Why seed banks ensure we can all eat healthily
World Food Day Marie Haga is Executive Director of the Crop Trust, an international nonprofit organization which works to preserve crop diversity in order to protect global food security.
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For a planet full of healthy people, our food systems need to move beyond providing calories and, instead, also focus on the nutritional value of what we eat.
Fortunately, scientists have been working hard on this. New crops have been developed that contain higher levels of important vitamins and micronutrients. These crops are often bred to have additional benefits, such as heat or drought tolerance, or resistance to pests and diseases.
How are crops stored?
The often-forgotten seed banks play a pivotal role in the development of these crops. As seed storage and distribution facilities, they provide scientists with the plants they need for research. These have included, for example, a species of bean from Central America that is unusually high in iron.
Cross-breeding crops to battle nutrient deficiency in developing countries
By crossbreeding these beans – stored at a seed bank in Colombia - with high-yielding types, scientists were able to develop new varieties that can thrive in other parts of the world – such as Rwanda, where iron deficiency and anemia are endemic. Seed banks have been central to the development of other ‘biofortified’ crops, including vitamin A-rich sweet potato – work that won the World Food Prize in 2016.
Seed banks are the essential middlemen for these kinds of breakthroughs in crop breeding. They play a vital role in developing a new food system that doesn’t just feed us but nourishes us too. Above all else, they ensure that the miracle of seeds continue to work wonders for some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.