A Nutritious Future Starts in Genebanks
1 August 2022
Beans, sorghum, pearl millet, peas and lentils have a lot to offer. These nutritious crops are not only tasty, versatile, gluten-free and nutritious, but they are also pretty well adapted to hot and dry conditions, and have the potential to play a greater role in preventing hunger around the world.
But to make sure they’ll be around for generations to come, all the different varieties of these crops need to be conserved in genebanks, so they can be used by plant breeders, researchers, and indeed farmers.
Recently, the Crop Trust entered into a new partnership with Schär, the gluten-free brand of the Italian food company Dr. Schär, to do just that. Dr Schär has been developing products for people with special nutritional needs for exactly a century, and the initiative marks this important milestone.
Dr. Schär and the Crop Trust will work together to protect the diversity of five gluten-free crops for at least the next century, while providing an example that should inspire action from other private food companies to get involved in seed conservation for global food security.
“Governments have been the Crop Trust's primary source of funding so far. So piloting this new approach with Dr. Schär is exciting for the Crop Trust. It will hopefully lead to further expansion of our cooperation with the private sector in the years to come,” says Stefan Schmitz, the Executive Director of the Crop Trust.
Under the partnership, the south Tirol-based family business will contribute funds to the Crop Trust endowment to help safeguard the seeds of a total of 500 varieties of sorghum, lentil, beans, peas and pearl millet in international genebanks for the next 100 years and beyond.
“The loss of biodiversity is one of the most relevant and urgent challenges of the 21st century, and that is why we are making an even stronger commitment to protecting minor crops and to ensure our approach to farming and agriculture is fully sustainable,” says Dr. Schär Chief Marketing Officer Hansjörg Prast. “We wanted to focus our commitment more specifically on crops and the Crop Trust, with its full dedication to crop diversity, is the perfect partner to help us realize this."
To celebrate the partnership, Dr. Schär has launched a digital campaign to promote public participation. Users can digitally “plant” their seed along with a brief message expressing their wish or commitment for the future.
For each digital wish, Dr. Schär will donate the necessary funds needed to conserve each crop variety for a year. This will help the company reach its goal and protect 500 varieties of the five different gluten-free crops for the next century, at least.
“Genebanks safeguard crops for the benefit of all humanity – including the private sector, which needs diversity to develop new crop varieties and products,” says Schmitz. “And the 500 varieties being conserved under this partnership will play an important role in future global food security.”
Meet the five crops
The nutrient-rich sorghum grain is packed with vitamins and minerals including zinc, magnesium, potassium and iron. It’s the fifth largest cereal crop after wheat, rice, maize and barley, and plays a major role in the food security of millions of people in marginal agricultural areas, especially in Africa and India.
Pearl millet also thrives in marginal, hot and dry agricultural conditions in Africa and India, and is even hardier than sorghum. Millions of the poorest farmers of the world depend on it. It’s rich in potassium, calcium and iron, as well as an excellent source of folic acid, making it a healthy food for pregnant people.
Lentil is one of the founding crops of agriculture and, to this day, it’s the most important pulse crop we eat. The protein content of lentils is about 25%, and the crop contains no cholesterol, virtually any fat, and very low levels of anti-nutrients.
Beans contribute essential protein to millions in Latin America and Africa. They are nutritionally a great complement to carbohydrate-rich grains such as rice and maize, and the combination of beans with such staple crops provides the foundation for a diet with all of the essential amino acids needed for complete nutrition. They’re also high in fiber.
And, finally, the pea is a legume grown virtually worldwide for its edible seeds and is one of the oldest cultivated crops. They’re a good source of iron, vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and phytonutrients.
Achieving global food security will require many such collaborations.
“This first-of-its-kind partnership with the Crop Trust will help preserve and make available diverse seed samples for generations to come, thereby improving nutrition, boosting climate change adaptation and promoting resilience,” says Schmitz.
Now that’s a worthy outcome for any company with a long-term vision.