Crop diversity is insurance for the future, says agricultural expert

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The ITPGRFA session will discuss the need to develop climate-resilient foodgrain varieties

The ITPGRFA session will discuss the need to develop climate-resilient foodgrain varieties

The ninth session of the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) will start on Monday in New Delhi. The session will discuss the need to develop climate-resistant food grain varieties and draft a roadmap for the exchange of scientific information on plant genetic resources to increase crop production and productivity.

Talk to The Hindu, Kent Nnadozie, secretary of the ITPGRFA, said the treaty was negotiated to respond to the loss of crop diversity. “We kept losing different crops and different varieties over the years. This convention aims to create a framework to ensure that plant breeders and farmers have access to crop diversity and can breed new varieties to meet the challenges of climate change and also to increase productivity. The convention also aims to ensure that the benefits arising from the use of planting material are shared equitably, where farmers and countries that contribute to the development of new crops also benefit from the use of crop diversity” , said Dr. Nadozie.

The ITPGRFA has been in existence for over 20 years. It has evolved and developed different mechanisms to ensure the implementation of objectives such as farmers’ access to new conservation methods and benefit sharing. “The negotiations were blocked because we could not reach an agreement and a consensus. During this session, we will resume formal negotiations to improve the system,” he said.

“Key improvement”

The main improvement expected by the ITPGRFA concerns the integration of more cultures within the framework of the treaty. “There are 64 crops that are listed in the appendix. We want to expand the list to include all crops vital to food security. Farmers have contributed to the development of these crop varieties. But they do not directly benefit from the commercial advantages,” he added. The treaty formally recognizes farmers’ rights. A member country requires to put in place measures or laws or mechanisms that would facilitate or recognize the rights.

The conflict in Ukraine, he added, showed that there was an interconnectedness between all countries. He said the conflict had had a huge impact on global supply chains. “We are concerned about conserving the diversity of food grain crops. Ukraine has a great diversity of wheat. The conflict threatens wheat diversity in Ukraine. Once the diversity of culture is lost, it is lost forever. This exposes humanity’s common vulnerability to shocks like this. Issues concerning the diversity of cultures are an international issue that requires international cooperation,” he said.

The world depends on a narrow range of crops for nutrition and energy supply, he said. “The narrower the range of crops, the more vulnerable they are, especially to disease, major environmental crises, or man-made crises, including conflict. To increase the resilience of the system, we should have wider range cultures that can work as a fallback or buffer system. Cultural diversity is our insurance policy for the future,” he added.

“We need heat and drought tolerant varieties that can grow in arid or salty conditions. Millets have very nutritious qualities than the cereals we currently use. But they are less used in countries and societies. There is a need to increase research and production on other crops. Countries need to put in place a combination of measures to grow millet, including tax support for farmers to grow millet. Many subsidies are given to the cultivation of maize as it is used for industrial and commercial purposes. But for food security and for the resilience of the food system, fiscal measures and research must be encouraged in the field of millet cultivation. We need deliberate steps in this direction,” he said.

“But for food security and for the resilience of the food system, fiscal measures and research must be encouraged in the field of millet cultivation”Kent NnadozieITPGRFA Secretary

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