Betting the Farm

A Cary Fowler blog post on “Nourishing the Planet” about the importance of combinations of crop diversity conservation strategies

In a guest blog post, Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group member Cary Fowler, explains the importance of implementing a combination of crop diversity conservation strategies such as supporting genebanks as well as protecting crops on farms and natural habitats.

Agro-conservationists still discuss how to conserve and whether ex situ or in situ conservation is more appropriate to conserve biodiversity.

According to Cary Fowler,  in-situ conservation is the desirable and preferred method as a way of promoting evolution, since it seems natural and it directly involves farmers rather than big organizations, it allows for continual evolution.

On the other hand, though, it has its drawbacks.

“Most in-situ conservation is secondary to production”, says Fowler.  “Farms are not museums. If a farmer is conserving a unique crop variety, it is usually because he/she wants to eat or sell it in the future. This, of course is hardly a completely reliable situation. The farmer might die or move to the city. Newer, higher yielding varieties can come along and in the blink of an eye the farmer can decide to replace the old with the new. We call this “genetic erosion.”

Furthermore, a disadvantage of in-situ conservation is climate change, which can seriously damage lands, farming systems, crop yields and destroy biodiversity.

At the moment, says Fowler, no one is offering a solution to the argument on how to conserve. One solution, though is to unit ex-situ and in-situ conservation promoters in a common cause, by combining genebanks with traditional knowledge, allowing farmers to obtain wider diversity.

Fowler concludes “Partisans in our crop diversity community are wrong when they argue that all our eggs should be placed in one basket. Good farmers – like I believe my family has been – know better. They would never have bet the farm on one crop. And they certainly wouldn’t bet the future of agriculture on one conservation strategy”.

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