News / Africa

Crops of the Past Make a Comeback

Global Crop Diversity Trust preserves and protects plant genetic material for future use. (Credit: GCDT)
Global Crop Diversity Trust preserves and protects plant genetic material for future use. (Credit: GCDT)

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
Farmers are among the first to feel the effects of climate change. For many in developing countries, the crops they relied on year after year no longer grow in abundance. As a result, farmers are not only looking for new crops to grow, but some old ones as well.


Climate change and food security are tightly linked. Rising global temperatures have brought frequent droughts in some regions or more floods in others. And there may be threats from new pests or plant diseases.

In response, farmers can attempt to grow crops that have been successful in other regions or countries, or they can look to their past.

The Global Crop Diversity Trust, in a sense, is a repository of the past. It collects, preserves and maintains the raw genetic material used in agriculture. Assistant Executive Director Paula Bramel says the trust is the only global organization dedicated to doing that.

“The environment is changing to the point where farmers can no longer maintain the seeds of the varieties that they always used. And that’s really a loss to everybody because that variety may have a trait that was really critical in the future. And if it’s not collected and saved it won’t be available. [In] a lot of Africa you see this happening.”

She said that it’s important that crop diversity be maintained because you never know when a crop will be needed.

“We also work to ensure that both crops as well as their wild relatives – those that are under threat – either due to the fact that their environment is degrading because of human activity or because of the changing climate – that those are collected and held in one of these gene banks so they’re available in the future,” she said.

The trust reports that, currently, “much of the world’s crop diversity is neither safely conserved, nor readily available to scientists or farmers.” It warns that “diversity is being lost and with it the biological basis of our food supply.”

Bramel said, “They’re basically held in trust for the world and they’re freely available to everyone. The only access that’s required is that you have to sign an agreement that acknowledges that they stay within the public domain. There’s an option for ensuring that if you were to develop something useful that some of that goes back in terms of benefit sharing to the farmers who developed those traits.”

Crops of the past may become the crops of the future. They’re called heirlooms.

“You see this rekindling of our historical ties to varieties in the case of heirlooms. So you see heirloom vegetables. You see all kinds of heirloom crops. You see it in apples. You see it in peaches, in lots of things, where people are stepping back and saying they want to rediscover that diversity that they’ve lost,” she said.

There had been a push toward less variety as farmers concentrated on – what were then – the most productive crops. Bramel said that’s changing.

“These farmers came to us when I was working in India and asked for these kinds of millets that they had grown before. They had given up growing them because they wanted to grow rice because they could make more money. But then they realized they couldn’t make as much money and they were very interested to have back what were their traditional foods – things they remembered. They want to be able to make the food that they had made in the past.”

The Global Crop Diversity Trust said seeds and plant material are stored in what it calls a fail-safe location –the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It’s on a remote Island halfway between Norway’s mainland and the North Pole. The vault, it said, has been built to withstand both natural and man-made disasters.

You May Like

Elusive Deal With Iran Could Yield Foreign Policy Legacy for Obama

A new Iranian leader -- and a strategic shift by the United States -- opens narrow window for nuclear agreement with Tehran More

Column: Saudi-Iran Meeting Could Boost Fight Against Islamic State

The fact that Iranians and Saudis are talking again does not guarantee a breakthrough, but it could make it easier to build a broad coalition against IS More

Thai Ruler Gives Top Cabinet Posts to Junta Inner Circle

Thailand's army chief has kept an iron grip on power as he extends the government, hand-picking an interim parliament that subsequently nominated him prime minister More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid