“Almost 80%” is the new 75%

Almost eighteen months in the making, or 80 years, depending on how you look at it, yesterday saw the publication of a gargantuan review of the literature on crop genetic erosion.1

The team reviewed hundreds of primary literature sources published over the last 80 years that examine potential crop diversity loss, also called “genetic erosion”. The global collaborative effort found that 95% of all studies reported diversity change, and almost 80% found evidence of loss.

The most interesting (but, to be fair, unsurprising) thing to me though, apart from our evidence base still being fairly limited for many crops and regions, was the variation in the magnitude of loss, which depended hugely “on species, taxonomic and geographic scale, and region, as well as analytical approach.”

What’s to be done? Well, I won’t kid you, it won’t be easy.

Reversing the trajectory of crop genetic erosion requires more profound change – no less than reorganizing global agriculture, and food systems, and even the human societies they nourish, to become diversity-supportive processes… Crop diversity must be valued not only as a genetic resource to be exploited, but just as much for its cultural and ecological values… This implies a (re)integration of species, varietal and genetic diversity into agricultural systems, both temporally and spatially, as well as the (re)establishment of local autonomy and markets supporting the processes that foster the ongoing evolution of this diversity.

So let’s roll up our sleeves, yes? As, for example2, Vijay Jardhari and his friends have done in Uttarakhand. And Vivien Sansour is doing in Palestine. And Charity Lanoi is doing in Kenya. And Hamidou Falalou and his ICRISAT colleagues are doing in Chad. And as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault hopes to do in the next few months up in the Arctic.

Because, as a nicely complementary paper by Moises Exposito-Alonso and co-authors also pointed out in the past few days, though referring to 19 wild plant and animal species, “over 10% of genetic diversity may be extinct” already.

  1. A common topic on here of course. []
  2. Don’t @ me, I know there are many more examples, this is just what’s been in the news in the past couple of weeks. []

Legendary ethnobotanist bags award

Congratulations to my friend Pablo Eyzaguirre for receiving the Distinguished Economic Botanist award for 2021 from the Society of Economic Botany. It looks like his wonderful talk describing a career dedicated to exploring the connection between agricultural biodiversity and human wellbeing in all its forms was recorded. I’m not sure whether it will be available to all, but I really hope so, as it would inspire many, as Pablo did me many years ago.

Seeds going green

The Global Conference on Green Development of Seed Industries is organized by FAO as a means to provide a neutral forum for its members, partners, industry and opinion leaders, and other stakeholders to engage in focused dialogues on how best to make quality seeds of preferred productive, nutritious and resilient crop varieties available to farmers.

It’s online, 4-5 November.

Themes include, and I quote from the website again:

  1. Advanced technologies. The conference will review the advances in modern plant breeding technologies, emerging biotechnologies and informatics technologies and how they can be used safely and efficiently to enhance the delivery of genetic gains to farmers. Importantly, the conference will also facilitate a stocktaking of the available tools.
  2. Conservation of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. The conference will be a forum for reviewing the state of knowledge of crop diversity, its conservation and availability, and its underpinning role in resilient and sustainable agri-food systems. It will further explore how the use of crop diversity may be positively influenced through a wide range of actions taking place in situ, on-farm or ex situ as part of an interdependent global system.
  3. Crop varietal development and adoption. The conference offers a unique opportunity to review select case studies to identify the drivers of success. Particular attention will be paid to the validated means for the deployment of scientific progress in nurturing environments that permit mutually beneficial partnerships amongst the multiplicity of actors.
  4. Seed systems. The conference will explore what has worked in transforming ineffective systems into responsive and dynamic ones that provide the solutions farmers need so that successes may be replicated. The roles of international seed trade and the requisite harmonization of legal frameworks will be explored, especially in the context of the solutions that work for the production systems of small-scale farmers.
  5. Policy and governance. The conference will be an opportunity to explore the enabling environment – at national, regional and global levels – for seed systems and the associated upstream domains of germplasm conservation and plant breeding.