Poor farmers to guard planet’s crops

The Quechua Indians of Peru are among the first beneficiaries of a new global fund, agreed earlier this month, to make poor farmers the custodians of all the world’s threatened crops, New Scientist reported. The Quechua will be paid to look after the earth’s most diverse collection of potatoes – a move that could provide valuable options in a global food crisis.

Farmers will try growing varieties at different altitudes and in different climatic conditions. If current commercially available potato varieties begin to fail anywhere in the world, replacement varieties could then be used. The fund seeks to reach the same level of readiness for all staple food crops on the planet.

The project is a key element of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which aims to provide a crops “insurance policy”. It would prevent the loss of neglected or underutilised crop varieties and sustain the diversity of common crops.

Although the treaty was agreed in 2001 and came into effect in 2004, the rich and poor nations among its 120 signatories have been arguing over who should pay — and how much. Rich countries finally agreed this month to finance the five-year, US$116 million Benefit-Sharing Fund that will support projects like the one in Peru. The United States is considering signing up – a move likely to prompt China, Mexico and Japan to do so.

The treaty already has enabled the establishment of the international vault in Norway that contains 1.1 million seed varieties.

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