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

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid