Food systems will not adapt to climate change without seed diversity warns new report

Contributor: Will Bugler

Global food systems will struggle to adapt to climate change unless urgent action is taken to increase seed diversity, warn advocacy and environmental groups. In a recent report, the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA), Gaia Foundation and African Biodiversity Network (ABN) highlight that the loss of 75% of the world’s agricultural diversity in recent decades means that crop varieties that could help farmers to adapt to new climate conditions may not be available when needed.

In ‘Seeds for Life: Scaling Up Agrobiodiversity’, the authors give a stark warning that without access to a wide gene pool of crops, farmers will be unable to spread their risk, or breed new varieties to adapt to changing weather patterns. The report emphasizes that urgent action must be taken to support farmers to revive their seed saving practices and knowledge, and to keep this diversity alive and accessible in fields today and for the future.

“Too many farmers grow the same one or two varieties of purchased seed,” says Christine Campeau, EAA’s food campaign coordinator. “But if the rains come too early or too late, too much or not at all, the entire crop may fail. As climate change increasingly hits agriculture, many farmers are realizing that the seeds varieties that they grew, saved but then abandoned decades ago are the very varieties that they need now.”

With the introduction of intensive farming practices, since the so-called ‘Green Revolution’ of the 1960s, farming practices around the world have changed significantly. “Farmers used to plant dozens of different crops, and they were constantly saving the seed, developing and adapting new varieties so as to deal with many different challenges of soil, pests, disease, nutrition and flavour,” explains Ruth Nyambura of ABN.

But that incredible wealth of diversity, and the know-how that went with it, has all but disappeared from farms in Europe and North America in recent decades. Now farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America are under pressure to follow suit, and to abandon their locally-adapted seeds for corporate varieties.

“This is our wake-up call. It should shock us all to think of the crop diversity that our generation inherited from our farming ancestors, and how we have carelessly squandered this incalculable gift,” adds Teresa Anderson of the Gaia Foundation. “We know that climate change is only going to get worse. If we do not take action to revive seed diversity and seed-saving knowledge in the hands of farmers, we will be leaving a disastrously narrow gene pool from which future generations will struggle to farm and eat.

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