04 January 2010

The Doomsday Farmers & Food Insurance

Excerpt from the New Scientist, 13 June 2009

'If you like potatoes, chances are you will one day owe some measure of thanks to the Quechua Indians of Peru. That's because they will be making sure that potatoes continue to be available whatever the vagaries of future climate change. The Quechua are among the first recipients of a new global fund, established last week, to make poor farmers the custodians of all the world's threatened crops.

Importantly, the move could provide valuable options should the world find itself in another food crisis.

The Peruvian farmers will be paid to look after the most diverse collection of potatoes in the world. They will try growing varieties at different altitudes and in different climatic conditions so that if today's commercially available potato varieties start to fail anywhere in the world, replacement varieties will be ready and waiting.

The aim of the new fund is to achieve the same level of readiness for all the world's staple food crops. It is a key practical element of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which aims to provide an "insurance policy" for crops. The fund has two main goals - to prevent the loss of neglected or underutilised crop varieties, and to sustain the full diversity of common crops...

By keeping as many food varieties as possible ticking over as usual on small-scale farms throughout the world, the hope is that they will be available if needed in a climate crisis, or a food shortage like last year's...the treaty has already enabled the establishment of an international vault containing 1.1 million seed varieties, which opened last year in Svalbard, Norway. The new fund aims to secure the food varieties which cannot be banked in this way, and that can only be preserved if farmers carry on growing them...'

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