The other day, I briefly touched on a TED talk by Cary Fowler about protecting the future of our food through seed banks. It was an interesting, albeit slightly alarming view of the genetic diversity that we’ve lost, particularly over the last 200 years.
This week, I read this article on traditional English foods in The Guardian. I thought that they tied together beautifully, particularly given this passage:
“Modern varieties [of plants] are like highly trained athletes. They go very well but they’re very highly tuned, and therefore if something goes wrong then they fail quickly. Whereas these old varieties are more like a donkey – more resilient but may not go quite as fast.” We discard these hardy plodders at our peril.”
There has been quite a lot of talk about the impact that climate change will have on genetic diversity, but, in my view, not enough on how genetic diversity may help us to weather climate change. We currently grow so many monoculture crops, in terms of both species and usage of farmland (think of the US corn belt, for example), and we have bred so many of our current agricultural crops to suit current climate conditions. True, we could probably continue to do this again as the impacts of climate change are felt. But retaining a wide variety of genetic material with which to do this is imperative. And this is why facilities like the NorGen storage space in Svalbard, in conjunction with farmers and producers growing heirloom crops and reinvigorating traditional foods and cooking methods are so very important (not to mention the huge variety of flavours and experiences that we would miss without them).
If you’re interested in reading more, another starting point other than the TED talk and the article above is some of the work that has been done by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). You can access their libraries here.