“If you can look into the seeds of time and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then to me” – Abraham Lincoln
From the water documentaries to Chasing Ice and now Seeds of Time, which was just featured at AMNH’s Margaret Mead Film Festival in NYC, the answer to the question whether Earth’s climate is changing seems to be a resounding yes. And it’s getting warmer.
And by getting warmer, staple agricultural crops are having a harder and harder time adjusting to the rapid climatic changes happening, which should be an alarm bell going off considering the reduced diversity of most of these crops. For example, wheat crops grown around the world are largely of one species; that means if the current wheat rust plaguing crops becomes more serious, the result will be worldwide food shortages, and the dark path that follows.
Producer and director Sandy McLeod first read about crop diversity expert and conservationist Cary Fowler in a New Yorker article in 2008, when he received a $50 million grant from the Gates Foundation to build a global seed vault in Svalbard, Norway. Learning more about the issue of crop diversity, Sandy was compelled to make a film on Mr. Fowler and bring awareness to a vital issue policymakers rarely touch upon. It is a grim statistic to note that between 1903 – 1983, when the last study on crop diversity was conducted in the U.S., 93% of the known fruit and vegetable varieties became extinct. Who knows what the percentage would be if a study were conducted in 2014…
With climate change being the main factor, the other factors behind the rapidly decreasing crop diversity are most notably:
- Modern agricultural methods: growing monoculture crops in vast quantities
- Population Growth
- Water & Energy Limitations
What can be done? Here’s where the seeds come in.
In order to keep what little diversity is left in crop varieties, around 1,400 seed banks have been established around the world where seeds are preserved at freezing temperatures and could last thousands of years; the Svalbard seed bank is the “back-up drive,” soliciting duplicates from the other seed banks until all the seeds of the world may be collected under its roof, essentially a Noah’s Ark for seeds. Cary Fowler hand-picked Svalbard for its coldness as well as its remoteness from the impacts of natural and/or man-made disasters; the steel seed vault is located in the coldest part of a Norwegian Arctic mountain and is built to last 1,000 years and withstand even nuclear war. According to Fowler, the Svalbard seed vault is an “insurance policy for the crop diversity of the world.”
The film also depicts the other way seed diversity can be maintained, by planting diverse varieties in one’s garden or crop. In Peru, indigenous farmers have created a “Potato Park,” the seeds of which, all 1,500+ native varieties, are preserved in the International Potato Center in Lima. However, the effects of global warming have forced the potato farmers to plant their crops at higher and higher elevations, but what happens when they run out of mountain?
So why does diversity matter so much? Because if a disease or pest goes through and ravages one variety, chances are at least some of the other varieties will survive. A more diverse gene pool could also adapt better to climatic changes, as the hardier strains survive and could potentially cross-pollinate, making the next generation stronger and hardier than the previous. Essentially diversity gives a crop a better chance to survive the “whips and scorns of time,” be they from natural or man-made causes, and by its survival, our survival too.
“Most of us take seeds for granted . . . The fate of humankind is resting on these genetic resources, so nothing could be more important.” – Cary Fowler
To learn more, please visit www.seedsoftimemovie.com.