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F corruptive or lead to nutrition enhancement. So in recognizing that every crop matters, we must also appreciate our international interdependency upon this system to work. Agriculture is the economic bedrock and feeder of all life in all countries, developed or not, and once the biodiversity of our crops is lost, it’s lost forever.

The Crop Trust

With rising populations, diminishing resources and the fact that breeding new varieties takes up to 10 years to produce, The Crop Trust’s mission “to ensure the conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security worldwide, forever” is more urgent and more important than ever. Whilst worldwide, only 150 crops are cultivated on any significant scale, a recent study co-authored by the Crop Trust found that the planet’s food supply has grown increasingly dependent on only a few crop types over the past 50 years.1 This makes our food supply vulnerable to climatic changes and makes us vulnerable to a non-nutritiously diverse diet. The potato famine in Ireland is perhaps one of recent history’s most poignant testaments to the vulnerability of planting only one crop variety. Meanwhile, the loss of a crop variety is as irreversible as the extinction of an animal therefore these factors alone place greater importance upon the conservation of the thousands of crop varieties that exist. As we speak however, a staggering 20 percent of plant diversity is under threat from habitat degradation, invasive alien species and over-exploitation. Mr Lainoff told us “Since 1950, China alone has lost an estimated 90 percent of rice varieties whilst since the 1900s in New York, we had 9,000 apples and now we have 1,000 varieties.” Nevertheless, Cierra Martin, from the Crop Trust

Communications and Partnerships team expressed to us “We must look forward, not back, and the way to do this is by collecting crops, conserving them and putting them to use.” For now is the time to take care of what we do have, which is precisely what the 1,700 + gene banks worldwide are doing every minute of every day. For anyone unfamiliar with the global seed network, a gene bank is an ex-situ conservation system that preserves raw genetic material of seeds, enabling plant breeders and farmers access to a combined amount of millions of crop varieties in order to develop new varieties with ever-improved traits. For example, there is current work underway to develop beans with higher levels of nutritionally available iron and zinc. Similarly there has been a breakthrough development of high-beta-carotene sweet potatoes, and given that annually more than 105 million metric tonnes, 95 percent of which are grown in developing countries, are produced globally, the implications are huge.2 The Crop Trust currently has oversight and financial responsibility for 11 global gene banks through the CGIAR Genebank Platform. Held in trust for the world, these are among the most comprehensive and widely used collections of crop diversity, “distributing around 100,000 crop varieties per year." To demonstrate the scale of what this means, in the gene bank of the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, there are over 121,000 varieties of rice whilst there are around 175,526 varieties of maize and wheat being conserved at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico. Crucially, not all crops can be conserved in normal seed banks. Vegetatively propogated crops, like coconut, yam and potato have to be conserved differently, in field genebanks, in vitro or through cryopreservation.

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AUG 2017 - Milling and Grain magazine