Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Fwd: [SANET-MG] SOS save our seeds

Expand Messages
  • Jeff Gold
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 3, 2005
      >http://www.i-sis.org.uk/SaveOurSeeds.phpISIS Press Release 01/08/05
      >SOS: Save Our Seeds
      >Dr. Mae-Wan Ho warns of new dangers posed by genetic engineering to the
      >world's gene banks, already in jeopardy from years of under-funding, and
      >stresses the importance of in situ conservation and seed saving in local
      >communities for sustainable food systems and food security
      >Sources for this report are available in the ISIS members site. Full
      >details here
      >World genebanks and food security in jeopardy
      >Deteriorating conditions in the world's crop gene banks pose “a major
      >threat to US agriculture,” says a new study published by the University of
      >California Genetic Resources Conservation Program [1]. The report,
      >Securing the Future of U.S. Agriculture: The Need to Conserve Collections
      >of Crop Diversity Worldwide , notes that nearly every major crop in the
      >United States - including soybeans, corn, wheat, rice, potatoes, oranges
      >and apples - is battling a plethora of new or re-merging pests to which
      >there is little or no resistance. Failure to adequately maintain crop
      >genebank collections “could constrain agriculture's ability to avert
      >billions of dollars in crop damage.”
      >These genebanks provide the diversity needed to enable the crops “to stay
      >one step ahead of pests”, and also to improve quality, nutritional value,
      >and yield. But lack of funding has left many of the collections in a state
      >of decay.
      >Just prior to the publication of the report, Nobel Peace Prize laureate
      >Norman Borlaug was warning the world of a new rust epidemic from East
      >Africa, that, if it gets loose in Asia, North America, South America and
      >Australia, would infect half of all our grain varieties, and the stage
      >would be set for a major disaster. This calls for ongoing research. “But
      >when you haven't had a major epidemic in 52 years, complacency becomes a
      >problem.” Borlaug said.
      >Underlying the almost $200 billion value of US agriculture's production at
      >the farm level is a little known resource ­ the genebanks around the
      >world. The report, released at a congressional briefing in Washington 28
      >February 2005, noted that the collections held in gene banks “represent
      >the historic and current diversity of agriculture, without which farming
      >in the U.S. and around the world would stagnate and flounder.”
      >Qualset and Henry L. Shands, director of the USDA/Agricultural Research
      >Service's National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation, were
      >co-authors of the report.
      >At the World Food Day symposium on 19 October 2004, United Nations Food
      >and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf
      >delivered a similar message on the importance of genebanks [2]. He said
      >that global efforts to conserve plants and animals in genebanks, botanical
      >gardens and zoos are vital to maintaining global biodiversity and
      >promoting food security worldwide. In fact, the theme of the 24 th annual
      >World Food Day was “Biodiversity for Food Security”.
      >Worldwide, there are nearly 5.4 million crop samples in 1 470 gene banks
      >[3]. These are important repositories for conserving seeds and germplasm,
      >as agricultural biodiversity has been severely eroded under industrial
      >monoculture practised over the latter half of the last century [2] (see
      >Box 1). Lack of biodiversity leaves major crops vulnerable to disease,
      >causing famines and starvation. The Irish Potato famine in the 1830s was
      >one example, when the Phytophthora potato blight destroyed the entire
      >crop, as the farmers grew only one variety, and there was no genetic
      >diversity in seed banks or elsewhere to fall back on. Gene banks also play
      >a vital role in maximizing the use of wild and cultivated varieties in
      >crop improvement through selective breeding.
      >Box 1
      >Loss of agricultural biodiversity from industrial monoculture
      >FAO estimates that about 75 percent of the genetic diversity of
      >agricultural crops had been lost during the last century. Farmers in the
      >United States grew more than 7 000 varieties of apples in the 1800s; by
      >the end of the 1900s, all but 300 were extinct. In 1949, farmers in China
      >grew 10 000 varieties of wheat; by the 1970s, they grew just 1000. Similar
      >losses of maize varieties have occurred in Mexico and of rice varieties in
      >India. Of 6 500 animal breeds known today, almost one third are threatened
      >or already extinct.
      >Genebanks have been in major trouble for some years; there simply is not
      >enough money for gene banks to fulfil even their basic conservation role,
      >let alone their other role of maximising the use of wild and domesticated
      >varieties for crop breeding and improvement.
      >When dried and kept cold, some seeds will last for 30 years or longer.
      >Others have to be grown out regularly and harvested to keep seeds fresh
      >and alive. Tubers, roots and cuttings for plants can be kept in test
      >tubes, usually as tissue culture, and periodically regenerated. All these
      >cannot be done without money. Without proper care, existing seed stock
      >will eventually lose its viability.
      >Prof. Jeff Waage of Imperial College's department of agricultural sciences
      >in London, UK, had earlier reported to the United Nations World Summit on
      >Sustainable Development in August 2002 [3], that although the number of
      >plant samples held in crop diversity collections has increased by 65
      >percent, genebank budgets have been cut back in 25 percent of the
      >countries and remained the same in another 35 percent.
      >Waage's report said that one in 12 of the world's 250 000 species of
      >flowering plants are likely to disappear before 2025. A chief culprit is
      >modern agriculture, particularly when forests are cleared to create
      >farmland. “Among the losses are the wild relatives of domesticated plants
      >with as yet untapped potential,” said the report. These include wheat,
      >soya beans, tomatoes, coffee and grapes
      >To add to the trouble, war in developing countries had destroyed some
      >vital centres, other have their electricity cut off, so rare seeds are not
      >kept in cool conditions required. Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia and Romania
      >have all lost their genebanks. Albania, Fiji and Nigeria have lost part of
      >their collections.
      >In response to the crisis in gene banks, the Global Crop Diversity Trust
      >was launched at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in 2002 (Box 2).
      >Box 2
      >Global Crop Diversity Trust
      >The Global Crop Diversity Trust was set up in 2002 at the World Summit for
      >Sustainable Development as a type 2 (public-private partnership) involving
      >the FAO and the 15 “Future Harvest Centres” of the Consultative Group on
      >International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) [4, 5]. It hopes to raise
      >US$260 million required to protect the world's most important crop
      >species; so far, only $56 million has been committed. Among the first
      >grants are to the N.I. Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry (VIR)
      >based in St. Petersburg, established and named after the famous Russian
      >plant geneticist Nicolai Vavilov, which now holds around 95 000 accessions
      >of grain crops, over 43 000 legumes and 50 000 vegetables. Nikolai Vavilov
      >was one of the first and most prolific collectors of plant seeds; he made
      >more than 100 collecting missions around the world between 1915 and 1930,
      >and was responsible for the idea of “centres of origin” for regions with a
      >high diversity of species.
      >Genetic engineering the new threat
      >A new threat to genebanks has surfaced in the events surrounding the
      >forced merger in 2002 of Italy's gene bank in Bari ­ among the world's ten
      >largest ­ with much smaller centres involved in genetic modification of
      >crop plants (“Italy's gene bank at risk”, this series).
      >Although by far the biggest institution in the merger, its director since
      >1982, Prof. Pietro Perrino, was sidelined in the competition for the
      >directorship of the merged institute, which went instead, to a professor
      >in Naples who has yet to move to Bari. Perrino was downgraded to “manager”
      >of Bari's germplasm collection of 84 000 accessions. But right from the
      >first, it was obvious that the new director has little or no interest in
      >preserving the collection. Things came to a head when the cooling system
      >broke down and the director refused to have it repaired. In desperation,
      >Perrino resorted to the law court to have the collection placed under his
      >custody in order to have the cooling system repaired. But damages to the
      >collection may have already occurred.
      >Perrino and his supporters are convinced that the new director and the
      >“pro-GM lobby” are not at all interested in conserving the collection, but
      >are using it as a pretext for getting research funding for genetic
      >modification. More than that, Perrino and his supporters suspect that the
      >pro-GM lobby and the GM giants really would like to see the collection
      >This sounds far-fetched until one gets inside the genetic engineer's
      >mindset. To a genetic engineer, DNA is all. Once a genome sequence is
      >known and deposited in a database, and the DNA of the plant genome
      >deposited in a DNA biobank, then the seed or plant is really of little or
      >no interest. After all, DNA sequences of any gene can easily be
      >synthesized in the laboratory and used to transform existing crop plants
      >to make any desired GM variety, be it herbicide tolerance, insect
      >resistance, salt or drought tolerance, improved nutritional properties,
      >increase in yield, etc., at least in theory. That is precisely the same
      >mentality that motivates “gene-hunting” of indigenous tribes threatened
      >with extinction, so as to preserve their DNA before they become extinct,
      >“for the good of humanity”.
