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2018: The Beginning of a Global Awakening?

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23 January 2018

Marie Haga | Marie's Corner

We live in an interdependent world where we all rely on one another to grow and thrive. No one is self-sufficient. But one must also learn how to stand on one’s own two feet. For the Crop Trust that day came on January 1st, 2013, when seven people made the move from Rome to Bonn to open the Crop Trust’s new headquarters.

So I would like to begin this “Corner” with a big thank you to the German government, for hosting us and taking good care of us during these past five years.

Time flies when there is so much work to be done and you are privileged to lead a dedicated staff working on fundamentally important issues. Needless to say, since our move from Rome, a lot has happened at the Crop Trust. Where once we depended on operational support from colleagues at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and Bioversity International, we have developed into a fully independent organization. We have also grown to about 30 full-time staff. These include our team of scientists that work with some of the world’s most important gene banks to safeguard invaluable biodiversity, and support staff in HR, IT finance, fundraising and more.

Moreover, we have grown our endowment fund substantially, and developed communication materials that we are sharing through more and more channels, helping us reach a broader audience.

We are proud of what we have achieved, but far from complacent. There is so much more to do! Unique genetic material - the crops and their wild relatives that can hold the key to future food security - continue to be at risk. From fires in California, to floods in Bangkok and droughts in Cape Town, unforeseen incidents are endangering this diversity. Urbanization is also gobbling up huge areas of land and the valuable plant species they harbor. Even in some gene banks, diversity is at risk due to poor management or lack of financial support. Tragically, we often don’t know what valuable diversity we might be losing.

That’s why it’s urgent to act now. Far too few people care because they simply don’t realize what is at stake. We need a global awakening!

I think 2018 is the year for this to happen: Governments of the world have already stressed the importance and urgency of conserving agrobiodiversity in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Now implementation has to happen. And it has to happen fast. The work of the Crop Trust contributes to the efforts to achieve many of these global targets.

In light of this, we are spearheading Food Forever. This initiative aims to raise awareness of the need for swift, decisive action on biodiversity conservation by involving not only scientists and governments, but also chefs, everyday consumers, and food lovers everywhere.

It’s the right moment for this kind of venture: people are increasingly concerned about what they eat, that their food is produced sustainably, and that farmers receive decent remuneration for their hard work. Many chefs share these concerns too: they want their choice of ingredients and the dishes they serve to reflect their passion for healthy, diverse and responsible eating habits. Similarly, we are looking forward to working with more representatives from the financial and philanthropic sectors, to help achieve a critical mass. These groups normally sit outside the biodiversity community; Food Forever welcomes them with open arms.

For us at the Crop Trust it is invaluable to have well-known people speaking up for safeguarding biodiversity. Here I’ll mention two wonderful advocates: The Prince of Wales, our Global Patron, and US food and lifestyle guru Martha Stewart. We are looking forward to important events based on their support in the near future.

We are also eager to further advance our cooperation with our donors this year. Without our donors – public or private – we couldn’t deliver. We are extremely grateful both for the renewed commitment from our long-standing partners, and for the trust and support our new partners who came onboard in 2017.

Here at the Crop Trust we like to focus on the positive developments that help us fulfill our mission. But there is so much more that needs to be done – so let us not lose sight of the bleaker picture: More people go hungry to bed today than they did one year ago. This is not acceptable in a world of abundance. It makes me furious. Decision makers, be they politicians or private sector leaders, need to step up and participate in the effort to transform our food systems, to ensure everyone has access to healthy, affordable, sustainably produced food.

While we realize that there will be no quick fix, there will there be no long-term solution unless we safeguard the biodiversity we still have left.

That’s why, this year, we will continue to use the new technologies that allow us to better utilize the treasure troves that gene banks are. They are vast untapped resources that can help us adapt our food crops to an increasingly challenging climate, and help make our diets more nutritious and sustainable. We will continue to advocate for mining the enormous diversity held in gene banks by making use of the latest big data methods.

Almost everything starts with a seed. And it is in these seeds that we can find the key to resilience, to climate change adaption, to fighting pests and diseases and securing all of us enough healthy food.

Each one of us at the Crop Trust in Bonn is looking forward to another busy year where our goal is nothing less than taking the Crop Trust to the next level, in cooperation with our partners. Because present and future generations deserve it!


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