Archive for the ‘Seeds’ Category

Oct13

Five Global Seed Banks That Are Protecting Biodiversity

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By Victoria Russo

Almost all food begins with a seed. Even when people eat meat or other animal products, those animals were most likely fed on grasses or grains that began as seeds. Seeds are the basis of plant life and growth, and without them, the world would go hungry.

The world is home to hundreds of thousands of species of plants, and it requires a diverse variety of seeds to satisfy nutritional and environmental needs. Today, Nourishing the Planet takes a closer look at five seed banks that aim to protect biodiversity and help feed the world.

The world requires a diverse variety of seeds to satisfy nutritional and environmental needs. (Photo Credit: jamesandeverett.com)

1. Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Project, Wakehurst, England

How many plant species can you think of? Of the roughly 400,000 known species, the Millennium Seed Bank aims to conserve 25 percent in the form of seeds by 2020. The seed bank is located on the grounds of Britain’s Royal Botanical Gardens, which were constructed by King Henry VII and are now considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Focused on conserving seeds from plants that can be used for food production, the Millennium Seed Bank currently holds seeds from over 10 percent of all plant species.

Millennium in Action

The Royal Botanical Gardens has been collecting research on seed saving since 1898 and has had a formal seed bank for 40 years. In recent years, it has concentrated on collecting seeds from environments that are most vulnerable to climate change. In addition to developing new crop varieties that are more adaptable to changing environments, the Millennium Seed Bank Project has implemented an international education program in an attempt to preserve ecosystems worldwide. A large part of its educational outreach program has taken place in rural regions of Africa, in countries including Kenya, Botswana, Burkina Faso, and Namibia. Promoting projects from nutrition to forestry to sustainable agriculture, the Millenium Seed Bank Project is working to feed the world and sustain the environment.

2. Navdanya, Uttrakhand, India

Since 1987, Vandana Shiva, who created Navdanya, has dedicated her life to protecting seed diversity. Navdanya is an agricultural research center that seeks to protect seed biodiversity and the livelihoods of small farmers. The organization believes that people should have a right to save and share seeds, and has created a seed bank that conserves only unpatented seeds.

Navdanya in Action

Since its creation, the Navdanya seed bank has conserved around 5,000 crop varieties, focusing largely on the preservation of grain species. The 54 community seed banks that Navdanya has piloted have preserved nearly 3,000 species of rice alone. In addition to protecting seed biodiversity, Navdanya aims to spread agricultural information through educational campaigns.

3. Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Svalbard, Norway

Preserving seeds for long periods of time requires extremely cold temperatures and low humidity. That’s why Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located deep in the permafrost-covered mountains of Svalbard, was deemed the ideal site for a global seed bank. Funding for the seed bank, built from the remains of an abandoned mine, was provided largely by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with the aim of permanently protecting agricultural and plant biodiversity. The vault has the capacity for 4.5 million seed samples and currently houses over 430,000 specimens, including samples from Armenia, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Tajikstan. Genetically modified organisms are allowed in the seed bank only after evaluation and approval and must be specially sealed to prevent the spread of genetic modification to other samples.

Svalbard in Action

Despite being nicknamed the “Doomsday Vault,” Svalbard is a forerunner in global environmental problem-solving and innovation, and frequently hosts events on topics related to food security and climate change. In 2009, the seed vault held an international conference on climate change and the challenges of feeding the world’s growing population. The vault also has hosted influential policymakers including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

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May10

EU Bans Class of Pesticides Thought Harmful to Bees

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By Laura Reynolds

On April 29, the European Union voted to largely ban the use of neonicotinoids, a type of pesticide, for two years beginning in December 2013. The ban had 15 member state supporters, including France, Germany, and Poland; eight opponents, including the United Kingdom; and four abstaining votes.

Neonicotinoids are a possible cause of the rapid decline in bee populations worldwide. (Photo credit: University of California)

The ban restricts the use of three pesticides—imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam—on flowering crops, which honeybees depend on for pollen and hive health. Environmental groups, beekeepers, scientists, and the public hailed the ban as a victory for the precautionary principle, which urges caution and careful scientific study in circumstances where the effects of a chemical or action on the environment are not sufficiently clear.

Neonicotinoids are thought to be particularly harmful for insects because the chemical is applied directly to a plant’s seed instead of its leaves or flowers. This makes the pesticide present in the plant’s pollen. Neonicotinoids are also persistent chemicals, meaning that they do not degrade within weeks or months, but rather remain in the nerve systems of insects, causing systemic and lasting damage.

