued donors, partners and colleagues around the world as we adapted, innovated and persevered, to continue to fulfill our important mission.

Because the work of conserving crop genetic diversity for the sake of global food security must always continue, no matter what challenges may arise.

The challenges this year have been notable, and relentless, from the moment when safety measures for the pandemic immersed all of us in the COVID-19 digital era, with project meetings, team meetings and conferences moved online.

But not everything can be done virtually, as discussed in an expert panel co-hosted by the Crop Trust and the Plant Treaty several months ago. Genebank managers around the world had to find new ways to work to avert the risk of losing the precious plant genetic resources in their care. Planned expeditions to collect plants in the field had to be postponed, along with hopes of seeing that genetic material conserved.

Nevertheless, the effects on genebanks were not devastating, and our core, essential, conservation work continued.

And indeed, prior to the ‘lockdowns’ we all experienced, conservation celebrated a special achievement in February, with a major deposit into the Svalbard Global Seed Vault—the largest since the Vault was built in 2008. Seeds were deposited by 35 genebanks and other institutions, including a deposit by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and one by the Cherokee Nation

The February deposit, hosted by the Norwegian Prime Minister, brought the total number of seed samples stored in the Vault to over one million.

It was not until October that another deposit was possible, albeit reduced. The willingness of genebanks to overcome challenging conditions to send seeds to Svalbard is yet another testament to the value of our shared mission and the dedication of those involved.

Such dedication was also evident among Crop Trust staff and partners, whose willingness to adapt meant we continued to make valuable progress across all our projects: from the Crop Wild Relatives Project, the Global Crop Conservation Strategies, the CGIAR Genebank Platform, the Genebank Impacts Fellowships, the Food Forever Initiative to the ever-expanding Genesys online database.

We also launched a new project, Seeds4Resilience, to support national genebanks in five African countries in strengthening their processes and management. Seeds4Resilience marks an important new phase for the Crop Trust and our future work.

And, particularly given that our future work will greatly rely on global cooperation, we were pleased to sign the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) Charter in June, and participate in two major GLF digital events focusing on the climate crisis and the devastating loss of biodiversity. In September, we led a dialogue at Chatham House to launch a complex but necessary discussion on the future of international genebanks in a changing world.

The end of 2020 also means we are approaching the official deadline for Target 2.5 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which is so central to the Crop Trust’s mission. There has been much progress made on this specific target—and on SDG 2 on Zero Hunger as a whole. 

Any achievement was only possible thanks to our valued donors who have supported the Crop Trust consistently. We sincerely thank all our donors for their partnership and their commitment to the cause of safeguarding crop diversity, which has made such a concrete and significant contribution to the world.

We are honored that this contribution was recognized through the selection of the Crop Trust as a finalist for the 2020 Food Planet Prize.

Now, as we move into the new year, looking eagerly toward the day when this global pandemic is over, we must not neglect the lessons it has forced upon us.

Just as the pandemic has affected everyone in the world, the global crises of climate change and biodiversity loss will also leave no human life untouched. These crises are already upon us, and we have witnessed firsthand how swiftly the world can change. It is more urgent than ever that we transform our thinking and work together to achieve sustainability and resilience.

Of particular interest to the Crop Trust, and to our donors and partners, is the question of how we can magnify our contribution to overcoming the next, painful shocks from climate change, biodiversity loss and the vulnerability of our inefficient and unsustainable global food systems.

These are global problems that demand global cooperation. It is challenging work. But I can say this, from my first year at the Crop Trust: it is also gratifying to have the opportunity to tackle this important task with such dedicated colleagues, donors and partners, benefiting from their foresight, dedication and expertise, as we carve out a path together toward a food-secure future.

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