Crop Trust to conserve plant diversity
Rich and poor nations sign on to save seeds worldwide
21 October 2004 Rome -- The Global Crop Diversity Trust, an initiative to conserve in perpetuity the Earth's most crucial agricultural biodiversity, entered into force today as an independent international organization.
The Trust crossed a major milestone when Sweden signed the agreement establishing it. This brings the number of signatories to 12 from 5 world regions, thus exceeding the criteria for recognition under international law. Sweden joins Cape Verde, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Jordan, Mali, Morocco, Samoa, Syria, Tonga, and Togo as Trust signatories.
Along with its signature, Sweden pledged 50 million kroners, about $7 million, to the Trust. The Trust's newest donor joins more than a dozen others, including Ethiopia, one of the 10 poorest countries in the world, which recently pledged $50 000. This money will go toward building a $260 million Trust endowment, the proceeds of which will be used to fund the most threatened and valuable collections of crop diversity.
The launch of the Trust comes as plant diversity suffers record losses in both farmers' fields and the wild. Extreme hunger and poverty also contribute to diminished plant diversity in many parts of the world. Even the genebanks that are intended to be safe havens for crop diversity are under increasing threat from underfunding.
"Rich and poor nations alike are signing on to support the Trust," said Geoff Hawtin, the Trust's Executive Secretary. "This shows that they recognize the urgency of protecting crop diversity collections for all countries, whatever their level of development or region of the world."
"Ethiopia is very rich in agricultural biodiversity but extremely poor in financial resources," said Dr. Tewolde, Director General of the country's Environmental Protection Authority and a member of the Trust's Interim executive board. "The future for Ethiopians -- along with the rest of humanity -- cannot be secure unless the future of agriculture is secured. Therefore, we welcome the opportunity to help save the world's crop diversity collections."
"Sweden highly values agricultural diversity," said Mats Åberg, Deputy Director at the Department of Global Development in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "The Nordic Genebank, of which we are part, has taken strong measures to protect our region's diversity, and has extended cooperation to collections in southern Africa as well as to our Baltic neighbours. But we know it is not yet enough. Humanity's agricultural heritage must be protected wherever it is found."
Rescue and Salvage
The goal of the Trust is to provide a secure and sustainable source of funding for the world's most important crop diversity collections. There are more than 1 400 crop diversity collections in more than 100 countries around the world. These collections are the best source of the raw material farmers and breeders need to develop hardy, dependable, productive and nutritious crops. They contain traits that will allow crops to cope with climate change, pests and disease, as well as to increase crop yields to feed the ever-growing human population.
The proceeds of the Trust, ultimately about $12 million per year, will support basic conservation costs in national and international collections of crop diversity. The Trust will also provide funding to rescue and salvage collections currently at risk, and build capacity in developing countries to manage such collections.
"The majority of the world's crop collections are operating on extremely tight budgets," said Hawtin. "Many developing countries find it difficult to keep the electricity running, let alone support the activities needed to ensure the safe long-term conservation of the crop diversity they hold. Yet this diversity is critical in the fight against hunger," Hawtin added.
Some have dubbed Ethiopia "a living seed basket" for its almost bewildering variety of wild and domesticated varieties of seeds and grains. Ethiopia is a primary gene centre for field crops such as niger seed (Guzotia abyssinica), tef (Eragrostis tef) and Ethiopian mustard (Brassica carinata) and a secondary gene centre for crops such as durum wheat, barley, sorghum, finger millet, linseed, sesame, safflower, faba bean, field pea, chickpea, lentil, cowpea, fenugreek and grasspea. Today, Ethiopia has 4.5 million people who are facing food shortage. In 2002, Ethiopia struggled with the worst famine since 1984 with some 15 million people facing starvation.
Building on the past
To date the Global Crop Diversity Trust has raised about $51 million towards its goal with another $60 million under discussion. In addition to Ethiopia and Sweden, donors include Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Egypt, the United States of America, Switzerland, the Grains Research and Development Council of Australia, Syngenta, Pioneer/Dupont, the Gatsby Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Syngenta Foundation, the United Nations Foundation, the World Bank, and the Future Harvest Centres.
"FAO welcomes the establishment of the Global Crop Diversity Trust so soon after the coming into force of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture," said Louise Fresco, Assistant Director-General of the FAO Agriculture Department. "The Trust will help ensure that one of the key objectives of the Treaty -- the safe conservation of crop diversity -- becomes a reality."
"IPGRI is proud of the role it has played in bringing this historic initiative into being," added Emile Frison, Director-General of the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI). "We look forward to continuing to provide important technical support to the Trust as it undertakes its critical task of underwriting the costs of conserving the world's most important food crops."
The effort to establish the Global Crop Diversity Trust was a joint initiative of FAO and IPGRI on behalf of the Future Harvest Centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The Trust is an element in the funding strategy of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which became law on 29 June 2004.
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