I had a very unique opportunity this week to join a group of entrepreneurs, chefs, scientists, advocates, writers, policymakers (including the very inspiring President of Mauritius, Ameenah Gurib), and other food and agriculture experts to attend a luncheon at Clarence House in London, England, with His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, who serves as the Patron of the Crop Trust.The Crop Trust is an organization I have long admired, and they may be best known for the so-called Doomsday Seed Vault in Svalbard, halfway between Norway and the North Pole, which holds the largest collection of the world’s crop diversity. The collection is, needless to say, priceless, and it provides a global safety net in case of catastrophe. But the group is also doing a number of important activities to raise awareness and inspire action—including encouraging financial investment to create an endowment—to protect and preserve seeds both in seed banks and in farmers’ fields across the globe.
It’s no secret that Prince Charles has a long-standing interest in food and agriculture. His gardens at Highgrove are a monument to sustainable agriculture practices and the rich agricultural diversity of England. As a Patron of the Crop Trust, His Royal Highness is using his platform to push world leaders—and world eaters—to respect, honor, value, and most importantly protect the world’s agricultural diversity.
He says, “now, we have the world’s farmers to thank for the rich variety of foods we eat. Over many millennia they have developed, grown, and guarded the diversity of domesticated plants and animals. Every major crop now has hundreds, perhaps thousands, of different varieties, each with unique characteristics. But that very diversity is disappearing fast, as so many of you know, as changing agricultural practices sweep away what are seen as ‘old’ and ‘inefficient’ varieties, including so-called ‘orphan crops’ that were once collected from the wild rather than being planted and grown. And at the same time, the wild relatives of our crop species, which provide new and vital resources for future breeding, are left to decline unnoticed and undervalued.”
His words underscore why the Crop Trust—and the many organizations with whom they work—is so important. While thousands of gene banks exist across the world—in places as diverse as the seed collections I saw at the Africa Rice Center in Senegal a few weeks ago to collections supported by the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens in Colombia, sub-Saharan Africa, and elsewhere—the world’s global genetic diversity is at risk. Climate change and the growth of often unsustainable industrial agricultural practices, as well as urbanization, land use changes, and a host of other challenges, are threatening agricultural diversity.
It’s time, as I heard one colleague at the luncheon proclaim, to respect our elders. Plants have been on Earth for more than 380 million years, much longer than Homo sapiens or our ancestors. They keep us fed, clothed, and sheltered, an
d there’s no doubt that they make life more delicious. They need our protection, and they need it now.
As you know, Food Tank rarely asks our members and readers to donate. And it’s even rarer for us to ask you to give to another organization. But I want to encourage all of you to visit the Crop Trust’s website and donate as little as US$10 to support this vitally important mission.
As His Royal Highness says, “What we eat, and in what quantities, can be the difference between life and death. It can keep us healthy, or ruin us. And we can produce this food in harmony with the environment that sustains every aspect of our lives, or place our own survival in peril by undermining it.” Let’s head those words and take action for the world’s crops and farmers today!
(Danielle Nierenberg is President of Food Tank and an expert on sustainable agriculture and food issues. She has written extensively on gender and population, the spread of factory farming in the developing world and innovations in sustainable agriculture.)