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Bonn Voices Interviews Marie Haga

Executive Director of the Crop Trust, Marie Haga, visits the International Potato Center in Peru.Executive Director of the Crop Trust, Marie Haga, visits the International Potato Center in Peru.

21 January 2015

Bonn Voices reports on the Crop Trust: Ensuring food security, adapting to climate change, safeguarding biodiversity, protecting nutritional security, reducing poverty and ensuring sustainable agriculture

Ms Haga, can you explain the main goals of Global Crop Diversity Trust?

The mission of the Crop Trust is to ensure the long-term conservation and use of crop diversity for food security worldwide. No single national institution can hold this diversity – amounting to millions of distinct crop varieties – and make it available to plant breeders and farmers around the world. We are all dependent on each other globally in crop diversity. The Crop Trust brings together genebanks around the globe that hold unique bio diversity of our food plants and work on safeguarding this extremely important natural resource in a forever perspective.

Why is the variety of crops so important for future challenges?

Crop diversity is the building blocs of agriculture – containing the history as well as the future raw material for agriculture. It is critical to conserve crop diversity because we loose diversity every day. When we loose diversity we loose options for the future.

Let me explain: there exists roughly 200 000 varieties of rice, 4500 varieties of potatoes and 125 000 varieties of wheat on the globe. We are concerned to conserve each one of these varieties because one of them might have the trait we need to adapt rice, potatoes and wheat to new circumstances – such as higher temperature, use of less water, less use of fertilizers and pesticides, a more unpredictable weather, higher salinity in the soil, new diseases or pests and so forth. We need the greatest possible diversity of crops to secure our food supply at a time when we are putting unprecedented pressure, on our environment. We need it to ensure that food will be available at stable and affordable prices, without expanding agriculture’s footprint on the environment.

We will need the full array of this diversity – collected, characterized and available within a global system – if we hope to adapt to climate conditions not seen before. Within this diversity there will be plant types that flourish and yield with lower inputs.

It is very hard to see how we will be able to feed a growing world population with more and more nutritious food in times of climate change unless we go back to the building blocs of agriculture. The natural diversity of crops holds solutions to these challenges and we – the global community – has to be wise enough to protect it for the benefit of our own generation aswell as all generations to come.

In October 2014 was the “Annual Genebanks Meeting” which is part of CGIAR Research Programme (CRP) on Genebanks. Please explain the main topics of this meeting and the CGIAR Research programme?

All the genebank managers of the CGIAR centres get together every year as part of the CGIAR Research Programme (CRP) on Genebanks. We discuss progress and plans towards reaching annual targets and longer-term targets. We take an in-depth look at the 3 or 4 genebanks that have been reviewed during the year and discuss common constraints, such as how to make sure threatened crop diversity or crop wild relatives are collected and conserved. This year we had a special focus on quality management systems. We have decided to set up our own quality management system for genebanks, which will allow us all to document and share detailed operating procedures and policies for each genebank. We also focused on how to develop stronger partnerships with national genebanks, which are in urgent need of support. The meeting is a really important event as it is the only time in the year that we can bring all our key partners, from Fiji to Peru together in one place.

What motivates you in the morning and how do you think in the evening about it?

After a long and diverse career in diplomacy, politics and private sector, I decided for myself some time ago that from then onwards I would only do work that is important, fun and can be done jointly with dedicated colleagues. Safeguarding forever one of the most important global goods, namely crop diversity, is to me extremely rewarding and I work with a fabulous staff that is well qualified and dedicated. It is a great privilege being the Executive Director of the Crop Trust and the job motivates me every morning. I am satisfied in the evening when I can go home from work and say to myself – yes, we’ve made progress today too in reaching our goals.

Which question would you like to answer which you never have been asked before?

The question:

Is anything more important for the wellbeing of future generations than crop diversity?

The answer:

Besides clean air and water – clearly no, but without any one of these we will not have a sustainable future.

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