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Keynote Address: Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations

Jan EliassonJan Eliasson

15 April 2016

At the Crop Trust's Pledging Conference in Washington, D.C., the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations gave the keynote address. Read the speech below.

State Secretary Skogen,

State Secretary Silberhorn,

Chair of Crop Trust Executive Board, Mr. Walter Fust,

Crop Trust Executive Director, Ms. Marie Haga,

I am honoured to be part of this unique and future - oriented event together with distinguished representatives from governments, multilateral institutions, the private sector, foundations and the world of philanthropy.

I am especially grateful to our co-chairs, the Governments of Norway and Germany, who are global leaders in preserving biodiversity. Over the years I have also learned to appreciate Marie Haga’s commitment to sustainability and positive long-term change.

Today’s event is an invaluable opportunity to make concrete pledges for the Crop Trust – and, by doing so, to help secure our common future.

Your actions and contribution here today will help safeguard and improve the well-being of millions of people and the health of our planet.

You are helping to preserve treasured varieties of crops. This is about more than taking action in agriculture. This is about sustainable development making possible a life of dignity for all.

Honoured participants,

We live in a period of turmoil and turbulence. The United Nations is every day coping with grave threats to peace and security. Violence and conflict are tragic realities in far too many places around the world.

Natural disasters are driving millions of people from their homes. Climate change and shrinking biodiversity are life-threatening trends.

Let us face it: we are not at peace with  nature.

In the coming years, the stability of our food and agricultural systems will be severely tested. We see it already in the devastating effects of El Niño in Africa and Latin America.

That is why the issues we address today in Washington are at the heart of the work of the United Nations. We have to preserve our natural resources, optimize them and hand them over to future generations.

The Crop Trust project goes beyond biodiversity. It is fundamentally about the way we preserve our planet and about the legacy we leave to the future.

Climate change is an undeniable reality. We are now experiencing the highest global temperatures on record. Sea levels are rising to an ominous degree.

The global population is growing. We will need to feed and sustain more people with less arable land, less water, and less predictable weather conditions for every year ahead of us.

The genetic diversity of crops is our life-line to the future. Diversity is basic to resilience. It helps prevent crop devastation caused by changing environmental conditions. And crop diversity makes for better nutrition.

And yet, today, a mere 40 crops provide 95 percent of what we eat. Five cereal crops make up 60 percent of the global energy intake.

We should all agree that we must urgently safeguard genetic diversity.

Today, the challenge is to raise awareness more widely – and to take responsible, forward-looking action.

Too many trends and interests lead us  to rely on a single, genetically uniform crop. Short term yields may be higher. But we are courting disaster if we fail to safeguard natural diversity among and within crops – and also among their wild relatives.

It is alarming that serious research now shows that many wild plants, which are a foundation for our future global food supply, are currently missing from the world’s gene banks. More than 70 percent of essential crop wild relative species are in urgent need of collection and conservation.

This is a global challenge.  We must join forces internationally.  No country has all the diversity it needs to develop sustainable food systems. International cooperation is absolutely essential if we are to protect the foundation of world agriculture and generate new crops.

We have seen the value of investing in a broad genetic basis for crops.

The Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has developed more than 150 new varieties of maize. In less than  a decade, it has  improved yields in more than a dozen African countries.

This is a substantial result that we clearly can replicate on an even larger scale.

We are here to generate many more such successes.  We are here to help millions of people by securing their right to a diverse food supply.

The Crop Trust can help transform this vision into a reality.

Dear Participants,

Last year, the international community demonstrated foresight and solidarity. We showed that multilateralism can produce results.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a bold and universal vision for ending poverty.

The Paris Agreement on Climate Change is an historic accord to address global warming. Next week, the United Nations will mark Earth Day by hosting a ceremony where leaders from all over the world will sign that historic agreement.

In our nations, we often celebrate Declarations of Independence. The 2030 Agenda is the world’s Declaration of Interdependence, proving how the goals are inter-related and reinforce each other.

To succeed, the Agenda requires that we end hunger and create sustainable and inclusive food systems.

There is a straight line connecting the Sustainable Development Goals and the Crop Trust’s mission as an essential funding mechanism of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

Target 2.5 of SDG 2 calls on us to: “maintain genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants, farmed and domesticated animals and their related wild species, including through soundly managed and diversified seed and plant banks at national, regional and international levels”.

All countries have an interest in plant genetic resources. All depend largely on crops that originated elsewhere. In short, crop diversity is a global public good.

Losing diversity means losing options for the future. We cannot retrieve what has been lost. We can only safeguard what we have left.

These challenges make it more important than ever to raise funds for initiatives like the Crop Trust Endowment. It is our insurance policy for food security and nutrition of humanity.

Let us recall that in today’s world, record numbers of migrants and refugees are being driven from their homes, seeking a better life. Even more people will be forced to leave if they do not have sufficient food, income and opportunities.

One powerful response is the access and supply of agricultural seeds which can develop locally adapted food crops. Better seeds lead to better livelihoods. Using plant and livestock gene banks can help countries boost their agricultural productivity.

These issues must be addressed comprehensively.

To succeed, we need increased public investment supported by favourable policies as well as by financial innovation.

I am pleased to see that the Crop Trust is reaching beyond traditional grants from governments. The Crop Trust is opening up to concessional donor loans and seeking ways to tap into private investment capital.

This can generate further funds to protect the world's agricultural heritage.

At the same time, governments must make an unequivocal commitment, backed by resources, to the conservation of global agricultural biodiversity.

Agricultural biodiversity is a global public good that demands responsible action also by nation states. The good international solutions are in today’s world in every country’s national interest.

In closing, let me on behalf of the United Nations,  thank all governments that will pledge funding for the Crop Trust endowment fund today and in the next few weeks and months.

I count on the Crop Trust to find new and innovative ways of financing global common goods, in cooperation with the private sector, philanthropy, science and civil society.

The landmark global and universal agreements reached in 2015 aim for a more equitable and inclusive future. Now we must live up to these aspirations and commitments.

Today’s conference is a test of how serious we are about keeping our promises to build a better life for all, leaving no-one behind.

I thank you for your leadership, your foresight and your valuable contributions.

Thank you

Jan Eliasson

Photo Credit: Nathan Mitchell/NPC

Category: Food Security

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