Seed biodiversity: life insurance for food production

In fact, there are not many plants that provide most of the daily calories for human beings, and the degree of single species is shocking. In fact, there are thousands of fruits and vegetables cultivated as food, but less than 200 of them still have a place in global food production.

However, due to climate change, species invasion, environmental pollution, urban expansion and land overuse, what will happen if these species we rely on too much become weaker and weaker, their production is lower and lower, and even become extinct in the future? Thousands of plant species and varieties that once raised our ancestors have become extinct, and the content of this list is increasing every day. Biodiversity can be said to be the biological insurance of food production. It is the diversity of crops that makes the human food system sound and resilient and able to resist these realistic threats.

Indigenous peoples and local communities around the world are the main guardians of agricultural biodiversity. They know different crop varieties like the back of their hands, know how to plant, and accumulate profound traditional knowledge. However, the situation of these groups themselves is often precarious, and their areas are particularly affected by climate change or resource degradation.

Under the FAO international treaty on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, a benefit sharing fund for farmers in developing countries was established to support food security through the protection and utilization of plant genetic diversity and help local communities cope with climate change. This form of cooperation is also an important way to continue indigenous knowledge, and can promote the exchange of excellent crop varieties and help farmers obtain varieties suitable for their own needs.

The following five benefit sharing fund projects highlight the importance of seed biodiversity.

1. Protection of local crop varieties in Ecuador

In the cotacaci region of the Andes in Ecuador, women are the main labor force in agricultural production with the family as the unit, and the small-scale peasant economy is the main source of food and income. The local traditional crops adapt to the natural conditions of the Andean high-altitude areas, forming a micro agricultural diversity center, which has recently been recognized as an important global agricultural heritage by FAO. Despite the abundance of natural resources, the local 45 indigenous communities had a difficult time, and the production of native crops was deteriorating due to climate change and land degradation. The benefit sharing fund cooperates with the farmers’ Association and the Federation of indigenous organizations in kotakach to help local farmers solve the problem of loss of crop diversity and identify and recommend varieties adapted to climate change.

At present, two biological knowledge centers are being built to help farmers obtain seeds of crops adapted to local conditions, and 30 farmers are receiving seed production training. The project has benefited more than 1500 farmers and reintroduced more adaptable local protozoa. The food produced can be eaten by farmers themselves or sold to others.

2. Development of drought resistant and disease resistant cowpea varieties in Ghana

Cowpea has high nutritional value and grows well in sandy semi-arid soil, so it has attracted extensive attention. People living in Ghana’s coastal savanna cannot live without cowpea. Cowpea is rich in protein and cheap. It is the basic food for more than 70% of Ghana’s population. However, the production of cowpea is seriously threatened by the parasitic weed Striga gesnerioides, with a yield reduction of up to 80-100%.

With the support of the benefit sharing fund, the University of Cape Coast conducted a detailed evaluation of different varieties of cowpea, selected and bred seven new varieties of cowpea resistant to drought and unicorn, registered and put into use. Through the joint efforts of researchers, scientists, farmers, breeders, technicians, seed companies and government officials, more than 1000 farmers now grow and eat these new varieties of peas, and their income has increased by an average of 45%.

3. Looking for resistant taro varieties in Malaysia

Taro is a root vegetable. It has been widely used as food, feed and medicine in Africa, South Asia and Oceania for thousands of years. However, climate change and plant diseases threaten the production of taro. The FAO benefit sharing fund, together with the Malaysian Institute of agricultural research and development, works with farmers in Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries to protect and register resistant taro varieties.

The project is building a number of demonstration farms and 20 farmers’ field agricultural schools to test new varieties. Five community seed banks are also under construction. Farmers can use the seed bank to better protect excellent varieties and share seeds with surrounding communities.

200 small-scale taro farmers participated in the project. They will receive training and learn the methods and technologies of taro processing, storage, transportation and sales.

4. Revitalizing Indigenous Rice Varieties in Mali

Rice and millet are the staple food of Malians, but the yield has decreased significantly due to severe drought in 80% of rain fed rice growing areas.

Through the Institute of rural economics, the benefit sharing fund has carried out long-term cooperation with growers and rural communities in 69 villages to protect 266 local rice varieties, identify drought and flood resistant high-yield varieties, and help farmers obtain seeds for planting. Mali’s rice seeds were recently sent to the Norwegian Svalbard Global Seed Bank in the Arctic. This seed bank is heavily guarded and serves as a safety barrier for seed biodiversity. In this way, even if the seed resources of some countries or the international community are destroyed or lost, they can be prepared.

5. Improvement of wheat and barley varieties native to Morocco

Durum wheat and barley are staple foods in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, but these countries are increasingly dependent on imports because their production is increasingly affected by climate change and pests. High temperature and drought lead to the continuous accumulation of salt in soil and groundwater, and some plant species are difficult to survive.

With the help of the “science and technology to promote livelihood resilience in arid areas” project of dryland agricultural research center and local partners, researchers and scientists have successfully selected new varieties resistant to disease and climate change, and rapidly propagated rare plant genotypes through in vitro culture technology. The national breeding programs of the three countries are exchanging research results, and the project has benefited hundreds of agricultural communities and the whole society.

Around the world, there are many moving stories between human and plant biodiversity. Please visit the FAO website “voice of diversity”, listen to the voices of farmers, breeders and decision makers committed to maintaining seed biodiversity, and understand their challenges, coping methods and concerns.

The biodiversity of fruits and vegetables is decreasing at an alarming rate, which will have a devastating impact on human food production in the future. The benefit sharing fund has supported developing countries to carry out sustainable management of crop genetic resources and improve food security. So far, it has helped more than 1 million people improve their livelihoods. The agricultural community clearly recognizes the importance of seed resources for maintaining the resilience of agriculture, and the benefit sharing fund is working with farmers to take urgent action to protect biogenetic resources. We must not lose these seeds.

Source: FAO

Post time: Jan-13-2022