Our lives depend on genetic resources for food and agriculture, the raw materials used by farmers, local communities, breeders, researchers and biotech industry for producing food and improving crop and animal varieties. They are the very basis of human sustenance.

The food we eat, our health, and the health of the planet, stability, and peace depend on how we use seeds, bulbs and other propagating material and on how we manage the genetic information.

Safeguarding genetic diversity is essential to ensuring food security and nutrition, and to increasing resilience of agricultural systems in the face of climate change. It is because of genetic variability that living things can adapt.

However, diversity of plants and animals is threatened by genetic erosion, which is the loss of individual genes or of a combination of genes.

Replacement of local varieties by modern varieties, environmental degradation, urbanization, and deforestation are affecting plant genetic diversity, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

About 17 percent of world’s farm breeds are at risk of extinction due to “the increasing use of non-native breeds, weak policies and institutions regulating the livestock sector, the decline of traditional livestock production systems, and the neglect of breeds considered not competitive enough,” as explained by the Second Report on the State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

The management of seeds and genetic resources is a global issue at the crossroad of agriculture, environment, and business. It’s global because what we eat and produce in a country comes from seeds and genetic resources originated elsewhere. It’s global because those resources are exchanged and sold internationally.

Countries depend on each other and we, all, depend on farmers that held the 75 percent of the world’s seed diversity.

Several intergovernmental bodies, organizations, networks, fora, laws, rules, and regulations have been established and enforced with the scope of monitoring genetic erosion, governing, and managing seeds and genetic resources for food and agriculture. They continue to evolve as food security landscape changes, new needs emerge and biotech developments offer new opportunities, pose new challenges, and spark debate.

How are decisions, actions, and choices of governments, farmers, civil societies and businesses affecting the management of the blueprint of life? That’s what Degrees of Latitude aims at understanding within the section “Genetics and Seeds”.

Editor: Christina Cutting

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