The seeds of change in sustainable agriculture

The seeds of change in sustainable agriculture

September 25, 2017

The seeds of change in sustainable agriculture

To overcome the ever-increasing number of challenges facing sustainable agriculture we need to put seeds in the spotlight – a blend of traditional and innovative approaches could make the difference.

Creating innovative seeds is a practice dating back to the dawn of agriculture itself, but over the centuries our ways of going about it have changed radically. Up until the early 20th century our only way to realize seeds with beneficial features, such as resistance to disease or drought, was to wait for them to appear by themselves naturally. However, after we started to bring about new varieties by crossing different types of seeds in a targeted way, we have never looked back. Advances in knowledge regarding the genetics and physiology of plants have gone hand in hand with experiments on new agricultural technology to modify seeds. Many experts are now convinced that seed innovation has a crucial role to play in sustainable agriculture and will help to feed the 9 billion people who will populate the Earth in 2050, without harming the planet.  

Conserve to thrive

Around 20% of plant diversity is endangered because of damage to plant habitats and over-exploitation, which is destined to become increasingly common due to climate change. “And yet, this genetic diversity holds the key to resolving some of this century’s biggest challenges”, explain the experts at Crop Trust, an organisation working to safeguard global food security by protecting plant biodiversity. 

Preserving the biodiversity of seeds is important in reducing the levels of poverty in many nations whose economy is largely based on farming, to allow agriculture to adjust to climate change and guarantee that food being produced is also suitable from a nutritional viewpoint. This is also the objective of the second of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, aimed at ending hunger around the world, which reads: “By 2020, [we aim to] maintain the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants … promote access to and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources”


The seeds of the future

Nevertheless, simply conserving biodiversity is not enough: to come up with an adequate response to today’s global requirements, we need to innovate and “treat” the seeds. 

This is nothing new to the members of the International Seed Federation (ISF), an NGO which has been representing the interests of the seed industry since 1924. 

Indeed, now more than ever before, we are faced with the necessity of creating new crop varieties. To do this, it is no longer possible to leave it to nature’s vicissitudes as in the past or to cross-breed varieties in a traditional way which, as well as introducing the desired features to a plant – such as a resistance to drought – also brings with it many other undesirable aspects. Hence the importance of genetics and the new technology which can help us to develop new varieties more quickly and with greater accuracy. Recent innovations have helped us to overcome some of the biggest challenges facing agriculture, but should not alarm traditionalists. These practices are regulated by international treaties and do not replace traditional methods, but simply supplement them to boost the tools available for sustainability and food security. 


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