Agro-biodiversity and the protection of our genetic treasures:
From 6 to 9 November, 2016, I attended the 1st International Agro-biodiversity Congress (IAC 2016) held in India. It was a very important gathering as the agro-biodiversity on this planet is exceptionally important in the context of ensuring food security and resistance to blights for our basic human crops. I have had a direct history in protecting that agro-biodiversity, when I had the privilege of Chairing the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) from 1993 -2000. The international centers that comprised the CGIAR system had wonderful seed banks (or if you prefer gene banks) where 625,000 accessions of the most important food crops for humanity were maintained. Fearing that they could be hi-jacked or in some other way compromised by individual countries, I am proud that one of my earliest actions was to put the entire collections under the oversight of the countries affiliated with the FAO, all 183 countries, so that these valuable collections would really be the legacy of all of humanity.
One of the best programs that we did with these collections was “The Seeds of Hope” program, where samples from these collections were used to re-create the national collections of countries like Rwanda, when the national collections were destroyed or lost during the years of fighting and genocide.
Since then, the world’s Gene Banks have been collected and placed in special cold storage in Svalbard in Norway. It is an impressive facility that speaks volumes about the international collaboration of humans who understand the importance of working with nature not against it.
In the years ahead, I have no doubt that these genetic treasures will help us rise to many challenges as growing conditions will become more demanding. Thus is foresight better than hindsight, and prevention is better than cure.