One silly thing is said about agricultural biodiversity every single day

by Luigi Guarino on April 18, 2012

You know, I think communicating about agrobiodiversity is really important. That’s why I contribute to this blog. Among various other things. But when I see the collective communication efforts of the agricultural biodiversity community culminate in the statement, made apparently in all seriousness, that “One crop seed becomes extinct every single day,” I do wonder whether the game is worth the candle.1

LATER: Ok, maybe I was too sweeping in my vilification. Let me clarify. I don’t mind an editor crafting an attention-grabbing title for an article aimed at a popular audience. I can perhaps even live with a broad, “not even wrong” generalization about genetic erosion in such a title, if explained further in the text. No, what I really object to is the misuse of the word “seed” for “variety” in this particular context. Because it is unforgivably confusing, and simply not necessary. A seed, as the word is commonly understood, is just not something that goes extinct.

Footnotes:
  1. Admittedly, the rest of the article is not as bad as the title. []

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Jackson April 18, 2012 at 9:15 am

No understanding of diversity per se. And clearly has no idea of the decades of efforts to collect and conserve.

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Jeremy Cherfas April 18, 2012 at 9:44 am

Hey, be thankful for small mercies; they also say that only 50% of diversity has vanished in the past 100 years, rather than the canonical 75%.

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Dave Wood April 18, 2012 at 11:29 am

But this is what happens when policy-by-press-release takes over related to fund-raising. The accounts of genetic erosion are much at fault – giving the impression that varieties are like species – once gone, gone forever. “Few of the 850 varieties of pear, for example, that were listed by T.W. Field in 1858, could now, I suppose, be found anywhere in the world. It is the fate of varieties to come and go.” (Fairchild, 1938). This needs ramming home.
My current favourite of desk-bound propaganda is from the recent `Montpellier Report (an illustrious panel of a dozen lead by Gordon Conway): “In 37 African countries, 22 kg of nitrogen (N), 2.5 kg of phosphorus (P), and 15 kg of potassium (K) per hectare of cultivated land has been lost over the past 30 years”. Not one of the dozen spotted the glaring error (the original references have `per year’ or `annually’). Another example: the outcome of the IAASTD report recommended `agroecology’ for the World – despite four out of five regional reports ignoring agroecology (it was much emphasized only in the Latin American regional report). These mega-reports seem to be uniformly suspect as a base for policy, yet they keep getting churned out.

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Matthew April 18, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Is the extinction quote from Fowler, or is it how the writer for IFC interpreted Fowler’s Ted talk on diversity?

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Luigi Guarino April 18, 2012 at 7:39 pm

I’m sure nobody ever said anything of the sort.

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Dave Wood April 18, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Everyone leaves varietal generation out of the equation. I went to CIAT with an empty bean-bag chair. I filled it straight away from the dump where the varieties rejected by the breeders went – many thousands lines each year with several tons of seed. Many of the bean rejects were certainly better than the varieties farmers all over the place were growing. For a few hundred dollars I could have doubled the number of bean varieties in Africa or Asia in a couple of seasons.
On-farm, it is possible to get 500% loss of varieties with a very high varietal turnover over time – this is a good thing if farmers are on the look-out for good varieties (and most are).
Thirty years ago there were around 20 breweries in Britain – down from several hundred a 100 years previously (90% loss) and now we have probably over a thousand. What percentage brewery loss do we have? Is it a meaningful question? It is quite possible, as with breweries, for varieties to have a boom period – just look at horticulture, with thousands of veggies and flowers and a vast varietal turnover.

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