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Global Trust set up to save crops

G-Online

Conservation

wheat

Credit: Wikimedia

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BRISBANE: Thousands of food crop varieties on the brink of extinction are set to be rescued, improving the world's food security and combating world hunger, according to the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

The project*, which was set up in 2007 with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Australian-based Grains Research and Development Foundation, aims to preserve 100 000 rare varieties of crops like rice, maize, wheat, bananas, potatoes and lentils.

Even though many of these endangered varieties are no longer commonly grown by farmers, preserving their genetic diversity may help breeders to select out new strains that are able to withstand pests, degraded soils, or changes in climate.

"Genetic diversity is the raw material for the improvement of crops, so that they will yield more, and more reliably, in the future," said Luigi Guarino, the Trust's senior science coordinator. "It is also what allows farmers to react to changes in market and environmental conditions."

Breeding these new varieties requires access to a wide range of old ones - the widely-used Sonalika wheat, for example, was bred using seeds from 17 countries.

The Trust was originally launched because there no reliable source of funding available to ensure that seed banks could carry out their work year after year, Guarino said.

If a seed bank ran out of money, or if external pressures like civil war or natural disasters forced the closure of the bank, then all its rare varieties would be lost for good.

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