      >Unfortunately, we can no more resurrect a plant from its DNA than
      >reconstruct an extinct indigenous tribe with its distinctive language,
      >knowledge and culture that constitute an entire way of life.
      >This exclusive emphasis on DNA is misplaced even for genetic engineers,
      >especially those using marker-assisted selective breeding on existing
      >lines to enable them to identify useful traits [6]. The genetic markers
      >can be identified through screening the DNA; but the plants themselves
      >will still be needed for cross-breeding.
      >An additional disincentive for proponents of GM to preserve germplasm in
      >seed banks is that they are considered the natural heritage of the earth,
      >if not of the human species, and cannot be patented for commercial
      >exploitation if there is no genetic modification or gene isolation
      >involved (see the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food
      >and Agriculture, Box 3). So, as far as agribusiness is concerned, they are
      >of no commercial value, or indeed of negative commercial value, as seed or
      >germplasm collection allows farmers to do their own selective breeding for
      >improving crops and livestock, instead of having to purchase patented
      >seeds from the companies and pay royalties. That would reverse the
      >corporate serfdom being imposed on farmers all over the world (see SiS
      >26), and that's precisely the reason why gene banks are important,
      >particularly if farmers can get ready access to their collections (see below).
      >Box 3
      >International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
      >This treaty is the outcome of the International Undertaking (IU) on Plant
      >Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture adopted by the FAO conference
      >in 1983. Starting in 1996, the IU was revised through negotiations to make
      >it compatible with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and
      >renamed the International Treaty (IT). Negotiations were finalized in
      >November 2001, and the IT was hailed by FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf
      >[2] as “a triumph for the indigenous farmers, herders, forest dwellers and
      >fishing communities of the world.” It establishes a multilateral system of
      >access and benefit sharing to ensure that plant genetic resources of the
      >greatest importance to food security are readily available for use now and
      >in the future, and that any benefits are shared with the countries in
      >which they originated. It also establishes a mechanism to ensure that
      >researchers worldwide have access to those resources. Critics note
      >however, that it does not go far enough in protecting our common heritage
      >from commercial exploitation and patenting (“Science for the poor, or
      >procurer for the rich?” SiS 15). The United States is a signatory to the
      >treaty, which entered into force in June 2004.
      >In situ conservation against corporate serfdom
      >Apart from the ex situ conservation, in situ conservation - maintaining
      >biodiversity on farms and in nature ­ is equally important, if not more
      >so, for counteracting corporate serfdom.
      >Jacque Diouf himself has stressed the importance of in situ conservation
      >[2]. “The responsibility for conserving agrobiodiversity on farms in a
      >great part of the world usually belongs to women farmers who traditionally
      >harvest and conserve crop seeds from season to season.” Said Diouf. “This
      >local agrodiversity is particularly important for the resilience of
      >farming systems and communities in emergencies or humanitarian crises,
      >such as those that affected more than 45 million people last year.” He
      >pointed out that most of the earth's genetic diversity is found in the
      >poor countries in the developing world; and that “it is imperative that
      >those most responsible for its development and its preservation - the
      >indigenous people who maintain the farms, the herds, the forests and the
      >fishing areas - are both respected and rewarded for their efforts.”
      >In situ conservation and seed saving by local communities themselves is
      >the key to recovering and safeguarding local agricultural biodiversity for
      >genuinely sustainable food systems that involves local production and
      >consumption, and restores self-sufficiency and autonomy to farmers and the
      >local communities.
      >“There used to be many local variety seeds not only for food crops such as
      >rice and corn, but also for beans/legumes and fruit trees.” Says Hira
      >Jhamtani of Konphalindo, Indonesia, a public interest organisation
      >involved in promoting sustainable agriculture. “The problem is that the
      >knowledge is dying with the old farmers, and the younger generation has no
      >comprehensive knowledge on seed conservation, nor do they seem to be
      >interested. This is where scientists can play a role in documenting local
      >seed varieties and reviving seed breeding among the younger generations
      >based and rooted in local knowledge. The local know-how still exists in
      >many places in Indonesia (and also the Philippines), the question is how
      >to regenerate the biodiverse agricultural-base and revitalise this
      >knowledge through community based activities.”
