The swarm of media attention focusing on today's opening of the Global Seed Vault in Norway's high Arctic may overshadow an even bigger news story. Yesterday, 26 February, the Norwegian government pledged to give 0.1% of money spent on commercial seed sales to support Farmers' Rights, and challenged other governments to do the same. The critical message is that even the most secure gene bank storage is not the ultimate solution. Governments must provide support to farmers to improve local conservation and breeding, and help them obtain access to far away seed accessions. Global food security depends upon a coherent in situ (on-farm) and ex situ (gene bank) strategy. The need to support farmers' on-farm conservation and breeding work is urgent.
On the occasion of the opening of the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, Norway, ETC Group releases a new Communiqué, "Svalbard's Doomsday Vault: The Global Seed Vault Raises Political/Conservation Debate."
Issue: The opening of the Global Seed Vault in Norway's high Arctic February 26 closes a 30-year campaign for a World Gene Bank - and opens an overdue debate on the State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources and the need to support on-farm conservation strategies.
Stakes: Less than a third of the 6.5 million seed samples now in storage are probably unique. Of these, perhaps two-thirds are in urgent need of regeneration. While the Global Seed Vault is a step in the right direction, many vital ex situ gene banks are in desperate straits. As much as half of the world's crop diversity may still be in farmers' fields protected only by the family and the community.
Policies: Serious work is needed on the implementation of the rolling plan of action for the conservation of plant genetic resources. The next meeting of the Governing Body for the FAO Treaty should devote special attention to the issue of in situ conservation and the urgent need for a financial facility to support this conservation. The Governing Body should also address the issue of accession duplication as it relates to the Global Seed Vault. Later this year, ETC Group will release additional studies that examine the relationship between the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the International Seed Treaty.
Forum: Agriculture is on the agenda of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development in May and at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Bonn in May. Although the Governing Body of the FAO Treaty won't meet until early 2009, the opening of the Global Seed Vault affords an opportunity for governments and farmers' organizations to commit to establishing a long-term strategy for the conservation and utilization of plant genetic resources on the farm.