Wandering the market's muddy corridors, Luigi Guarino stoops to smell frankincense and examine fistfuls of legumes. To the casual observer, they're just sacks full of beans. But to the 48-year-old crop scientist, each one is a tiny buffer against worldwide starvation. Guarino fingers the dried seeds with reverence, because he understands how valuable-and fragile-they really are. He has spent much of his career trolling remote and exotic lands, gathering the genetic diversity of the plants that sustain humanity. His work has taken him to roadless villages in Oman's mountains and across the desolate Sahara between Algeria and Niger, all in search of crop varieties with unique traits that could someday save the world's harvest-and its people-from infestation, blight or drought.
Looking up, Guarino explains that in certain countries, industrial progress has left some of the world's most important food crops at risk of obliteration. When it comes to gathering food, "people used to be more mobile," he says, as the beans sift through his fingers. "Now they have nowhere to go. They're more vulnerable to things like drought. As population increases and more farmland is converted to urban areas, you have less land on which to produce more food."
Meanwhile, because the efficiency of modern farming has made crops so genetically uniform, the plants on which humans depend-those we've bent to our will over thousands of years-are at the mercy of chance. They simply aren't diverse enough anymore. To endure, crop plants, like their wild counterparts, need varied gene pools. But the genetic diversity of our food supplies is withering. In the past 200 years in the U.S. alone, 75 percent of the variety within crops has vanished. That's a disaster waiting to happen.
This is a stunning article and a call to action. Thanks so much to Hillary Rosner for her important research and reporting. I am surprised that I am the first to comment. What can we do about this? This is not a rhetorical question. I don't have millions of dollars, but I have an organic garden. Can I aid the effort by ordering (paid) shipments of seeds to cultivate? Please inform us how we can help.
Chico, CA, USA
PS. I note that in the printed article, the title is "The Gatherers," whereas in the website, the title is "Seeds to Save a Species." Perhaps this mix-up has contributed to the lack of comments/dialogue about this important topic.
do a google search for heirloom seeds as there are a lot of stores that now sell them, and buy some that are from your local area(you may need to either email or call to find out) is my suggestion. Of course you can do your own research and find some varieties you want to help and then find a site that will supply them. I'd also like to note that the same goes for animals, if everyone has Hereford cows(works the same with chickens, pigs, sheep etc) and a new strain of a virus kills them all, it pays to have variety in everything, so if your on a hobby farm, or have a bit of space do your bit! :D I plan to when I have the space! :D