Stopping Crop Extinction
10:51

Stopping Crop Extinction

Science
Speaker 1: Your morning cup of coffee is in danger, not your specific cup of coffee, but the beans that make it, Speaker 2: The multi-billion dollar coffee industry relies on just two species of coffee. Plants Robusta is known for its complex flavor profile while AKA the more popular coffee varietal is on the endangered plant species [00:00:30] list. Coffee plants are one of dozens of important crops threatened with extinction Speaker 2: Experts estimate roughly 80,000 plant species. One in five are at risk of extinction. Wild cotton is the second most threatened with 92% of species at risk of disappearing. Three and five avocado species are at risk and 23% of wild potato [00:01:00] species are facing extinction. Climate change and deforestation threaten the wild varieties of these popular commercial crops, which doesn't directly affect the produce availability in your local grocery store. But if the wild varieties of these plants are in danger, their commercially grown relatives are too. This is because farming practices have become increasingly more industrial. As a result. Humans have lost significant crop diversity Crop diversity, the full spectrum of [00:01:30] farm plants and the related wild varieties no longer exist in industrial agriculture. Speaker 3: This is a worry because we tend to think that growing different kinds of crops, uh, growing crops that are different genetically as well as, uh, a wider range of species of crops, uh, is a nice insurance policy. Uh, if something, uh, goes wrong, say, or, or UN unexpected with climate, uh, changing or with, uh, unusual weather patterns [00:02:00] in a particular year or with new kinds of diseases or pests, the more heterogeneity, right? The more differences we see within farm fields and across farm fields, the more opportunities we might have for resilient crops to survive and thrive even where more vulnerable ones fail, Speaker 2: Climate change impacts and risk to global crops. And the production system are becoming increasingly complex and more difficult to manage. According to the 2022 I P C C [00:02:30] report on climate change, rising temperatures increase the risk that the agricultural industry will suffer simultaneous crop losses in major food producing regions. The loss of crop diversity started in the early 20th century during what's known as the green revolution. When farming practices shifted to high yield crops like rice, wheat, and corn to help farmers feed a Sur global population at lower cost. However, a century of selective farming [00:03:00] practices has led to a dangerous lack of biodiversity in our foods. Speaker 3: The diversity of crops that we've come to rely on aggregated globally have tended to diminish. We rely a lot on a handful of key commodity crops. So things like corn, wheat, rice potatoes, uh, the things that immediately come to mind as items you would see on your dinner plate are, are likely to be on the list of, of species that other people around the world tend [00:03:30] to, to consume and eat. Uh, but there's another kind of crop diversity that people worry about, which is a, a diversity that occurs below that level. So people might, um, uh, refer at times to the genetic diversity of the crops that we eat Speaker 2: Historically over 30,000 edible plants and 30 animals have been domesticated for food around the world. Today over 75% of the global food supply comes from only 12 types of plants and just five animals [00:04:00] Relying on only a few crops for food poses challenges to our health, our food supply, and the farmers who grow them history shows us the dangers of relying on single varieties of crops. The potato famine in Ireland killed a quarter of the country's population. What a potato blight wiped out potato crops all over the country. More recently Panama disease is destroying banana plants from Asia to Africa because of our heavy reliance on a single banana variety [00:04:30] Diseases, pests, and a volatile climate can all threaten the viability of our food supply. As farmers grow and harvest fewer varieties of plants and animals, the global food system could become less resilient, greater agricultural resilience means restoring endangered crops and food varieties, Seed storage facilities play an important role in preserving the seeds of wild and domesticated crops. Seed vaults act as an insurance policy for the world's food supply, offering backup plans [00:05:00] for future generations to overcome the challenges of climate change and population growth. Speaker 4: My name is Greta Heian. I'm working as a project manager for the squa bar global seed vault. Speaker 2: The squa bar global seed vault in Norway is the largest seed storage facility in the world and houses more than 1 million samples, like most seed storage facilities. It relies on permafrost, a layer of frozen soil to ensure that seed samples remain intact. Even if the [00:05:30] facility loses power permafrost, like the name suggests acts like a giant freezer, keeping microbes, carbon, poisonous, mercury, and soil locked in place, but it's not always a foolproof system in 2017 rainwater gushed into an entrance tunnel. And the facility flooded. Fortunately, no seeds were lost, but the event demonstrated that the permanence of frozen ground is no longer guaranteed as Earth's temperatures continue to climb. Speaker 4: [00:06:00] Gene banks are vulnerable to many different things, uh, that could happen to them if they are left with no electricity and they are placed in warm areas, the seeds will lose their viability after really short time. And, um, they have been flooding and could be a fire that, that destroy the facilities. So, so it's really important for those gene banks to also have some have copies placed in other [00:06:30] areas, Speaker 2: Seed vaults, not only store and protect a diverse collection of plant species. They're also gene banks, an important resource for researchers, horticulturalists and conservationists, looking to experiment with the genetics of a particular plant species. Speaker 4: The gene banks, uh, that are located all over the world in each country, they provide the seeds, researchers, the breeders, and even to the farmers that would like to experiment or to see if [00:07:00] they can find a new variety, would that have some specific growing features. And I think that's a growing interest, uh, in many countries that more and more people would like to experiment and to learn about diversity and what you can get from diving into the genetic diversity inside the seeds. Speaker 2: Today's industrial mono crops wither in the face of climate change, drought and emerging diseases, forcing farmers and plant breeders. To look for [00:07:30] crops with traits suited for a changing planet. Experts say saving endangered crops is vital and a future already facing challenges to feed a growing population, reduce emissions and fine fresh water. In addition to gene banks, advances in technology also offer solutions to saving crops facing extinction scientists can breed crops to sustain extreme weather conditions and to better adapt to their changing habitat. Clonal micro propagation is a [00:08:00] technique that involves placing plant tissue in a flask with sugar and nutrients under artificial lighting inside the vessels. The plants are grown on culture media that contain nutrients and growth regulators. The minion DNA sequencer provides real time DNA analysis in remote areas. The technology is still in early days, but these devices could help scientists quickly identify plants in the field and cross reference them against taxonomic catalogs. That way they can better identify if a plant they've stumbled upon [00:08:30] is threatened by extinction Speaker 3: A genetically homogenous crop, uh, which is a, a state that characterizes a lot of the things that we grow in in industrial production is one that is also genetically vulnerable. And in that sense, we might also, in some cases, think of our industrial crops as being endangered in a way they're endangered. If we don't have the resources available in order to push them in new directions in the future, or if there are new demands [00:09:00] put on agricultural production, Speaker 2: Vertical farming is the agricultural process in which crops are grown on top of each other rather than in traditional horizontal rows, growing vertically conserve space, often producing higher crop yields per square foot and land used Diversifying the crops we eat and adapting crops and crop production to be more climate resilient will give us the options we'll need in an increasingly uncertain future. As a [00:09:30] consumer, you might not be able to individually contribute to developing new plant species or changing farming practices, but you can put your pallet and purchasing power to work Speaker 3: At the grocery store. Even if it's at the level of reminding ourselves that we can ask for diversity, we can seek it out and, and find it in the foods that we eat. Speaker 1: Try eating less of the top crops, especially wheat, rice, sugar, and corn instead buy seasonal produce when you can produce it's harvested. When it's flavor profile is at its peak Speaker 2: [00:10:00] Seasonal produce is often cheaper because it's in abundance and has higher nutrition. Eating seasonally also reduces the demand for out of season. Produce helps promote alternative crops and can reduce your climate impact. Seasonal produce requires less transportation, less refrigeration and less waste. Speaker 4: It's also important to that. We are interconnected by the crops. No country is self [00:10:30] reliant. When it comes to crop production, we all need seeds from other places to survive.

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