On Friday, October 31st the Pittsboro-based Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI) published proceedings from “Seeds and Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture,” a summit held March 5-7, 2014 in Washington, DC. The summit, its first convening since 2003, brings together plant breeders, seed industry experts, farmers, activists, policy makers, academics and others to address the crisis of declining seed biodiversity and recommend actions to reverse the trend, which they assert has reached a level of critical threat to farming and, ultimately, to the national and global food supply.
Appealing for a “renaissance of resilience” in addressing the need for increased public access to a wider range of cultivars and breeds that are adapted to different geographical environments, the report stresses the impact of climate change on regional approaches to agriculture, as well as the negative effect of increasing corporate control over seed choice, what RAFI Executive Director Scott Marlow calls “a clear wake-up call.”
Furthermore, Marlow adds,
Protecting our agricultural genetic heritage and expanding crop diversity is not only essential to the future viability of family farms. Public seed and breed development programs provide the most cost-effective long-term approach to address climate change, global food security, and the many other challenges to our agricultural system that the future holds. How we address these crises will be critical to nothing less than the long-term survival of our species.
The crisis affects North Carolina farmers and eaters in ways that are unique to locality. According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition,
farmers in many regions of the country currently rely on seeds that were bred for other regions of the country or that no longer meet changing climatic growing conditions and pest and disease pressures. Without renewed funding for the development of publicly available plant varieties, our farmers will be at a competitive disadvantage and struggle to meet the future challenges related to climate change and food security, and less able to take advantage of economic opportunities within the value-added, artisanal, organic, and local and regional food markets.
- Our current agricultural systems are increasingly vulnerable to weather and pest disruptions due to the decline of agro-biodiversity in our commercial seed choices. This vulnerability is especially important as we face shifting and unpredictable climatic conditions.
- Public cultivars developed through classical breeding techniques are an extremely successful and powerful public asset and critical to addressing the increasing vulnerability of our agricultural systems. The lack of adequate funding and loss of institutional capacity have significantly reduced our ability for this critical public cultivar development.
- Consolidation and concentration in the ownership of seeds have caused negative impacts on cultivar development, genetic diversity and farmer choice.
- The adoption of utility patents has caused a decline of farmer and researcher access to and innovation in the development and adaptation of elite cultivars.
- The number of public cultivar developers continues its decades-long decline, increasing the urgency for renewed institutional capacity to support the next generation of public plant breeders.
- New and innovative partnerships and models for collaboration are critical to address more regionalized and participatory approaches to public cultivar development.
- Public germplasm collections and the genetic resource conservation system lack adequate funding to steward our genetic heritage, and facilitate democratic access.
- Develop a comprehensive national plan to restore funding and institutional capacity for the development of public plant and animal varieties.
- Encourage and reward agro-biodiversity on farms and in our commercial seed choices in order to increase resilience against shifting and unpredictable climatic conditions.
- Address the negative impacts of consolidation and concentration in the ownership of seeds by empowering farmers to save and own seeds and encouraging more independent regional seed companies.
- Increase farmer and researcher access to innovation in the development of elite cultivars, and confront the negative impacts of utility patents and restrictive licenses.
- Increase the number of public cultivar developers in each of the seven US climatic regions with a focus on renewing institutional capacity to support future public plant breeders.
- Create new, innovative partnerships and models to address regionalized and participatory approaches to public cultivar development.
- Strengthen and democratize public germplasm collection systems and
- address germplasm access and sharing at an international level.
- Commit adequate resources to determine critically missing data, budgets and baseline information to better articulate both the challenges and the solutions ahead.
- Build greater public awareness of the importance of public cultivar development and of the positive solutions mapped out by this national summit. We can do this best by expanding our regional communities of seed advocates and identifying on-the-ground regional priorities and challenges to ensure that our solutions meet the needs of stakeholders in each region.
Digital copies of the full report are available to download via RAFI’s website and by following the links below. The report will be released in a print edition in December of this year.