Banking on Crop Diversity for Food Security in the Face of Climate Change

The Crop Trust and the Government of Norway are launching a multi-million-dollar initiative to improve food security and climate resilience globally.

“This forward-thinking project will not only support seed conservation, but will also strengthen the linkages between genebanks and the seed systems that farmers depend on to adapt food systems to climate change,” says Ola Westengen, Associate Professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU).

Climate change is putting the livelihoods, health and wellbeing of millions at stake. Conserving and harnessing our crop diversity, the foundation of agriculture, is the basis for developing crops and farming systems that are resilient to the devastating effects of the climate crisis and ensuring food security and nutrition for those most vulnerable.

This project, “Biodiversity for Opportunities, Livelihoods and Development,” or BOLD, funded at USD 58 million over 10 years, will help safeguard crop diversity in genebanks, and facilitate its use by breeders, smallholder farmers and researchers to develop new crop varieties—an essential first step to secure a sufficient, healthy food supply for all.

“Crop diversity is the backbone of agriculture,” says Crop Trust Executive Director Stefan Schmitz. “And seeds have never been more important—there is no more urgent time to save what’s left of our crop diversity, and use it.”

BOLD builds on the major success of the Crop Wild Relatives Project (CWR Project), which was also funded by the Government of Norway. The CWR Project was a pioneering effort in developing new climate-resilient crop varieties. Over the past 10 years, it has enhanced the capacity of 25 national genebanks around the world to collect and conserve the diversity found in wild plants related to crops and developed pioneering partnerships spanning 50 countries to use wild relative diversity to help prepare 19 crops to combat the effects of climate change.

Overcoming obstacles related to seed systems is a key component of the project, one which will be led by Ola Westengen. “Resilient seed systems are at the core of resilient food systems,” says Westengen. “In this project we will together with seeds system actors in the countries, co-develop and test models to strengthen the connections between genebanks and the seed systems farmers use.” 

BOLD will extend support to 15 national genebanks to better conserve and use their crop diversity, expand on the most successful pre-breeding partnerships of the CWR Project, and strengthen linkages between genebanks and seed systems. It will also support genebanks to safety-duplicate their invaluable collections and store them in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

“Biodiversity is crucial for sustainable food systems. This understanding is part of the reason for Norway’s establishment of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault,” says Minister for International Development Dag-Inge Ulstein. “We are pleased to support BOLD as it effectively translates conservation of crop diversity in genebanks into development outcomes related to food security.”

The Crop Trust-led project will support the International Plant Treaty, an important international legal instrument ratified by 148 countries around the world, which provides the legal basis for the sharing of seeds and the benefits that arise from the use of those seeds in training, research and breeding. It also partners with the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU).

Published 29. October 2021 - 12:44 - Updated 29. October 2021 - 15:18