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Call for more backing to combat crop threats and hunger

Published 15/04/2016

The Crop Trust aims to protect global crop diversity to combat world hunger
The Crop Trust aims to protect global crop diversity to combat world hunger

Hundreds of millions of pounds has been pledged to preserve the world's crop varieties and secure food supplies in the face of growing population and climate change.

But the Crop Trust, which aims to protect global crop diversity to combat world hunger, has called for more backing to ensure agriculture can adapt to new challenges such as pests and disease, higher temperatures and drought.

Many types of crop are being lost as farmers move on to new varieties and as a result of urbanisation and climate change, but they could have traits the world needs to develop more resistant types of grain, fruit and vegetables, experts say.

At a conference in the US, g overnments and businesses have pledged contributions to double the Crop Trust Endowment Fund to 300 million dollars (£211 million), and a year-long campaign has been launched to boost the funding further.

The Trust has a target of 500 million dollars (£350m) for its endowment fund, which will provide 20 million dollars a year for preserving crop "gene banks" around the world and a back-up "doomsday" vault in Svalbard, in the Norwegian Arctic.

Marie Haga, executive director of the Crop Trust, said agriculture needed to adapt to new conditions and provide more nutritious food for people, and having access to diverse crop genetic material would help prevent food insecurity.

"Crop diversity can be seen as the building blocks of agriculture," she said.

"In order to adapt, for example, wheat to higher temperatures, we need to go back to the 125,000 varieties of wheat to search for the maybe only one variety that can help us do exactly that.

"Crop diversity is one of our most important natural resources and global common goods. It is a prerequisite of food security.

"If we lose one of the 200,000 varieties of rice, we might lose the one that could have helped our children fight a new disease in rice or have rice adapt to more unpredictable weather."

The Crop Trust also wants companies which benefit from global common goods, such as coffee which is at risk from climate change, to contribute to the preservation of crops as governments turn their focus more to funding responses to emergencies.

The endowment fund will provide long-term stable funding for gene banks around the world where the seeds representing crop diversity are held and made available to researchers, and the Svalbard vault which holds seeds from the gene banks.

The Svalbard vault ensures that if a gene bank is hit by natural disaster, fire, war - such as the civil war in Syria - or technical problems such as power cuts, the genetic material it stores is not lost,

Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said: "We owe it to future generations to provide them with the tools they will need for sustainable existence. Today's meeting marks a historic step towards this goal.

"International cooperation can protect the foundation of world agriculture and generate new crops for the survival of our children and grandchildren."

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