The stores of seeds in a “doomsday” vault in the Norwegian Arctic are growing as researchers rush to preserve 100,000 crop varieties from potential extinction.
The seeds are going to be critical for protecting the global food supply against devastating crop losses as a result of climate change, said Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.
“These resources stand between us and catastrophic starvation,” Fowler said. “You can’t imagine a solution to climate change without crop diversity.”
That’s because the crops being used by farmers will not be able to evolve quickly enough on their own to adjust to predicted drought, rising temperatures and new pests and diseases, he said.
One recent study found that corn yields in Africa will fall by 30 percent by 2030 unless heat-resistant varieties are developed, Fowler said.
“Evolution is in our control,” he said in an interview. “It’s in our seed bank. You take traits form different varieties and make new ones.”
That process takes about 10 years. But Fowler said his organization is hoping to speed up the development of new varieties by cataloguing the genetic traits of the seeds that it stores.
Fowler said the Global Crop Diversity Trust has agreements with 49 institutes in 46 countries to rescue some 53,000 of the 100,000 crop samples identified as endangered.