HomeGlobal Seed VaultCOP24: Experts Urge World Leaders to Invest in Gene Banks

COP24: Experts Urge World Leaders to Invest in Gene Banks

Date: 06.12.2018 Author: Merete Madslund Category: Global Seed Vault, Plants

Genetic diversity is a prerequisite for food production in climate change. From Katowice and the NordGen side event at COP24, experts urge on world leaders to prioritize the crucial work done by gene banks before it’s too late.

Thor Gunnar Kofoed is born in Bornholm, a small island off the Danish coast. As a farmer he has seen the challenges put on agriculture these last two summers, with extreme weather events in the Nordic countries.

“While other people look at Facebook ten times an hour, we farmers look at the weather forecast instead. Wet seasons we can handle, but if we don’t get any rain we can’t just irrigate. We need to find new solutions for more drought-resistant crops and the key lies in the seeds kept by gene banks”, said Thor Gunnar Kofoed, who is also the Vice President of the Danish Agriculture & Food Council.

Need to increase food production

Although an issue not receiving very much attention, the importance of gene banks and their work is massive. The Natural Resources Officer, Liva Kaugere, from FAO, who was attending the NordGen event at COP24 along with Thor Gunnar Kofoed, said that today we rely on just three crops for feeding the majority of the population.

“We need to increase our food production with 70% by 2050. And as the conditions for agriculture alter, we need to develop our crops. That’s why genetic diversity is so important” she said.

Jon Magnar Haugen, from the Norwegian Ministry for Agriculture and Food agrees. “We are such a small country, we can’t rely on large companies doing the plant breeding for us. With adapted material, we can succeed in increasing the production compared to the business as usual situation”, Jon Magnar Haugen said.

Highly unusual summer

And it’s apparent that the business-as-usual situation is not something we can rely on.

“This summer was highly unusual regarding the persistence of hot and dry weather. This is due to the particular behaviour of the jet stream (a band of high winds in about 9 km height) that steered lows around Europe for several months, so that high temperatures and low soil moisture could further enhance the dry conditions”, Martin Stendel, climate researcher at the Danish Meteorological Institute, said.

“Such “blocking patterns” exist naturally once in a while, but there is growing evidence that climate change results in more and/or longer blocking situations. Furthermore, as warm air can bear more water vapour, we can also expect that the strongest rainfalls become even stronger. Farmers will have to get used to another reality as they grow our food”

We need to act now

Plant breeding will be essential, but no plant breeding is possible without genetic diversity, which is guarded and offered by gene banks such as NordGen.

“The work done by us, and our fellow colleagues around the globe, is a prerequisite for the entire food production in the future. Today, our work is more important than ever, as the genetic and biological diversity is decreasing at the same time as we need it more than ever in order to adapt our crops to climate change. It’s imperative that the leaders of the world act now to strengthen the institutions working with genetic diversity. Soon it may be too late” said Lise Lykke Steffensen, Executive Director at NordGen.