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Gates Foundation Grant to fund Global Crop Diversity Trust Project

17 May 2007

The most generous crop biodiversity preservation grant ever will fund a project to save crops which are neglected by modern plant breeding but of particular importance to the poor.

Director of the Trust, Cary Fowler said “It will secure at-risk collections in poor countries and document their astonishing diversity, making it available to meet the food needs of the poor.”

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President of the Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program said “Our effort to help hundreds of millions of small farmers and their families overcome poverty and hunger rests in part on food security.  But there can be no food security without first securing the basis of our food production – the genetic diversity of every crop, in particular those most important to the poor that unfortunately are neglected by modern plant breeding.”

The initiative aims to secure over 95 percent of the endangered crop diversity held in developing country genebanks and aid the implementation of the new UN Food and Agriculture Organization's International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources.

Some of the funds will finance research into inexpensive conservation techniques for crops that are difficult to cultivate and reduce conservation costs by 75 percent, improving the security of the collections of such crops.

The grant will also fund a global information system allowing plant breeders to search genebanks worldwide for strains that can survive diseases and cope with climate change. The facility will include 4,000,000 samples of more than 2,000 species of more than 150 crops—amounting to 85 percent of the diversity of all agricultural crops.

“By providing access to crop genetic information, plant breeders across Africa may be able to adapt their crops to varieties that will grow in different climate conditions. Investing in this future may help stave off potential catastrophic damage to some agricultural systems due to climate change.” explained Timothy E. Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation.

Erik Solheim, Norway’s Minister of International Development said “It is virtually impossible to exaggerate the importance of crop diversity. It is a vital part of the solution to many of the world’s great challenges, from environmental conservation to climate change and food security”

The new initiative also ensures that the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is able to receive and preserve at least 450,000 distinct seed samples from international agricultural research centres and developing countries. Due to open in March 2008 the depository is chiselled out of the Arctic permafrost in Svalbard, Norway and serves as a last resort for agricultural diversity.

Finally, of the total grant, $15 million will go to the Trust’s endowment. Its proceeds will be used to maintain the collections of the 21 most important crops.

“Rescue and salvage operations are the beginning. The Trust’s endowment will ensure the health and availability of these collections in perpetuity,” Fowler said.


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