2021 reflections by Stefan Schmitz, Crop Trust Executive Director 

When we look back, a decade from now, the year 2021 could perhaps be remembered as a year of lost opportunities, a year that didn’t go far enough. A year when positive pledges were indeed made, for example, at the Glasgow climate summit—namely the renewed and essential commitment to end deforestation—but there were not enough of them, and they weren’t in time.

A year during which global conservation efforts stagnated. A year during which genebanks around the world still desperately needed funding, and seeds still desperately needed saving, duplicating, conserving and transforming into climate-resistant varieties to secure the foundation of our future food supply.

Or, a decade from now, we could look back and perhaps recognize the year 2021 as a turning point for climate activism, a pivotal moment for humanity. There is, in fact, hope.

Despite everything, I believe 2021 can be seen as a year of great hope. Being thrust into the digital era has given a new platform to so many communities that had little voice on the world stage before now, communities whose fate was being decided entirely by others.

With these new voices, new solutions are bubbling up. New ideas, new alliances, new networks of like-minded people, and new solutions to better our world for future generations. It is a new, more inclusive dialogue, and we must all embrace it if the hope it brings is to be realized.

At the Crop Trust, I have also found 2021, my second year as Executive Director, to be a year of hope. Hope despite all challenges. Our core work didn’t change. We carried on, as did the rest of the world. But the urgency did change. Every day our work is more urgent, that is all too clear now. And our resolve therefore redoubled.

The fight against the climate crisis must go on, and intensify, despite the exhaustion that comes from coping with a global pandemic for two long years. But despite all the efforts and troubles I again witnessed the resilience, commitment and determination of our staff, donors and partners as they carried on whilst grappling with the fallout of the global pandemic. The commitment and determination to build the foundation of a future that is climate-resilient, and food and nutrition secure, for us all.

Let me outline some of the steps we have taken along this road this year that give me hope.

We were delighted to launch a new initiative, Biodiversity for Opportunities, Livelihoods and Development, or BOLD for short, with the tremendous support of the Government of Norway. BOLD is a 10-year initiative to strengthen the conservation and use of crop diversity in 15 partner genebanks worldwide.

BOLD will continue and expand the work of our Crop Wild Relatives Project, which phases out this year after a successful, decade-long endeavor to collect the diversity of the wild and weedy cousins of crops around the globe and use it to adapt agriculture to climate change.

New crop varieties with new wild genes are already in the fields of farmers most affected by climate change. A good example of this is a new disease-resistant potato variety. This super spud, called CIP-Matilde, is a great example of using the rich crop diversity the Crop Trust is committed to conserving to enhance the climate resilience of smallholder agriculture. We were proud to launch CIP-Matilde with our partners at the International Potato Center (CIP). Much of this work will continue through BOLD.

The CGIAR Genebank Platform also phases out this year, but in turn, it will serve as the springboard for the new CGIAR Genebank Initiative. The Platform has supported over the past decade the core activities of the 11 international genebanks of CGIAR in conserving and making available the astonishing treasure-trove of crop and tree diversity they manage on behalf of the whole world. Despite the transition, the long-term commitment of the Crop Trust to the CGIAR genebanks remains steadfast.

Our other projects have also made significant strides this year. The Global Crop Conservation Strategies Project, funded by the Government of Germany, published the first of what will be 15 new or updated strategies developed by crop experts. This initiative is a uniting force in conservation action, identifying challenges and galvanizing engagement.

The Crop Trust worked closely with partners and governments to develop game-changing solutions at the UNFSS, playing an active role in the Summit’s Scientific Group, the Agrobiodiversity Solution Cluster and the Finance “Lever of Change”.

The Crop Trust’s endowment continued to grow in 2021 through some gains at the capital market, and with important contributions by the United States, New Zealand, India and Limagrain. In addition, a contribution from Germany was received to support interest payments on the concessional loan, all for which we are deeply grateful.

No solution to something as complicated as the multiple interconnected challenges we currently face is achievable alone, or by any one thing: only with the collaboration and enthusiasm of committed partners can we have a real, lasting impact. We were proud to sign a memorandum of understanding with the World Vegetable Center (WorldVeg) earlier this year, and look forward to many more such alliances.

And, finally, our Seeds for Resilience Project, too, celebrated significant milestones, signing formal agreements with all of its partner national genebanks in Africa to support safeguarding crop diversity and making it more accessible to farmers, breeders and researchers.

Greater participation, stronger alliances and new partnerships: this is what gives me hope that we will find the right answers to the climate crisis and ensure that the foundation of our future food supply is secured, forever.

I wish you a peaceful, healthy—and hopeful—close to the year, and indeed new year.

Thank you, as ever, for your continued support in these challenging times.

Be well,

Stefan

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