Sunday, May 24, 2015

Seeds of Time - Preserving Food Resources in a Hot Future Climate

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is blasted into the rock base of Platåfjellet ('Mount Plateau'), about a mile from Longyearbyen airport. The total area is 1000 square meters, but only the concrete entrance lobby is visible outside. The vault is situated in permafrost, at a constant 3-4 degrees Celsius below zero.  (Credit: Matthias Heyde) Click to Enlarge.
Why is it important to preserve our future food resources? Well in today’s climate, food production is susceptible to extreme weather swings, particularly droughts and floods. Here in the United States, we are suffering through the third major drought since 2011. The costs to this country are billions of dollars. The current California drought is the worst in over 1,200 years. 

While the west coast dries, other parts of the US are experiencing flooding as our weather swings from one extreme to another. It isn’t just the United States, elsewhere around the planet similar extremes are being observed. I’ve seen firsthand the impact of extreme weather on subsistence food production in Africa. It isn’t pretty.

While politicians, political scientists and industry lobbyists may deny the connection between climate change and extreme weather, the physical scientists know better. Joining the scientists, Dr. Fowler’s main goal is to create a food-production system, which is sustainable, one that can navigate the present and future threats facing it. A major step in his effort is the safeguarding of the genetic diversity of today’s crops in large vaults where seeds can be stored for future use. 

Cary is informed by past crop failures which have led to downfalls of other cultures. Those past cultures have not had the knowledge and resources that we have, attributes that should enable us to preserve food diversity. Maintenance of crop diversity is particularly challenging in an age of industrial agriculture. Today’s practices focus on monocultures that while productive, are susceptible to catastrophic loss.

What would happen if a major disease or disaster decimated today’s crops? It isn’t far-fetched. Cary discusses how recent crop disease, such as the 1999 wheat stem rust could present a major risk to world-wide monoculture productivity.

In addition to diseases and other risks, climate change presents a unique challenge. The changing climate will present a whole new set of risks to today’s agriculture that haven’t been present in the past decades.

Read more at Seeds of Time - Preserving Food Resources in a Hot Future Climate

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