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Working together to ensure a harvest for the world


Michael Keller

Secretary General, International Seed Federation

The seed sector is on a mission to make high quality seed accessible to everyone while meeting the challenges of a changing world. To do so effectively and sustainably involves pooling resources and expertise.

The seed sector has a vision, says Michael Keller, Secretary General of the International Seed Federation, the organisation representing over 7500 companies at a global level. It wants to make high quality seed accessible to all. And why? To meet the challenges of a changing world, including climate change, emerging pests and disease, and lack of new arable land. These issues threaten yield stability and increase, and therefore pose major threats to the three pillars of food security: food quantity, food quality and food safety.

If farmers are to guarantee a harvest that can help feed the world’s growing population, they need to plant high quality seed. “That means ensuring that the seed is free from pests and disease,” says Keller. “But, actually, it’s more than that. It’s also about the quality of the seed’s germination, purity and the genetic potential of the variety that farmers will choose. All these factors determine potential harvest. If farmers have poor quality seed, they are at a disadvantage from the start, in terms of potential harvest, crop quality and nutritional value of the crop.”

Think global, act local

Some experts believe that global food production will have to double by 2050 to meet demand. Crop failure is simply not an option. Unfortunately, extreme weather conditions such as flooding and drought regularly undermine production of crops such as wheat, corn, rice or vegetables, bankrupting farmers and increasing food poverty locally, regionally and globally. Indeed, the U.N’s World Food Programme estimates that hunger and child malnutrition could rise by as much as 20% by the middle of this century because of climate change alone.

Some experts believe that global food production will have to double by 2050 to meet demand. Crop failure is simply not an option.

Fortunately, plant breeding innovation within the seed sector is supporting farmers to solve these seemingly intractable challenges. For example, plant breeders are continuously developing improved varieties able to withstand climatic changes, as well as to resist emerging pests and disease. “Plant breeders are also looking to find ways to adapt seed to the ecological conditions of its local environment,” explains Keller. “A seed is not like an industrial product that can be created on a factory production line anywhere in the world. It has to be bred and tested locally. There has to be an understanding of the soils and climate conditions it will encounter.”

Working together

Developing a new seed variety has traditionally been a long process that can take 10, 12 or even 15 years. But by pooling knowledge, expertise and the latest breeding methods, it’s hoped that plant breeding will be more efficient. To make this all-important plant breeding as effective as possible, the private seed sector is also working closely with the public sector — including national public research and international institutes. This public-private cross-fertalisation is bolstering food security in another crucial way.

Rest assured, says Keller, the seed sector — with its diversity of family companies, cooperatives, small, mid-size or multinational companies including breeders, producers, and traders — will continue to engage with farmers, other organisations, foundations and non-governmental organisations to find the best solutions to the agricultural and ecological challenges facing our world. “We will continue to contribute to the fight against hunger because we know we have a responsibility to bring improved varieties and high quality seed to the market,” he says. “We also know we can’t do this in isolation. We want to make this a collective effort to achieve sustainable agriculture and food security.”

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