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 Watching as North Korea Opens Biggest Political Meeting in Decades

    As Workers' Party Congress opens, Washington anticipating possibility of another missile launch or nuclear test as top officials gather

    Video Pop Icon Prince Quietly Helped Afghan Orphans for Years

    He sent thousands of dollars to help an aid group rebuild a training center for orphan boy and girl scouts in Kabul, but kept his involvement secret

    Britain’s Muslims See London Mayor Race as Victory

    Mere running of 45-year-old former government minister and son of Pakistani immigrants Sadiq Khan seen by many as turning point

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labori
    X
    May 05, 2016 6:44 PM
    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labor

    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora