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

New England Bears Brunt of US Blizzard

Boston, surrounding region grapple with as much as 3 feet of snow, coastal flooding; leaders in New York, spared most severe weather, criticized for being overly cautious More

China Lifts Lid on Sale of Fake Goods Online

A recent survey found nearly 60 percent of a random sample of items bought from Taobao were fake More

Upward Aims to Create Old-girls Network in Silicon Valley

Lisa Lambert, an executive with Intel Corp.'s venture-capital unit, responds to the gender-disparity debate by creating a new social organization More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid