Creating a Safety Net for Genetic Diversity, Part 2
Note: This article is the second of a two-part series. The first article (link) in this series focused on the operations and purpose of the vault.
In February, Jim Collins, DuPont executive vice president; Krysta Harden, DuPont vice president of Public Policy and Chief Sustainability Officer; Geoff Graham, DuPont Pioneer Research vice president for Global Plant Breeding; and John Duesing, senior research director for IP Asset Protection; traveled north of the Arctic Circle to tour the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
Supporting the preservation of biodiversity
DuPont Pioneer has been active in the international dialogue about conserving plant biodiversity since the 1980s. Pioneer made a significant contribution to the Global Crop Trust Endowment in 2004-2007, and announced a new collaboration agreement in 2016. And DuPont is the sole corporate sponsor of Crops in Color, a Global Crop Trust campaign that aims to raise awareness about the vital role of crop diversity.
“DuPont recognizes the crucial importance of crop biodiversity to sustaining food security,” said Jim Collins. “We need a diverse set of plant germplasm to develop products that are more productive, offer resistance to insects and diseases, and are better adapted to different climate conditions.”
Marie Haga, executive director of the Crop Trust and one of the hosts for the tour, said, “DuPont Pioneer’s early support was instrumental for the Crop Trust’s very existence. More recent support to the Crop Trust endowment from DuPont Pioneer and other partners makes it possible for us to gradually ensure that global collections of crop diversity are not left to chance. We must work together from all backgrounds, both public and private sectors, to ensure we have the diversity of crops needed to ensure the success of our agricultural production for years to come. It has been a privilege working with DuPont Pioneer to also spread awareness of the importance of conserving crop diversity through the Crops in Color campaign.”
The legacy of Henry A. Wallace
Pioneer’s connection to preserving genetic diversity began many decades earlier through the career of founder Henry A. Wallace. In the 1940s, Wallace launched an initiative to improve agricultural productivity in Mexico. He secured backing from the Rockefeller Institute to establish a joint crop-breeding venture with the Mexican government, the success of which led to the creation of CIMMYT (the Spanish language acronym for International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center).
CIMMYT is a non-profit institution working to improve food security by developing better corn and wheat varieties and introducing better agricultural practices to smallholder farmers. It is one of 15 non-profit research institutions affiliated with CGIAR, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. CIMMYT has sent more than 100,000 duplicate samples from their corn and wheat seed collections to be storied in the Svalbard vault.
Norman Borlaug was one of the first scientists to join the research effort in Mexico started by Wallace. His work led to great productivity improvements in Mexico. Borlaug dedicated his life to improving food security. Widely recognized as the father of the Green Revolution, he is credited with saving a billion lives through his development of new wheat varieties.
Graham grew up in Colombia, where his father led field bean product development for CIAT, a non-profit research and development organization dedicated to reducing poverty and hunger in developing countries while protecting natural resources.
His father’s work and his family’s experiences in Colombia gave Graham an early appreciation for the importance of food security and inspired his own career path. “We saw first-hand how crucial high quality varieties and agricultural advice is for subsistence farmers. A bad crop meant families went hungry. CIAT was able to provide those farmers with productive varieties and local agronomic information suited to their local growing conditions.”
Seeing the seed from CIAT resonated with Graham on several levels.
He said, “I remember planting research trials by hand with my father back in Colombia, and I was struck by how much distance that seed had traveled – from the tropics of South America to a frozen mountain north of the Arctic Circle. I found myself thinking about how many hands, how many generations of farmers, how many different soils, and how many different countries were involved in getting the seed stored in the vault.”
“My thoughts also went to Henry Wallace, and how his work has shaped my life and career,” Graham added. “If Wallace hadn’t been inspired to create CIMMYT, it’s unlikely that CIAT and similar organizations would have been launched. Without CIAT, my family would have never moved from Australia to Colombia, and I wouldn’t have decided to pursue a career in plant breeding, leading me to join the company Wallace founded.
“More importantly, I believe the work and vision of Henry Wallace and Norman Borlaug, and the mission of the Crop Trust and CGIAR, are entirely consistent with Pioneer’s longstanding commitment to bringing agricultural solutions that sustainably improve food security to the world.