In the United States, a coalition of beekeeping companies and environmental groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency in March over its approval of neonicotinoids for domestic use. The groups cited a lack of scientific understanding of the pesticides’ effect on bees and other insects, and drew a possible connection between the chemicals and the ongoing collapse of honeybee hives across the country and worldwide.

This bee population crisis, known as colony collapse disorder, emerged in 2005, and scientists have not yet identified a clear cause. Numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies have both confirmed and denied a link between neonicotinoids and beehive collapse. Scientists agree that viruses, mites, drought, and loss of native habitat could also be contributing to the collapse.

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Sep28

What Works: Saving Seeds

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By Carolyn Smalkowski

This post is part of a series where Nourishing the Planet asks its readers: What works? Every week we’ll ask the question and every week you can join the conversation!

Community seed saving can help farmers achieve greater independence, adapt to climate change, and rise out of poverty (Photo Credit: Navdanya)

In the last several years, many developing country governments around the world have cut federal agricultural investments within the seed sector. As a result, private seed companies promoting hybrid seeds are filling in the gaps. Farmers’ groups, however, are doing their own community seed saving so they can achieve greater independence, adapt to climate change, and rise out of poverty.

More than half of the world’s commercialized seeds are in the hands of just three companies – Monsanto, Dupont, and Syngenta. The hybrid seeds these companies promote are bred in a way that future generations of seed are unable to maintain the same qualities of the hybrid seed. As a result, farmers develop a dependency on the seeds and must re-purchase them after each growing cycle if they want production to remain stable. Hybrid crops can require more chemical inputs and water than traditional varieties.

Fortunately, organizations such as Navdanya, La Via Campesina, and ETC Group are advocating on behalf of farmers to promote farmer sovereignty through the development of local seed-saving and sustainable agricultural initiatives. Saving seeds helps contribute to food security by securing the accessibility of safe, nutritious food through community seed banks. These seed banks facilitate greater sharing among farmers and promote greater economic stability.

Community seed saving also supports local adaptive capacity by helping to conserve indigenous knowledge and culture. Farmers are more easily able to adjust to changing weather conditions due to centuries of careful seed selection and breeding.  Traditional seeds are thus more genetically diverse and environmentally resilient, which can better prepare communities for an unpredictable and changing climate.

Most importantly, “Seed saving gives farmers life,” according to activist Vandana Shiva. According to Shiva, the increased poverty and indebtedness that results from dependency on seed corporations like Monsanto led to the farmer suicide tragedies in India.  Seed saving can empower small farmers to regain sovereignty and independence so they can take control over their own futures and the futures of their families.

Do you know of any community seed saving initiatives? Have you experienced first-hand the consequences of seed commercialization? We welcome your comments below.

To read more about savings seeds, see FAO Seed Distribution and the Biopiracy Controversy, Traditional Food Crops Provide Community Resilience in Face of Climate Change, Kibera’s Vertical Farms, and From Seeds of Suicide to Seeds of Hope: Why Are Indian Farmers Committing Suicide and How Can We Stop This Tragedy?.

Carolyn Smalkowski is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

 

Sep15

From Farms to Families: Curbing Hunger in the Driest Regions

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By Hitesh Pant

This year the Convergences Conference in Paris is housing a photo exhibition that sheds light on new innovative agricultural practices that are enabling poor farmers in Africa and India to feed their families. “Innovate Against Hunger” focuses on the work of the International Center for Research in the semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and its efforts to provide improved seed varieties, empower women and smallholder farmers, and introduce sustainable agricultural practices to combat famine in some of the most arid regions on the planet.

Bounty chickpea harvests from improved seeds in Ethiopia (Photo Credit: ICRISAT)

The exhibition also shows how partnerships between farmers, local governments, NGOs, and the private sector can ensure that agricultural innovations are accessible throughout poor, remote communities.

ICRISAT’s research has helped farmers adopt new resource management techniques, increase the market demand for pest resistant varieties and reduce hunger.

Check out these pages to preview some of the images that will be part of “Innovate Against Hunger” and learn more about ICRISAT’s work:

http://www.cgiar.org/consortium-news/innovate-against-hunger-access-and-adoption-of-tools-practices-and-opportunities/

http://www.impatientoptimists.org/Posts/2012/09/PHOTOS-How-to-Help-Farmers-Fight-Hunger

Hitesh Pant is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project. 

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Sep15

Saturday Series: An Interview with Ken Dabkowski

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By Molly Redfield

In our new Saturday Series, we interview inspiring people that our readers have nominated. These people are working on the frontlines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone?  E-mail your suggestions to Danielle Nierenberg!

