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Press Release: Food Systems Won't Adapt to Climate Change Without Seed Diversity - Report warns that urgent action needed to revive disappearing diversity and knowledge

16. October 2013

    Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, the Gaia Foundation & the African Biodiversity Network


    Global food systems will struggle to adapt to climate change unless urgent action is taken to increase seed diversity, warn advocacy and environmental groups. In a new report released on World Food Day, the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA), Gaia Foundation and African Biodiversity Network (ABN) highlight that the loss of 75% of the world's agricultural diversity in recent decades means that crop varieties that could help farmers to adapt to new climate conditions may not be available when needed.


    In 'Seeds for Life: Scaling Up Agrobiodiversity', the authors give a stark warning that without access to a wide gene pool of crops, farmers will be unable to spread their risk, or breed new varieties to adapt to changing weather patterns. The report emphasizes that the solutions for climate change adaptation do not rest with agribusiness corporations, who sell relatively few varieties, and the development of modern agricultural methods and marketing which are chiefly responsible for the disappearance of global crop diversity. Instead, urgent action must be taken to support farmers to revive their seed saving practices and knowledge, and to keep this diversity alive and accessible in fields today and for the future.


    "Too many farmers grow the same one or two varieties of purchased seed," says Christine Campeau, EAA's food campaign coordinator. "But if the rains come too early or too late, too much or not at all, the entire crop may fail. As climate change increasingly hits agriculture, many farmers are realizing that the seeds varieties that they grew, saved but then abandoned decades ago are the very varieties that they need now."


    With the introduction of agribusiness seeds since the so-called 'Green Revolution' of the 1960s, farming practices around the world have changed significantly. "Farmers used to plant dozens of different crops, and they were constantly saving the seed, developing and adapting new varieties so as to deal with many different challenges of soil, pests, disease, nutrition and flavor," adds Ruth Nyambura of ABN. "But that incredible wealth of diversity, and the know-how that went with it, has all but disappeared from farms in Europe and North America in recent decades. Now farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America are under pressure to follow suit, and to abandon their locally-adapted seeds for corporate varieties."


    "This is our wake-up call. It should shock us all to think of the crop diversity that our generation inherited from our farming ancestors, and how we have carelessly squandered this incalculable gift," adds Teresa Anderson of the Gaia Foundation. "We know that climate change is only going to get worse. If we do not take action to revive seed diversity and seed-saving knowledge in the hands of farmers, we will be leaving a disastrously narrow gene pool from which future generations will struggle to farm and eat."


    Notes to Editors


    1. The report 'Seeds for Life: Scaling Up Agrobiodiversity' produced by EAA, the Gaia Foundation and ABN will be released on Wednesday, 16 October 2013 and can be found here.
    2. For photos and more information contact:
    3. The recent 5th Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gives a stark warning that climate change is having, and will have, increasingly catastrophic impacts – particularly on climate change.
    4. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 2010 report 'State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture' estimates that 75% of the world's crop diversity has disappeared.
    5. Africa is under particular pressure to copy industrialized countries' seed laws, which encourage farmers to shift from seed saving to purchasing corporate seed and fertilizer. Initiatives that promote this change include the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and pressure through Africa's regional bodies such as COMESA, SADC and ARIPO to 'harmonize' seed laws that promote corporate seed and inhibit farmers' rights to save seed. The G8's New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition obliges African countries to make these changes in their seed laws as a condition for participation in the New Alliance.
    6. Initiatives that extract farmers' seed diversity to store in seed banks cannot work unless they work closely with the farmers to keep the diversity constantly alive in fields. This is to ensure that there is always seed available in sufficient quantities to meet the needs of the many farmers who may face new challenges from climate change, and that there is enough germplasm from which to adapt new varieties. For examples of effective community seed bank networks, see 'Seeds for Life: Scaling Up Agrobiodiversity.'
    7. The 'Seeds of Life: Scaling Up Agrobiodiversity' report builds on the Gaia Foundation/ ABN film 'Seeds of Freedom' narrated by Jeremy Irons, and the EAA report 'Scaling up Agroecology.'


    16 October is World Food Day, also known as "Global Day of Action for Food Sovereignty." This also marks the end of Seed Freedom Fortnight (2-16 October) which began on Gandhi's birthday, and is a global celebration of seed diversity and farmers' sovereignty over their food systems. It is also part of the Churches Week of Action on Food (13-20 October 2013), an annual focus for churches and Christian organizations around the world to act and speak out together on food justice issues.

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance is a broad international network of churches and Christian organizations cooperating in advocacy on food and HIV and AIDS. The Alliance is based in Geneva, Switzerland. For more information, see http://www.e-alliance.ch/

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