Summary of the Co-Chairs
14 November 2023, Französischer Dom, Berlin
The Global Crop Diversity Summit brought together key stakeholders from the global Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA) community and other agrifood system actors to discuss the crucial importance of crop diversity and genebanks. Through these discussions, actions were identified to increase political awareness and strengthen and empower genebanks to catalyze the transformation of our agrifood systems and play a leading role in achieving the new targets of the Global Biodiversity Framework. The Summit has also contributed to preparations for Climate COP 28, where the Crop Trust will present key findings on the importance of crop diversity for mitigation and adaptation to climate change to the negotiators. The key issues and actions discussed at the Summit are summarized in this Communique.
The urgency of food system transformation
Humanity finds itself at a critical juncture. We must urgently transform our agrifood systems if we are to resolve the linked, overlapping crises of food and nutrition insecurity, climate change, and loss of biodiversity that humanity faces. Urgent action must be taken before emergencies multiply, the climate reaches tipping points, vital ecosystems are destroyed, and our crop and tree diversity is lost forever. Action must be taken to transform global, regional and local agrifood systems to provide more sustainable and nutritious food to the world’s population, and to be more inclusive, bringing a wide range of economic and development benefits to all people.
Plant diversity is at the heart of food system transformation
Plant diversity contributes to transforming agrifood systems towards greater productivity, health, sustainability, resilience and equity in a number of interacting ways.
- Food and nutrition security: Genetic diversity within crops enables the development of more productive, more resilient, more nutritious varieties, providing wider choices to farmers and consumers. A more diverse agriculture can mean a more diverse and healthy diet for all.
- Environmental sustainability and resource efficiency: Agrifood systems that are diversified over time and space are also more economically and environmentally sustainable.
- Climate change adaptation: Farmers can more easily adapt to new climatic conditions and reduce their vulnerability to climate change if they have at their disposal a wide diversity of crops and varieties, safeguarding food production under increasingly challenging, and uncertain, conditions.
- Resilience and risk mitigation: Agrifood systems that are more diverse are less susceptible to pests, diseases, and market fluctuations, as well as climate change. Crop diversity acts as a natural defence mechanism, reducing the risk of large-scale crop losses.
- Social equity: The most marginalized individuals in society are often the most reliant on agriculture, and also serve as the most vital guardians of crop and tree diversity. Inclusive agrifood systems that enhance the diversity, quality, and affordability of planting materials, and provide access to diversity, empower vulnerable communities by increasing income and bolstering resilience. Inclusive agrifood systems support smallholder farmers, indigenous and local communities to manage and conserve the rich biodiversity of plants upon which the world depends for food and nutrition.
With a climate-resilient agriculture centered around a rich combination of diverse crops and trees, agrifood systems can be abundantly productive and health-sustaining, while regenerating the environment.
Action is needed within the global PGRFA community to promote greater awareness of these important contributions that plant diversity can make to agrifood systems transformation.
A pivotal role for genebanks in agrifood system transformation and achieving new Global Biodiversity Framework targets
Genebanks stand as guardians of agricultural biodiversity, on-farm conservation efforts of farmers. Their significance extends beyond merely safeguarding crop diversity: they are repositories of solutions, innovation and resilience. In an era marked by climate uncertainties, genebanks offer a vast treasure trove of diversity that can enhance the adaptability, resilience and nutritional value of our agrifood systems.
Through collaborative research and knowledge sharing, genebanks can empower breeders and scientists worldwide to develop climate-resilient, nutritious, and high-yielding crop varieties, and farmers to diversify their production landscapes. That also means more choice for consumers. Genebanks are essential in our pursuit of sustainable agriculture, and we must harness their potential to the fullest in support of the transformation of agrifood systems.
The recent adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework under the Convention on Biological Diversity is an important milestone for genebanks around the world. Genebanks are at the forefront in the realization of Target 4 of the Framework, which calls for maintaining and restoring the genetic diversity of native, wild and domesticated species to maintain their adaptive potential. Genebanks should be proactive and take leadership for the achievement of this new global target and engage with new and existing partners to enhance the complementarity of ex situ conservation with other approaches, such as accelerating deployment of biodiversity-friendly practices in agriculture (as called for in Target 10).
Supporting national efforts
It is essential to recognize the importance of genebanks in climate policy, in action on nutrition, in biodiversity conservation, in emergency relief efforts, and in development planning. While benefiting many different agendas, the continued existence and availability of crop diversity is often taken for granted. To empower genebanks, they need to be adequately included in national and international funding priorities and program design. National stakeholders play a crucial role in championing the cause of crop diversity conservation and sustainable use at the policy level, including both in genebanks and on-farm, through the realization of Farmers’ Rights and other means. National stakeholders need support to elevate the profile of genebanks in these critical agendas.
The need for closer collaboration
Genebanks cannot fulfill their transformative potential by working in isolation. They must work toward a global genebank partnership by promoting division of labor, knowledge exchange, cross-sectoral collaboration, mutual learning and joint research. We call on all genebanks the world over to work more closely together, and with their diverse users and other stakeholders, to put crop diversity where it truly belongs, at the heart of efforts to address global food security, climate resilience, and sustainability challenges.
The International Plant Treaty provides a unique multilateral policy framework and platform to enable genebanks to flourish, connect and support each other. There is much that genebanks around the globe can do together in the years to come. They should learn from each other, share services and responsibilities for crops that are hard to conserve, help each other when emergencies hit one or the other, build capacities and share technologies and good practices, and reduce the digital divide.
A call to action on funding
The sustainable operation, maintenance and expansion of genebanks, and increased collaboration, require significant resources. Crop diversity needs a broad and coordinated approach to financing among multilateral organisations, governments, philanthropic organizations, private sector partners, and individuals to invest in the future of genebanks. Financial support will enable plant diversity collections to be protected and enlarged, infrastructure improved for the conservation of both seeds and vegetative material, and capacity strengthened for research and the use of diversity. Collaborative action can help to secure the wealth of diversity that will sustain our agrifood systems into an uncertain future.
To empower genebanks to contribute to and effect meaningful change in agrifood systems, sufficient, guaranteed financial resources are crucial. Investments are needed to upgrade and future-proof storage facilities and associated infrastructure, implement robust documentation and information systems, and support research to investigate the potential of genebank holdings to meet user needs now and in the future. Safety back-ups of genebank collections, especially of field collections, are also essential.
An annual “Crop Diversity Day”
To continue to highlight and advocate for the vital role that genebanks play in climate change adaptation and global food security, the co-organizers will explore with stakeholders the idea of an annual "Crop Diversity Day". This will serve to raise awareness of the global importance of crop diversity for the world, and as a global platform bringing together policymakers, scientists, genebank practitioners, farmers, consumers and other relevant stakeholders to share knowledge and experience, reflect on progress to protect crop diversity, and advocate for increased support.
Empowering genebanks to catalyze the transformation of agrifood systems requires a concerted effort by all sectors of society. Governments, the seed and food processing industries, the research community, civil society, the financial sector, multilateral agencies must all work together to achieve a collective vision of an effective and efficient global genebank system that works to put crop and tree diversity at work to transform agrifood systems for the benefit of all, everywhere. Advanced technologies, better collaboration, supportive policies, capacity building, and closer engagement with the users of crop diversity, including local and indigenous communities, are key elements in unlocking the potential of genebanks. But all this takes financial resources. Only by investing adequately in genebanks can we ensure the conservation, documentation, and – crucially – the use of crop diversity. By investing adequately in genebanks we transform agrifood systems to be more productive, healthy, resilient, sustainable, and equitable – for the benefit of all of humanity, and of our planet.