Name: Ken Dabkowski

Affiliation: M·CAM/Global Innovations Commons

Bio: Ken has been a part of M·CAM and the Global Innovations Commons (GIC) initiative for about 3 years. At M-CAM he helps the organization with its communications and foreign affairs. The key concept behind all M·CAM initiatives is the idea that while everyone on the planet does not have access to the same resources, everyone does have access to creativity. By expanding common threads of knowledge through GIC and connecting creative collaborators, people can bring viability to an idea. Prior to working with M·CAM, Ken worked at The Arlington Institute, a future technologies think tank located in Virginia. His work at the Arlington Institute consisted of formulating different scenarios related to the government, economy, environment, and security for communities, companies, and governments.

What exactly is the Global Innovations Commons?

The Global Innovation Commons is a worldwide repository of innovations primarily focused on agriculture, clean water, health, and clean energy. The open source repository allows anyone to compile a library of innovation that can then be applied to a greater scale collaboration either locally or globally. These innovations and ideas are then open to the rest of the world. The idea is to create a place where anyone can come in, learn about something, and then share it. That’s how all of the participants start to build a larger knowledge base. Much of what is posted includes innovation artifacts that have expired, are invalid, abandoned, or have limited geographic coverage. When descriptions of these technologies are listed, the contact information of the innovators is included. That way there can be collaborations on these new applications. One of the open source tools embedded within the Global Innovation Commons is a tool called Integral Accounting. This assessment tool takes into account different aspects of value, such as cultural value, commodity, wellbeing, technology, knowledge, and environmental impacts. Communities that want to develop certain capacities can inform their decision making process with value already present in their community and align these values with their expectations of well-being. The Integral Accounting tool is being deployed in several communities globally and provides the vital foundation for all collaborations.

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Sep07

Lost in the Bee-Line

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By Molly Redfield

Pesticides. Sprayed across vast expanses of farm land, they have become a ubiquitous part of industrial agriculture. But there may actually be more consequences to their use than we had previously predicted. A recent study headed by Chensheng Lu at Harvard University connects the rising phenomena of bee hive abandonment, known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), to the use of a family of pesticides called neonicotinoids.

Scientists believe that pesticide use is a major factor in the recent worldwide decline in bee populations (Photo credit: Robert Gutowski)

Introduced in the early 1990s, neonicotinoids are today incorporated widely in industrial agricultural operations because they are readily taken up by plants, acting quickly and effectively on crop pests. But these pesticides also affect non-target pest species. When bees forage, they are exposed to neonicotinoids that are present in both the plants vegetative tissue and the nectar they feed on.

In Lu’s study, exposure to the neonicotinoid imidacloprid is shown to impact the homing ability of honeybees. Lu and his colleagues further suggest that neonicotinoids may be one of the central causes of CCD and the subsequent massive decline in bee populations since 2006. They link this decline in the U.S. and worldwide to the emergence of genetically engineered corn seed treated with neonicotinoids. Other factors such as pathogens and declining habitats further aggravate the loss of bee populations.

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Sep04

Sol Food Mobile Farm: Leading the Food Justice Movement to your Backyard

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By Molly Redfield

The crew of Sol Mobile Farm is bringing new meaning to the term “food movement.” In June 2012, the team of four started on a sixth month trip. They would travel, they decided, from North Carolina, up the East Coast, over to the West Coast, down to the South, and then back again in a 57 passenger red school bus. Along this distance, which covers over 11,000 kilometers, the crew would stop at farmers markets, schools, and community centers in order to spread knowledge about sustainable living and the possibility of locally sourced food systems.

The greenhouse in the back of this retrofitted bus provides an innovative classroom for children of all ages. (Photo credit: Sol Food Mobile Farm)

Equipped with peel-and-stick solar panels, a green roof, a vermicomposting system, a mobile green house, waste-water collection tanks, and residential quarters constructed out of recycled materials, the bus is a microcosm of sustainable living. Most intriguingly, it has been retrofitted to run off of waste vegetable oil. This means that the Sol Food Mobile Farm crew can live and work out of the bus as they travel to communities across the United States advocating for local food systems and renewable energy sources. The Sol Mobile Farm crew states, “We aim to serve communities in their own backyards!  By recognizing that every community has a unique set of resources and skills, we hope to provide a meaningful gardening experience for the sites we visit.”

Sol Food Mobile Farm plans to host 5-day gardening workshops in at least 10 major cities across the country. At these workshops, the crew will work with groups of local youth to construct up to 8 raised garden beds. Honing in on major cities and their food desert neighborhoods, Sol Food Mobile Farm hopes to connect kids to their food and community. Additionally, by offering hands-on gardening experience through their workshops and demonstrations, the crew wants to leave a fresh wave of young environmental stewards in their wake.

