Marie's Corner

“There is no such thing as a free lunch”

It’s still so early in the year, but already I’m quite sure we have just witnessed one of it highlights: a lunch with the Crop Trust’s Global Patron, His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales at his London residence, Clarence House. The theme of the lunch was: Food Forever – Actions for a Resilient Food System.

The diversity of the 65 guests at the event was impressive, with over 20 nationalities represented, from the UK, to Germany, Peru, USA, Mauritius, Dominican Republic, Cote D’Ivoire, Australia and more. Among them were financiers, politicians, scientists, chefs, food writers, and campaigners. The Prince, long a champion of biodiversity and sustainable agriculture, took time to meet and talk to all of them.

There are few movements that can unite the interests, passions and commitment of so many people from so many different walks of life. The lunch at Clarence House did. For me, it’s a clear sign that the world is waking up to the importance of biodiversity for human health, and sustainable, resilient agriculture.

The Prince’s menu of “forgotten foods” was a reminder of the wealth of colours, flavors, nutrition and history that plants give us. We were treated to fritters made from amaranth, a salsa containing heirloom tomatoes, and a crumble based on apples picked from the Prince’s own Highgrove estate in Gloucestershire.

As well as being delicious, these dishes also spoke to the kind of future that biodiversity can provide. It can help ensure our planet can continue to sustain future generations with healthy, delicious, affordable food.

But that effort will require time, money and commitment. As the Prince himself commented, “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. In other words, we need to look after biodiversity so that it can look after us. I was delighted to present the Prince with a plaque in recognition of his dedication to safeguarding the future of food.

During her address at Clarence House, Her Excellency Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of Mauritius and chair of the Food Forever initiative, told guests how conservation of biodiversity makes sense to her from multiple perspectives: as an African, as a scientist, as a woman, as a mother and as a citizen of the world.

As she rightly pointed out, we are entering an age of enlightenment about our food. People around the world are increasingly keen to know where our food has come from, what it contains and whether it was sustainably produced. For me, this “awakening” is a huge moment for everyone in the crop conservation community. It might make it possible to realise our dream: to safeguard a fundamentally important natural resource for the benefit of all future generations.

DEEPER DIVE

Following the event at Clarence House, guests were invited to dive deeper into the challenges affecting our food systems, and how food diversity can play a role in addressing them. This took place at the impressive UK headquarters of Deutsche Asset Management. A big thank you to Nicolas Moreau for hosting us.

There, UK Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, spoke passionately about the importance of biodiversity and the need for conservation. One key idea from his speech struck a chord with many in the room: his description of plants as our “elders and our betters”, and that we should respect them for all that they have given us – and all they can provide in the future.

I think everybody in the room felt the same very special atmosphere as I did. It all came together with amazing presentations by Dr. Thani Al Zeyoudi, UAE Minister for Climate Change and Environment, Krysta Harden (DowDuPont), Gunhild Stordalen (EAT Foundation) Marco Ferroni (CGIAR), Manuel Pulgar Vidal (World Wildlife Fund), Erik Oberholtzer (Tender Greens), Mario Avelo (Committee on World Food Security) and last but by no means least, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim (President of Mauritius).

It should not be forgotten that we also met with important players in the world of coffee and tea the day before the Prince’s lunch. We urgently need to safeguard these crops challenged as they are by climate change, and important as they are for livelihoods.

The day after the Prince’s lunch, some of us were lucky enough to visit one of the London offices of tech giant Google. There we heard from the team in charge of the company’s catering operations about how they are trying to encourage healthier eating in their staff canteens, and source their ingredients sustainably.

As well as healthy smoothies, and a fabulous range of dishes for staff to choose from, we also got a glimpse of some foods of the future: the brownies made with the flour of coffee cherry husks were delicious, as were the snack bars made with cricket powder.

As Erik Oberholtzer of Tender Greens put it during the Google discussions, we as consumers have a choice – three times a day – to vote with our pockets as to which parts of our food system we support. Our buying preferences send economic signals down the supply chain. These can help us create the kind of food system that we need to not just survive, but thrive.

That, for me captured the essence of the events of the two days in London: we can all play a part in helping to create the future we want. As well as consumers letting their feelings be known, investors can prioritise funds that support biodiversity; chefs can create dishes that celebrate new, or long-forgotten ingredients; politicians can make sure the importance of food diversity comes through loud and clear in their discussions on sustainability, or climate change, or agricultural policy.

Ultimately it’s a future in which crop diversity is recognized as the foundation of our food supply, of being something to conserve, celebrate and cherish. And it’s a future we can all play a part in building.

Looking ahead, this certainly looks as though it will be a momentous year for other reasons: The Svalbard Global Seed Vault will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2018, with seed deposits being received from all over the world at the end of February. This will take the total number of deposits made since 2008 to over 1 million varieties of plants important to food and agriculture. This is a remarkable achievement and testament to the spirit of international cooperation to protect and conserve our food plants.

In March we will turn our attention to the meeting of the Crop Trust’s Executive Board in St Petersburg, Russia, during which time we will make a visit to the Vavilov Institute – perhaps the spiritual home of crop conservation in seed banks.

We’ll be sure to keep you up to date and seeing many of you along the way.

Greetings from us all in Bonn,

Marie

 

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