Crop Diversity for a Healthy Planet and those who live on it

Ladies and Gentlemen, Thank you for the invitation and thanks to Crop Trust and Julius Kühn Institute for putting crop diversity at the agenda of the Global forum for Food and Agriculture.

Crop diversity deserves attention when our sector is convening. To safeguard crop divesrity for future food security is one of our main challenges globally. I am honoured to share some perspectives on the role of international collaboration to safeguard crop diversity, and the role governments can play in fostering such collaborations.

Firstly, let me first highligt some key aspects of why this is important: Crop diversity is all the colours, textures and tastes of the fruits, berries, vegetables and the plants that feed us. It makes our food systems more resilient by adjusting food production to a changing climate, new pests and diseases as well as consumers’ preferences. It is the basis for healthy and nutritious food.

Despite the importance we attach to crop diversity, the reality on the ground is different. Today, among 6000 plant species cultivated for food, only 9 species account for 66% of the total crop production.  This means there is a great potential for more diverse diets based on the less cultivated plants.  

Throughout the centuries, crops have travelled with people and adapted to diverse conditions and cultures. In the Andean mountains there are thousands of different potato varieties, while in Norway and Germany one would claim that there is nothing more “Norwegian” or “German” than potato.

This demonstrates how no country is self-reliant, we are all mutually dependent on crop diversity. Global collaboration, therefore, is crucial.

My starting point for describing the global collaboration on crop diversity is “The international Treaty on plant genetic resources” , which is the glue in international cooperation on crop diversity. Norway encourages all countries to engage actively in the Treaty.

As state Secretary from Norway, I am also proud to highlight the Svalbard Global Seed Vault as a contribution to preserve crop diversity. The Global Seed Vault was established in 2008. The Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food has the overall responsibility for the operation, security and financing, and we are operating and managing it in partnership with the Crop Trust and NordGen.

The Seed Vault now holds ‘copies’ of more than 1,2 million seed samples safeguarded from 102 genebanks located in 74 countries.  To me, the number of copies of seed samples in the Seed Vault is a great accomplisment. It makes the Seed Vault the world's largest seed conservation facility. It is also a result of enormous efforts by the more than 100 gene banks worldwide, who have made sure that seeds are well preserved and documented in their gene banks before sending them off for safety duplication.

A year ago, I joined the ninth graders of the Longyearbyen school on Svalbard when they enthusiastically helped carrying 20,000 new seed samples from all over the world into the Seed Vault. The students were all 15 years old – the same age as the Seed Vault. After 15 years we still need to safeguard more of the worlds valuable crop diversity in the Seed Vault.

Ensuring safety backup for seeds is just one part of the job, however. Crop diversity must be systematically managed and used by farmers and local communities in the field. To stress the need for complementary conservation strategies, Norway gives an annual contribution to the Benefit-sharing Fund of the Internatonal Treaty.

The yearly payment equals 0.1% of the annual seed sales in Norway. The link to seed sales is a symbolic gesture to recognize that Norwegian agriculture benefits from genetic diversity originating from other countries. The Benefit-sharing Fund enables small-scale farmers to access a wide range of plant genetic resources that are adapted to their needs. As a result, farmers grow diverse types of crops and plant varieties that taste better and are more nutritious.

Realizing Farmers' Rights is key to successful on farm conservation. It means enabling farmers to maintain and develop crop genetic diversity, and recognizing and rewarding them for this indispensable contribution to the global pool of genetic resources. Farmers’ Rights are recognized in the International Treaty and Norway strongly supports the realization of these rights. Farmers must be allowed to save, use, sell and exchange seeds in order to continue being guardians of crop diversity.

I am pleased to share that Ministry of Agriculture and Food has just finalized an action plan for the conservation and sustainable use of Norway's national genetic resources for food and agriculture. The action plan is directed at preserving the national genetic resources in our crops, our livestock, and our forest trees - both in a dynamic way in the field, in nature, in the barn, and also as seeds, tissues and sperm in frozen gene banks.

Even though this is a crop event, I would like to mention a success story of Norwegian cattle breeds. In the 1980s they were literally almost extinct. But due to dedicated efforts by idealistic farmers and government measures, none of the six cattle breeds are  now critically endangered. Our efforts matters!

Coming close to an end, I will stress that crop diversity is an important part of biodiversity. This is way crop diversity is part of the Kunming-Montreal global framework for biodiversity that the global community adopted in December 2022. The framework puts biodiversity high on the global and national agenda. All countries are now updating their national biodiversity action plans in line with the new global targets. This also provides a real momentum to strengthen conservation efforts of crop diversity.

Furthermore, the food system summit and the commitments to outline national pathways for sustainable food systems also provides an important momentum for putting strategies for crop diversity on the agenda. But governments cannot do this alone – breeders, farmers, civil society, seed industry all play parts. Thus, I look forward to listening to the panel discussions here today with experts in the field.

Thank you for your attention.

Ekspertpanel arrangert av Julius-Kühn Institute og Global Crop Diversity Trust (Crop Trust) under Global Forum for Food and Agriculture 2024. Arrangementets hjemmeside: Crop Diversity for a Healthy Planet and those who live on it - Global Forum for Food and Agriculture 2024 (