Scientists issue rallying cry for greater global cooperation to safeguard seeds for future food and nutrition security
15 November 2023
Berlin, Germany, 15 November 2023: Leading experts have issued a rallying cry that greater international cooperation is urgently required to safeguard food security in the wake of global crises.
This call to action from scientists, agrifood experts, seed bank managers, and multilateral organizations gathering for the Global Crop Diversity Summit aims to catalyze policymakers and stakeholders to prioritize efforts to transform our food systems.
Central to protecting, growing and diversifying our food supplies are the hundreds of seed banks worldwide that protect crop diversity, including lesser-known and indigenous crop varieties, and many culturally significant and climate-resilient crops, that can withstand drought, extreme heat, and pests.
Africa is losing its culinary culture faster than any other area in the world, shared Selassie Atadika, chef and founder of “Midunu,” which means “Let us eat!” in Ewe. Atadika highlighted the imbalance of resources and funding between crops, with diversity of many indigenous crops at risk of being lost in favor of global staples driven by industrial farming.
However, without urgent long-term funding, seed banks and the crops whose seeds they protect are at grave risk. Cooling systems can fail, infrastructure is outdated, and during times of political conflict and civil unrest, seed banks are left increasingly vulnerable.
To continue vital work conserving crop diversity and securing food supplies, seed banks require sustained funding and greater recognition from policymakers.
Protecting crop diversity during crises
As the climate crisis wreaks increasing havoc on food systems, and natural disasters and international conflict compound the damage, protecting the world’s crop diversity has never been more urgent.
Over the past year, staff of the Ukrainian seed bank system has transported over 50,000 seeds from Kharkiv to a much more secure location, preserving these vital seed varieties, amidst the ongoing conflict.
This year-long effort, supported by a team of experts from the FAO Ukraine team, International Plant Treaty, NordGen, and the Crop Trust, which has helped preserve the agricultural biodiversity of Ukraine (often referred to as Europe’s breadbasket) and the 10th largest seed collection in the world, has only been possible through collaborative efforts and sustained funding.
A call to action
In a new communique announced at the Global Crop Diversity Summit, a coalition of experts highlighted the key actions needed to help safeguard future food security, which must be prioritised by governments:
- The need for greater international cooperation – working towards a global seed bank partnership, allowing cross-sector collaboration and research.
- Urgent investment – to ensure the sustainable operation, maintenance, and expansion of seed banks worldwide.
- Raising awareness – by establishing a future annual "Crop Diversity Day” which would raise awareness of the global importance of crop diversity.
- Supporting national crop diversity efforts - to champion the importance of crop diversity at a policy level.
Seed banks must be at the forefront to help countries achieve Target 4 of the landmark Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework adopted last year following COP15, which calls for the maintenance and restoration of genetic diversity of cultivated crops.
Only through greater international cooperation and by investing adequately in seed banks can we ensure the protection and conservation of crop diversity to safeguard food security for future generations.
Cem Özdemir, The Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture of Germany, said:
"Conserving the genetic diversity of crops is of vital importance, both for the livelihoods of small-scale farmers and to safeguard our global food supply. As climate change intensifies, crop diversity acts as a necessary life support - particularly high-quality and resilient varieties of crops which are key to futureproofing our agrifood systems.
Seed banks play a pivotal role in climate change adaptation, conserving biodiversity, and supporting our agrifood systems. Yet often, this work does not get the international recognition it deserves. At the Global Crop Diversity Summit, experts have discussed the establishment of an annual "Crop Diversity Day" to draw attention to the crucial need to conserve and use crop diversity to secure nutritious and plentiful food for generations to come, and truly transform our food systems."
Stefan Schmitz, Executive Director of the Crop Trust, said:
“We have entered uncharted territory as we face an interconnected crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and food insecurity, which is compounded by growing geopolitical tensions. Crop diversity provides vital life insurance, and we’re calling for efforts to safeguard this diversity to be placed high on the political agenda. Only through greater international cooperation and increased funding can we solve this crisis.”
Kent Nnadozie, Secretary of the Secretariat of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, said:
“This event is not a one-off thing. It’s a seed we are planting to grow, and to face challenges that we know and don’t know, because they will come. Through partnerships like this, we can face these challenges.”
Lise Lykke Steffensen, Chief Executive of NordGen said:
“International cooperation is the key to conserving the world’s crop diversity. Following the start of the conflict in Ukraine, a large group of partners has worked closely with our Ukrainian seed bank colleagues to protect seeds from the Ukraine seed bank, a globally important collection. We are up against time and must accelerate our efforts, as it’s only through collaboration that we can support seed banks in the face of adversity.”
Notes to Editor
About the Crop Trust
The Crop Trust is an international organization working to conserve crop diversity and thus protect global food and nutrition security. At the core of Crop Trust is an endowment fund dedicated to providing guaranteed long-term financial support to key genebanks worldwide. The Crop Trust supports the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and coordinates large-scale projects around the world to secure crop diversity and make it available for use, globally, forever, and for the benefit of everyone. The Crop Trust is recognized as an essential element of the funding strategy of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
Learn more at www.croptrust.org
About the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
The International Plant Treaty, which came into force in 2004, supports the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of their use. A key element of the Plant Treaty is the “Multilateral System,” which facilitates access to a pool of key genetic resources according to clearly defined rules.
Learn more at www.fao.org/plant-treaty/en/
The Global Crop Diversity Summit
The Global Crop Diversity Summit brings together scientists, agricultural and food experts, policymakers and multilateral organizations to engage in a lively dialogue and build a community around the crucial role of seed banks in transforming our agrifood systems.
The Summit aims to address the urgent need for more sustainable, resilient, and healthy agrifood systems in the face of major global challenges, including the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, food insecurity, malnutrition, and international conflict.
It also seeks to raise political awareness of the essential role that crop diversity plays in securing global food systems and to strengthen cooperation among seed banks around the world.
Learn more at www.croptrust.org/global-crop-diversity-summit