Seeds of Change
Posted September 19, 2012
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
Dr. Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, quoted Charles Darwin in Chapel today as part of a presentation about biodiversity and the importance of protecting the world’s seeds for the generations to come.
“It is important to conserve biodiversity because it represents all of the options we have for the future,” says Fowler.
Fowler, a Memphis native, attended White Station High School and Rhodes College. He then went on to receive his Ph.D. from Uppsala University in Sweden, and a Doctorate of Law degree from Simon Fraser University. Before joining the Global Crop Diversity Trust, Fowler was a Professor and the Director of Research in the Department for International Environment and Development Studies at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.
Fowler discussed the many varieties of crops that exist throughout our world, and how the Global Crop Diversity Trust protects these varieties from extinction with a seed bank located as far north as a person can fly commercially – in Svalbard, Norway. In the Svalbard Global Seed Vault there are duplicates of all seeds from the world’s crop collections. The seeds are frozen there so that if there is ever a natural disaster that destroys a crop variety, that variety will not go extinct.
Fowler gave specific examples of how crop varieties can save lives. One of his stories was about a day he spent with a woman in the fields of Ethiopia. There is a crop in Ethiopia called grass pea or Lathyrus that is resilient during droughts and floods, and is the only thing left to eat when other crops fail; however, this crop can also permanently paralyze people if eaten over long periods of time. By using a different variety of Lathyrus with low neurotoxin levels in Ethiopia, thousands of people could be saved. The International Centre for Agricultural Research for Dry Areas (ICARDA) has paired with Ethiopian breeders to work toward growing more of the low neurotoxin crop.
With his presentation Fowler brought home the point that crop diversity is essential to defeating hunger and to establishing food security.