World lags in breeding climate-proof crops

OSLO (Reuters) – The world is running out of time to develop new seed varieties to confront climate change and head off food shortages that could affect billions of people, experts said.
Marking the first anniversary on Thursday of the opening of a “doomsday” seed vault on the island of Spitsbergen in the Norwegian Arctic, they said that people in Africa and Asia were most at risk from a lack of climate-proof crops.      

“It’s a question of urgency,” Cary Fowler, head of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, told Reuters by telephone with other experts from Spitsbergen. He said governments needed to invest more in breeding new seeds.

“Unlike the bank that needs to be bailed out this week, this problem is going to be an emergency 20 years from now. But by then it will be too late” he said.

The vault, blasted from icy rock 1,000 km (600 miles) from the North Pole, opened on February 26, 2008 and has doubled its holdings to 200 million seeds in the past year, representing 400,000 varieties. It is run by the trust, the Norwegian government and the Nordic Genetic Resource Center in Sweden.

“My opinion is that not enough is begin done” to develop new varieties of crops, said David Lobell, an expert in food security and the environment at Stanford University.

There was work under way to help develop crops that can withstand drought and floods but exposure to very high temperatures had not been a focus historically, he said.

To read the entire Reutner Article written by Alister Doyle.

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