OSLO: Scientists have agreed on a $109 million plan to strengthen the world’s biggest seed banks of crops such as rice and wheat to help protect and develop new varieties resistant to climate change and other threats.
The Global Crop Diversity Trust and the CGIAR Consortium of agricultural researchers said today that a five-year plan would help secure storage of more than 700,000 samples of crops at 11 existing gene banks from the Philippines to Belgium.
‘This will drive the creation of a real global system’ to help safeguard food crops, Cary Fowler, outgoing head of the Bonn-based Trust, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
The funds will allow the collections to expand, put more information about genetic makeup of seeds on the Internet, and enable duplication of more seeds, partly to ensure that conflicts such as those occurring now in Syria or Mali do not wreck collections.
Plant breeders often need quick access to seed banks to develop new varieties — Sri Lanka, for instance, successfully exploited salt-tolerant strains of rice in a seed bank after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami flooded coastal paddies.
Researchers are searching gene banks for varieties with natural traits to resist drought, floods, insect pests, disease or extreme heat – all likely to become more common because of global warming.