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Ethiopian Gene Bank Preserving Agricultural Biodiversity

The Third International Conference on Financing for Development was held in Ethiopia this week, gathering top government officials to discuss initial implementation plans for the UN’s post-2015 development agenda.

During the conference, a high profile visit by UNDP Administrator Helen Clark and Naoko Ishii, CEO of the Global Environmental Facility, to Africa’s largest gene bank, highlighted emerging research efforts that could be critical to Africa’s food security. The gene bank, hosted by the Ethiopia Biodiversity Institute, is a repository where biological material is collected, stored, catalogued and made available for redistribution. The bank maintains a diverse gene pool of crop varieties and distributes seeds to communities highly impacted by climate change, droughts and chronic food shortages.

The effort to link scientists with small-scale farmers may help revive and conserve traditional, indigenous seeds as agricultural varieties suffer in the face of extreme climactic conditions. Ishii emphasized the importance of protecting these vital natural assets, particularly for marginalized populations.

“The needs for development will always outstrip the resources available, so we have to find the opportunities to catalyze change and snowball into impacts far in the future,” he said. “When we don’t protect our natural capital we often are eating into the resources of the poor and vulnerable in society.”

Thus far, Ethiopia’s gene bank initiative has established 12 on-farm in-situ conservation sites for farmers, conserved over 300 indigenous farmer varieties of seeds, and established 8 community gene banks and allied conservation associations. The program has also documented the indigenous knowledge of farmers on the methods of selection, cultivation, and use of their crops, including women’s knowledge in seed preservation, exchange and movement.

Investing in this type of work will yield multiple advances for society, according to Clark. “We need to make smart decisions and leverage environmental finance to catalyze and deliver multiple economic, social and environmental benefits,” she said during the visit. “Investing in the wellbeing of our planet and halting climate change should not be seen as a ‘cost’, but as a worthwhile investment.”

As the September announcement of the UN post-2015 Development Agenda approaches, the future of sustainable development is top of mind for global officials. Project Everyone is undertaking a massive campaign to spread awareness of the goals to the global public.

And as droughts plague an increasing number of areas around the world, global efforts to develop “climate smart” agriculture through innovations such as drought-resistant plants and “heat-beater” beans are intensifying.


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