      >Neth Dano, associate of Third World Network in the Philippines, who has
      >worked with local communities to develop sustainable agriculture for many
      >years, is less than happy about a blanket call to increase funding for
      >genebanks. “The genebank/ ex situ strategy should not be seen as a
      >stand-alone genetic conservation strategy but should complement the
      >in-situ /on-farm strategies of communities, institutions and civil
      >society.” Says Dano, “This would require genebank scientists working
      >closely with farmers and indigenous peoples in seeds conservation on
      >farm. Increase funding for genebanks should be tied to increased funding
      >for in-situ /on-farm conservation and utilization efforts.” This will
      >ensure that the genebanks will not just conserve genetic resources for
      >corporate agriculture, but first and foremost for world food security and
      >the livelihood of those who have nurtured and are dependent on these
      >genetic resources.
      >“We also have to take note that there are many cases when the ex situ
      >conservation is not relevant at all, as in the case of the Least Developed
      >Countries which cannot even afford to pay for electricity to keep the
      >genebanks running after these have been built through grants or even loans
      >that the future generation will have to pay.” Dano adds.
      >She also points out that even if most or all of the collections in the
      >CGIAR genebanks are not patented, as they are “common heritage of
      >mankind”, they remain inaccessible to farmers especially if traditional
      >breeds have already been lost. Genebanks should make every effort to
      >ensure that their collections are accessible to the farmers and indigenous
      >peoples who need them, as most of the materials were collected by
      >scientists from farming and indigenous communities in the first
      >place. There must be concrete mechanisms to inform farmers and to
      >facilitate farmers' access to these materials.
      >Seed-saving against corporate serfdom
      >Seed saving is an important activity that does not have to wait for
      >massive funding, and many local communities have already started to do
      >just that, to make sure they conserve what they still have, and not to
      >depend on genebanks.
      >For example, the Henry Doubleday Research Association in the UK with 30
      >000 members are a major seed saver for organic gardening and farming,
      >although it is not a gene bank. Its Heritage Seed Library conserves and
      >makes available to members European vegetable varieties that are not
      >widely available. Currently, 700 accessions of open-pollinated varieties
      >are held, of which about 200 are in its Seed Catalogue sent free to
      >members ( http://www.hdra.org.uk/hsl/index.htm ).
      >Navdanya (“Nine seeds”) started by Dr. Vandana Shiva of the Research
      >Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in India is active not only
      >in seed saving but also in revitalising indigenous knowledge and culture,
      >in creating awareness on the hazards of genetic engineering, and in
      >defending people's knowledge from biopiracy and people's food rights in
      >the face of globalisation. It has its own seed bank and organic farm over
      >an area of 20 acres in Uttranchal, north India ( http://www.navdanya.org/ ).
      >In Ireland, Anita Hayes founded the Irish Seed Savers Association (ISSA)
      >in 1991 in her own home and garden. But with a core of willing helpers and
      >seed donations, and financial aid from government bodies and many generous
      >funders, the ISSA took off. It now has a large collection of Irish fruits,
      >cereals and vegetables ( http://www.irishseedsavers.ie/ ).
      >The Institute of Science in Society, PO Box 32097, London NW1 OXR
      >telephone: [44 20 8643 0681] [44 20 7383 3376] [44 20 7272 5636]
      >General Enquiries sam@... - Website/Mailing List
      >press-release@... - ISIS Director m.w.ho@...
      >To unsubscribe from SANET-MG:
      >1- Visit http://lists.sare.org/archives/sanet-mg.html to unsubscribe or;
      >2- Send a message to <listserv@...> from the address subscribed to
      >the list. Type "unsubscribe sanet-mg" in the body of the message.
      >Visit the SANET-MG archives at: http://lists.sare.org/archives/sanet-mg.html
      >For more information on grants and other resources available through the
      >SARE program, please visit http://www.sare.org
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.