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Aug04

City Orchard: Nourishing the Capital

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By Jameson Spivack

Bread for the City, a nonprofit group dedicated to providing food, medical care, and other necessities to D.C. residents who cannot afford them, recently began its newest project, City Orchard. City Orchard is a program that grows fruits and vegetables, which are then used to stock the shelves of Bread for the City’s food pantry. Whereas most food pantries rely on donations, Bread for the City is growing its own fresh, local produce, in partnership with Casey Trees, a group that protects the plant life in the D.C. area.

The City Orchard project grows fruits and vegetables for a D.C. food pantry. (Image credit: Bread for the City)

The project has already planted 200 apple, Asian pear, and persimmon trees and blueberry and blackberry bushes, and plans to have 800 more in the ground over the next year. Once they have matured in 2014, they will provide up to 40,000 lbs. of fruit per year, all of which will be given to the needy.

The idea for City Orchard came from Bread for the City’s nutrition consultant Sharon Feuer Gruber, who noticed there wasn’t enough fresh fruit on food pantry shelves. She then teamed up with Casey Trees, who had already been in talks with the University of the District of Columbia’s College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES) about using some of their property to create a community garden.

Through a USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant, Bread for the City received the funding it needed to get the garden started. City Orchard will provide fruits and vegetables to Bread for the City’s “Glean for the City” project, which collects fresh, free surplus produce. It will then distribute the nutritious food to the hungry in D.C. through its food pantries.

The project also provides a place for both D.C. residents and Bread for the City clients to learn about nutrition, urban farming, and the benefits of local, nutritious food. Through programs like nutrition and cooking workshops, residents can become more knowledge about and involved in the food they are eating.

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Jun23

Saturday Series: An Interview with Mary McLaughlin

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By Olivia Arnow

Today, Nourishing the Planet kicks off a new Saturday Series, in which we interview inspiring people that our readers have nominated. These people are working on the frontlines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone? E-mail your suggestions to Danielle Nierenberg!

Trees That Feed Foundation reforests tropical areas with edible fruit trees. (Photo credit: Trees that Feed)

Name: Mary McLaughlin

Affiliation: Trees That Feed Foundation

Bio: Mary is the founder of Trees That Feed, a non-profit foundation dedicated to maintaining affordable and sustainable food for tropical countries, including Haiti and her homeland Jamaica. The foundation strives to feed people and benefit the environment by reforesting areas with trees that produce edible fruit to improve diets, reduce foreign dependency, and restore ecological balance to the land.

What type of trees does the foundation plant?

I grew up eating breadfruit in Jamaica and I believe it to be one of the most sustainable tropical foods. Our organization plants a variety of trees that produce avocado, mango, papaya, pomegranate, acai, almonds, and cashews, but we primarily focus on planting breadfruit trees.

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Jun14

Carlo Petrini: “Good, Clean and Fair Food” for Sustainable Development

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By Katie Spoden

Carlo Petrini, the founder and president of the Slow Food Movement, is invited to speak at the Sustainable Development Dialogue on Food and Nutrition Security at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20.

Carlo Petrini (Photo credit: Slow Food Perth)

The dialogue is one of ten dialogues that will take place during the conference. The goal of the sustainable development dialogues is to bring together representatives from NGOs, the private sector, the scientific community, and other relevant groups – no UN representatives or Governments will be represented – to debate and compile tangible recommendations to present to the Heads of State and Governments present in Rio.

Carlo Petrini founded Slow Food in 1986 in protest to a McDonald’s opening in Piazza di Spagna in Rome. Born in Italy, Petrini began the Slow Food movement with the hope of bringing cultural and quality food back to its Italian roots. Slow Food’s philosophy is to provide “good, clean, and fair food for all.” Currently, the international grassroots organization has over 100,000 members in 150 countries. In 2004, the Terra Madre network was launched by Slow Food. Terra Madre is a program that connects small-scale farmers with consumers around the world to discuss solutions to improve the food system and food and nutrition security.

About the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Petrini says, “The 1992 UN Conference in Rio de Janeiro was a truly historical moment, finally bringing sustainable development to the attention of the whole world. Twenty years have passed, and we have not yet made enough progress to meet the challenges that had been set out. My hope is that Rio+20 will send out a strong message of unity, where we acknowledge our responsibilities as citizens of the world and where we commit ours earth and the global community as a whole.”

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