Jón Bjarnason, Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture, Iceland
Genetic Diversity and Food Security in a Time of Climatic Change
Good friends, ladies and gentlemen
The Nordic Countries take turn in chairing the Nordic Council and currently Iceland holds the chair.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you on behalf of the Nordic Council of Ministers to this Side Event highlighting the effort to ensure sustainable use of genetic resources.
As you see from the agenda it is arranged jointly with some of our important partners in this vital task. Many aspects of our work in this field are closely interwoven with the work of FAO and its affiliated organizations.
It is of interest to note that this year is in a way an anniversary since fifty years ago, in its tenth FAO Conference session in November of 1959 FAO made a strong recommendation for the start of a truly intergovernmental initiative for the conservation of crop germplasm under the aegis of FAO.
The challenges in the preservation and use of genetic resources call for both regional and international co-operation. The Nordic countries, via the Nordic Council of Ministers, have long been promoting close regional co-operation on the preservation and sustainable use of genetic resources.
This has been facilitated through close informal cooperation among scientists and breeders going back to the beginning of the 20th century.
Work in FAO, especially on preservation of plant genetic resources was inspired by the pioneering work of sir Otto Frankel and Erna Bennet and others from the early fifties and greatly influenced this development.
The close links to FAO is highlighted by the fact that the first director of the Nordic Gene bank, Dr. Ebbe Kjellquist was at the helm when a pilot Gene Resource Regional Centre was established in Izmir, Turkey in 1964 under the aegis of FAO and cooperating governments.
In 1979 the Nordic Council of Ministers initiated the Nordic Gene Bank for plants in agriculture and horticulture.
In the same year it initiated a significant Nordic cooperative project on plant breeding which later became incorporated in the mandate of the Nordic Genebank. The Nordic Genebank for Domesticated animals was founded in 1983 and two years ago these two institutions were joined together with same type of activity in the field of forestry into the current Nordic Gene Resource Center,- Nordgen which holds the central stage here today.
These Nordic institutions have formed the basis for several partnerships such as with the Southern African development Community countries in Africa which established a Gene resources center to a large degree based on a similar regional model as the Nordic Genebank.
The Nordic countries have collaborated on several issues in regional and international cooperation on genetic resources. Important partnerships with the Baltic States and Russia have been on the agenda and joint development projects within the EU programme. The Nordic countries participated from the beginning in the European Cooperative Programme on Plant genetic Resources (ECPGR) and a joint approach was taken towards the initiation and participation in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
Last but not least I want to mention the impressive Norwegian initiative to create the Global Seed Vault on Svalbard which will described during this event. The concept of using the natural cold conditions in Svalbard traces back to the Nordic Genebank and Nordgen has an operative role in its operation.
I will not dwell on statistics in support of the need for increased and more secure food production in the world which has been highlighted in the Food Summit here in FAO
The stark fact is that global agriculture needs to increase production by 70% in order to guarantee enough food for a population that is expected to grow by 2.3 billion by 2050.
Modern agriculture uses relatively few but intensively bred plant and livestock species with good yields. Many of the poorest countries and production areas lack the resources to develop crops suited to their region, their climate and the challenges they face.
Man-made climate change means that we must now with urgency start the long-term work of developing new strains of crop plants. At the same time we must strive for preserving the diversity upon which progress depends.
Unless massive efforts are made in plant breeding, it will be difficult to solve the food-supply problem in the longer term – indeed, it is possible that supplies will become more vulnerable. With regard to livestock, it is also very important to support sustainable management of breeds without impoverishing the genetic resource base.
Breeding for adaptation will increase in importance as droughts, saline soils and wildly fluctuating climate conditions create increasing strain on the production system.
Special attention has to be given to trees with their long generation interval that puts strain on their ability to react to rapid climatic changes.
To meet these challenges, nations and regions must work more closely together.
Through NordGen, the Nordic Countries are well placed to do so and it is clear that this institution will become ever more important as time goes by.
It is also clear that the concept of cooperation that has been honed in the history of Nordgen and its predecessors in tandem with the work here at FAO has created a valuable path for international cooperation which will only increase in the coming years.
It is our conviction that this side event will highlight some of the most important issues and opportunities in this field.
I now hand over the chair to Dr Gary Fowler, director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust who will steer us through the agenda today.