Crop Diversity, A Global System for Brazilian Agriculture
In order to maintain the success of its agriculture and feed a growing population in the midst of climatic chaos Brazil needs continued access to crop diversity to develop crops that yield more, resist pests and diseases, and respond to whatever other challenges the future may bring.
This was the message brought by Ms Marie Haga, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust (Crop Trust), which works with partners around the world to ensure the conservation and availability of crop diversity for global food security. The Crop Trust supports the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, 1300 kilometers above the Arctic Circle, and is raising an endowment to support the most important international crop collections, from which researchers have extensively drawn over the years.
Ms Haga, along with her Deputy Executive Director, Ms Paula Bramel, are visiting Brazil from August 28-31 for meetings in Brasilia with the Minister of Agriculture for Brazil, His Excellency Antônio Andrade, the President of Embrapa, Dr. Mauricio Lopes, and members from the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During their visit they will also see the Brazilian genebank and meet with the country’s key agricultural experts.
“We have seen the statistics,” said Ms Haga, “Within the next ten years, a billion more people will be living on the planet. In order to feed all of us, we need to produce at least 15 percent more food. By 2050, we may need to grow 60 percent more.”
Brazil has one of the most active and innovative agricultural research systems in the world. Crop improvement, an important component of this research effort, has been crucial in elevating Brazilian agriculture to the world-renowned status that it has today and will play a key role in responding to challenge of feeding an increasing population in a changing climate. Brazil would not have been able to create such a unique and strong agricultural system and will not be able to adapt to the future without the crop diversity found in other parts of the world.
“Brazil is engaged in the task of ensuring global food security and food quality, sustainably increasing its production and transferring technologies to other tropical countries,” Roberto Rodrigues, former Minister for Agriculture for Brazil and member of the Board of the Crop Trust, has said “Although Brazilian food crops do not possess the same natural biodiversity as the Amazon, the vigorous investments in genetics and breeding of products from other countries and continents places Brazil at the forefront of food production and productivity of tropical areas.”
The Crop Trust is working to conserve the wild relatives of the world’s major food crops. These wild plants contain essential traits that could be bred into crops to make them more hardy and versatile in the face of the dramatically different climates expected in the coming years. The initiative, led by the Crop Trust in partnership with Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank and in collaboration with national and international agricultural research institutes, is the largest global effort ever to conserve crop wild relatives.
Collecting and making available these crop wild relatives is part the Crop Trust’s objective to help construct a global system for the conservation of crop diversity important for food and agriculture. This global system has provided Brazil with more than 15,000 varieties of crops originating from 133 different countries over the years. Brazilian research institutes have used this diversity to create an agricultural system that is one of the most efficient and productive in the world, and hopes to stay that way in the face of changing climates and markets.
Ms Haga noted an economic study from Cornell University that estimated breeding efforts utilising crop diversity, including wild diversity, provide yield improvements worth $120 billion every year.
“If Brazil can help the Crop Trust design and implement a real, working, future-oriented Global System, then Brazil and every country will be able to take advantage of opportunities provided by the changed context,” concluded Ms Haga, “And, significantly, it will position itself to respond to the varied challenges that climate change will throw its way.”