3 years ago

The Partnership no. 13

  • Text
  • Enza
  • Tomatoes
  • Partnership
  • Zaden
  • Tomato
  • Biodiversity
  • Melon
  • Varieties
  • Flavour
  • Consumer


The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the Norwegian permafrost is a perfect example of the added value of gene banks. Gene banks However, one might ask whether breeding with cultivated varieties harms biodiversity. The gene pool of a cultivated variety is less diverse than that of its wild cousin. In fact, the reverse is true: breeders bring traits together and thus help nature create even more diversity. Furthermore, the plant breeding sector plays an essential role in the support of global gene banks. Through climate change, urbanisation and other social developments, plant genetic resources, like the ancestors of the vegetables that are so familiar to us, are at risk. Every day, species are lost. Over a hundred years ago, the first public and private gene banks were created to protect endangered plant species. Plant material, usually in the form of seeds, is stored here at a low temperature and low humidity. Such initiatives are vital for the survival and innovation of plant breeding. Breeding companies therefore support the activities of the global gene banks with their expertise. “We exchange knowledge, study how we can optimally protect biodiversity and analyse the wild material to see what traits they possess. We also support gene banks in their seed production to protect the plant genetic resources. Together, we ensure that we maintain genetic diversity within society.” National collections Gene banks thus guarantee a living environment for the plant. But this is also where the challenge lies. Every country is proud of its own biodiversity and wants to keep it for itself. The result? A vast number of national collections, with no one knowing exactly what the other country has to offer. “Each country has its own information system with traits that they record. Furthermore, many collections are not accessible to everyone and no one is exactly sure about the extent of the biodiversity. If the advantages and the potential of gene banks are not immediately visible, how can you then justify the necessity for the high, long-term investments?” Global effort The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the Norwegian permafrost is a perfect example of the added value of gene banks. The vault was set up to guarantee a backup of our plant biodiversity in the case of drought, disease or catastrophes. Many countries save a backup of their seeds in this joint gene bank. In September 2015, the first extraordinary request was made: the Syrian gene bank, formerly based in Aleppo, requested back thousands of crop samples because of the effect of the Syrian war. These samples 28 | The Partnership

are now stored in a gene bank in Lebanon to safeguard the agricultural heritage and its independent use. Fresh material will be brought back to the vault after successful regeneration. “Assuming that the doors of Svalbard are not opened for the next 200 years, the importance of this biodiversity backup showed much sooner. Once again, it demonstrates that conserving biodiversity is a global effort. Politics With growing awareness of biodiversity in society and increasing numbers of interested parties, the subject is becoming a more prominent feature on political agendas. The Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) and the Nagoya Protocol stimulate and regulate the joint protection of biodiversity, its sustainable use and fair distribution of the benefits for the use of material. But there’s still a long way to go with new international legislation. “We all agree that the protection of plant biodiversity, its use in plant breeding and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits should be a global effort. Currently the political and juridical field is scattered. Access to new germplasm is regulated by country specific laws worldwide as well as by European access and benefit-sharing regulation. Our goal is to get a uniform and practical guidance, that is accessible in English for all countries on how to access germplasm and how to negotiate the conditions of use. For many years, Enza Zaden has been actively sharing practical experiences on political platforms at Dutch, European and global level. We are going in the right direction.” The origin of biodiversity People have been breeding and selecting plants for decades. But somewhere there is an origin. Lettuce for example, originates in the Mediterranean, cucumbers and the cucumber family have their origins in India and Southeast Asia, while peppers and tomatoes come from South America. It is here where the crop once originated centuries ago that we find the greatest biodiversity for that particular crop. From the place of origin, the crop wandered all over the world, adapting through evolution to the different living conditions. In addition, farmers sometimes worked with a certain variety for a long time: they harvested the seeds and then sowed them for the new crop. This is how the many different varieties originated and how biodiversity expanded over the centuries. 1. China Chinese cabbage, onion, cucumber 2. India Eggplant, cucumber, radish 5 6b 6c 6a 4 3 2 1 3. Central Asia Onion, spinach 4. Mediterrean Sea Cabbage, lettuce, celery, radicchio 5. Southern Mexico and Central America Pepper, pumpkin 6. Northeastern South America 6a.Bolivia, 6b. Ecuador, 6c.Peru Pumpkin, tomato, pepper The Partnership | 29

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