Seed Banks or Seed Morgues? Salvaging Crop Diversity from Long-Term Storage

Speaker: Helen Curry # University of Cambridge

1st Oct 2018

15:30 - 17:00

Chrystal Macmillan Building, Staff Room, 6th Floor

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The 1960s and 70s saw growing international concern over the loss of crop plant diversity. This loss was thought to result from the expansion of industrial agriculture and especially the transition of farmers from traditional local varieties to "improved" commercial lines. Experts further acknowledged that decades of collecting activities, in which these older varieties had been targeted because of their perceived value to breeding programs, had produced mostly ephemeral assemblages of poorly understood, badly catalogued material. As I describe in this talk, mounting concerns about the loss of diversity and recognition of the failures of earlier collection initiatives generated a new conservation imperative. Now the goal was not just to gather extant varieties whose presence in farm fields was increasingly precarious, but also to collect extant collections into a global master collection. An "international germplasm bank" or "international seed bank" would provide long-term security for all crops and for all breeders—ideally for all time. The novel visions of endangerment and security that emerged in this period transformed the enterprise of agro-biodiversity conservation and continue to inform contemporary seed banking activities.

Helen Curry is Lecturer in History of Modern Science and Technology at the University of Cambridge