Press Release: Report Calls For Action to Address Loss in Seed Biodiversity

Front Cover of Proceedings of 2014 Summit on Seeds and Breeds

RAFI report documents critical need for regionally-adapted public seeds and breeds to address the challenges of global climate change, and alarming erosion of public cultivar development capacity.

Pittsboro, NC (October 31, 2014) – Today, the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI) published the proceedings from the 2014 Summit on Seeds and Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture. The summit is part of RAFI’s long-standing work to protect agricultural diversity by addressing systemic policy root causes, such as a lack of adequate funding and public support for classical breeding programs.

Held in Washington, DC in March of this year, the event brought together plant breeders, seed industry experts, farmers, activists, policy makers, academics and others to discuss the state of global seed supply and develop recommendations for reinvigorating public breeding research and increasing seed availability in the country.

The Proceedings of the 2014 Summit on Seeds & Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture  publication published today provides a compilation of the summit’s keynote papers, response papers, presentations and findings, as well as positive goals for reversing this crisis, including short, medium and long-range recommendations.

The publication includes the summit keynote papers authored by well-known breeders and researchers in the plant breeding field including:

  • William Tracy, a sweet corn breeder with the University of Wisconsin;
  • Major Goodman, a corn breeder and professor of crop science at North Carolina State University;
  • Tommy Carter, a research geneticist and professor of crop science at North Carolina State University;
  • David Ellis, the head of the Genebank Unit at the International Potato Center in Peru;
  • Kathy Jo Wetter, Research Director of ETC Group’s Action Group on Erosion, Technology & Concentration;
  • Michael Mazourek, a vegetable breeder and professor of plant breeding at Cornell University; and
  • Charles Brummer, Senior V.P. Director of Forage Improvement at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation.

Based on keynote papers, response papers and discussion, summit participants identified the most critical challenges threatening the future of public plant breeding and global agricultural biodiversity. Findings include the critically important role of public cultivars developed through classical plant breeding techniques and that can be saved and adapted to suit changing local conditions in providing resilience to global agriculture in the face of global climate change and increasing population demands on food production. It also re-affirms previous alarms regarding the poor state of our global seed banks, and the gross under funding of the protection of this critical genetic resource.

For the first time, this report documents the alarming reduction in the number of U.S. University-based public plant breeding programs, and plant breeders who are releasing these public seed varieties. The report also documents the negative impact of consolidation in the seed industry and the use of seed utility patents on cultivar development, genetic diversity and farmer seed choice.

The proceedings include specific action steps to address this crisis, developed by summit participants. These recommendations include the development and implementation of a comprehensive national plan to restore funding and institutional capacity for the development of public plant and animal varieties, the extension of emerging, innovative partnerships between breeders, farmers and non-governmental organizations and models of participatory approaches to public cultivar development to address regional needs, and the development of innovative seed and breed intellectual property ownership models as an alternative to utility patents.

It is the hope of summit participants that these proceedings will build greater public awareness of the importance of public cultivar development and of the positive solutions mapped out by this national summit.

“These proceedings provide a clear wake up call from leading experts in the field, and a plan for action to address the erosion of both the genetic diversity of our agronomic crop and animal species, and the alarming loss of capacity in our public plant and animal breeding programs across the country.” said Scott Marlow, RAFI’s Executive Director.

“Protecting our agricultural genetic heritage and expanding crop diversity is not only essential to the future viability of family farms. Public seed and breed development programs provide the most cost-effective long-term approach to address climate change, global food security, and the many other challenges to our agricultural system that the future holds. How we address these crises will be critical to nothing less than the long-term survival of our species.” added Marlow.

The 2014 Summit on Seeds and Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture and the proceedings published today were made possible thanks to financial support from Clif Bar Family Foundation, Organic Valley Family of Farms, Seed Matters, as well as the many individual donors and partners committed to addressing these important issues.

The executive summary and the full proceedings publication are now available for download as a PDF document on the RAFI website. A print version of the publication will be released in December.

About RAFI

Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI) is a non-profit organization that traces its heritage to the National Sharecroppers’ Fund, which was founded in the 1930s by a bi-racial group of tenant farmers organizing for fair treatment. RAFI cultivates markets, policies and communities that support thriving, socially just and environmentally sound family farms.

Contact: Scott Marlow, [email protected], 919-542-1396

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